Antony Holland, Canada's oldest living actor, founder of Studio 58, and a massive local-theatre pioneer, died on Wednesday (July 29) at 95, according to the Langara acting school's Facebook page.
It reported he "passed away earlier today at Nanaimo General Hospital. At this time we are awaiting details. Once more information is known we will share with all of you. For now, all of us at Studio 58 are deeply saddened by this news and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family." Studio 58 also updated its cover photo to a shot of an exhilarated Holland receiving the Order of Canada in 2014.
Holland had distinguished himself during the Second World War by organizing theatre productions with his fellow soldiers (including during the North African campaign). His famous personal quote on IMDB is "I'm a really good actor, but I'm a terrible soldier." Later, he had a flourishing postwar career acting, directing, and teaching at Britain's famous Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. But in 1957, he moved to Canada with a different dream. He once told the Straight, “I loved gardening and I thought I’d come and grow vegetables and sell them.”
Fortunately for us, he didn't just remain a green thumb.
Soon after coming here, he founded an innovative theatre school at a Maple Ridge prison, the Haney Correctional Institute, in 1960.(“You’d be locked in the gym to rehearse, and you’d suddenly need a prop or something, so you’d have to go to the door and get a guard to double-unlock the door," he once recalled to the Straight.) In 1965 he launched the first theatre-arts program at Vancouver City College, which would evolve into Studio 58 (now at Langara campus). Holland retired from his post heading the program in 1984.
He once told the Straight: “Somebody had laid down ground rules for this program which consisted of a couple of acting classes a week, and then they were going to farm the students out to other departments like psychology and business administration and physical education. And I realized that’s not going to equip somebody to be an actor, and so I went to the administration and said: ‘This program is for the birds. My mandate is to give them the skills so they can earn their living, not go on to university.’ ” Holland designed a more practical curriculum, which included dance and musical training, and hired theatre professionals as part-time instructors. Although enrollment was initially small—he accepted all five students who applied into the first class—the program now receives hundreds of applications from around North America and has produced some of the city and country's finest actors. The school is gearing up for its 50th anniversary this fall.
Some of his most well known roles included an appearance as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at Studio 58 in 2008 and as King Lear there in 2005. At the 2008 show, he played other characters as well. The production was, almost unimaginably, what he dubbed "Free-Fall Shakespeare”: each night of the performance at the Langara theatre, the audience would help choose which actors would play which characters, and in performer-director Holland’s case, that meant the crowd could decide whether he’d be Old Gobbo, the Duke of Venice, or Shylock.
Receiving the Jessie award for his acclaimed role in Tuesdays With Morrie at the Arts Club in 2006, he quipped, "My advice to everyone is if you spend 70 years in the theatre you may get the part you really want."
Holland also had a storied TV and movie career, in everything from McCabe & Mrs. Miller to The Accused to Battlestar Galactica. He said of appearing on film opposite Katharine Hepburn “I got panicked for the first time in my life. I thought, ‘I had that woman’s portrait on my wall when I was 12'."
More recently he lived on Gabriola Island, where he established a new company at the Gabriola Theatre Centre.
He held a Lifetime Equity membership, membership in the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, and many Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards and lifetime achievement awards; there is also a scholarship at Studio 58 in his honour.
Holland had celebrated his 95th birthday by acting in Nanaimo in March in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.
The Straight will report more details as they become available.