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A Celebration of the Life of William Needles

William needles memorial, stratfordThis Sunday at 2pm a celebration of the life of William Needles will be held at the Festival Theatre.

William Needles made his Stratford debut in “Richard III,” under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie, playing Norfolk and the 1st Murderer, and as Rinaldo in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

The next season he was celebrated for his portrayal of Petruchio in Guthrie’s Wild West production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

He became an indispensable member of the Stratford acting company, appearing in more than 100 productions over 47 seasons, including as Duke Senior in “As You Like It” (1959), Chorus in “Henry V” (1956 and 1989), Albany in “King Lear” (1964 and 1972), “Cymbeline” (1970), Monsieur Loyal in “Tartuffe” (1983 and 1984), the Duke in “The Merchant of Venice” (1996), the White King in “Alice Through the Looking-Glass” (1996), the Lord Mayor in “Richard III” (1997), the Shepherd in “Oedipus Rex” (1997), Merriman in “The Importance of Being Earnest” (2000) and Mortimer in “Henry VI” (2002).

He retired from the stage at the age of 87 and, as the oldest working actor in Canada, turned in two final masterful performances: Adam in 2005’s “As You Like It” – his last performance on his beloved Festival stage – and Castruchio in 2006’s “The Duchess of Malfi.”

The Stratford Festival is dedicating the 2016 production of “As You Like It” to Mr. Needles’ memory.

Mr. Needles performed in four different productions of the play at Stratford, as Duke Senior in 1959, Duke Frederick in 1972, Duke Senior in 1983 (which was televised on CBC), and Adam in 2005.

He was a teacher of acting, serving for many years at the University of California, Irvine, and a mentor beyond compare to hundreds of people starting out in the profession.

His former student Jon Lovitz immortalized Mr. Needles with his classic Saturday Night Live character “Master Thespian.”

Mr. Needles was born in Yonkers, New York, on January 2, 1919, and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, just down the road from Stratford. His grandfather, Ira Needles, was the founder of BF Goodrich Canada and co-founder of the University of Waterloo.

William Needles died January 12, at the age of 97, surrounded by his family, at a hospice in Alliston, Ontario.

A celebration of the life of William Needles will be held at the Festival Theatre Sunday, April 17.

Speakers include Colm Feore, Geraint Wyn Davies, Benedict Campbell, Seana McKenna, Lucy Peacock, and Jon Lovitz (by video), with performances by Loreena McKennitt, Gerald Isaac and Berthold Carrière, and Nicholas Van Burek, Trent Pardy, Roger Shank, Jesse Aaron Dwyer and Jean-Michel Le Gal.

DATE: Sunday, April 17
TIME: 2 p.m.
PLACE: Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford

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A Celebration of the Life of William Needles

Keith Tomasek
16 April 2016
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