Antony Holland, a beloved actor, acting teacher, and founder of Studio 58, died on Wednesday (July 29) at the age of 95.
Holland theatre career began with a truly remarkable story. During the early days of World War II, Holland recruited fellow British enlistees to appear in a production of Night Must Fall. It was such a hit that they performed it weekly on the long boat trip from Tiverton, England to Cairo, Egypt. When they arrived they attempted to remount it at the army camp, but the military brass shut them down. So instead they approached the opera house, whose director enthusiastically agreed to the scheme. When Holland warned him that the soldiers could be decamping at any moment, the opera head simply replied, "We are artists. I will send you the contracts."
After the war Holland returned to England, where his career included highlights such as teaching alongside Laurence Olivier at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. "He is the archetypal self-starter,” says fellow Gabriola Island resident James Hawkins. “His modus operandi was to form a theatrical group and direct them in a play in which he took the lead."
Holland moved to Canada in 1957, and his pattern of creating acting companies and teaching institutions continued. In 1965 he founded an institution which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary as one of Canada's most pre-eminent acting programs - Studio 58 at Langara College. In an interview with the Georgia Straight he said, “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 ... so I went to the administration and said: ‘This program is for the birds.” Holland redesigned the program with a practical curriculum, including dance and musical training, and the hiring of theatre professionals as instructors.
In 2014, Holland won the Order of Canada. “When they first phoned me,” he told the Victoria Times-Colonist, “I said, ‘I think you made a mistake. I’m a West Coast actor and I direct and perform in B.C. — it’s usually the Toronto guys who get this stuff.'"
Retirement to Gabriola Island should have meant a restful retreat. Instead, Holland founded the “No Bells and Whistles” initiative: performances reduced to an actor and a text, largely doing away with sets, costumes, lighting and other technical support. Holland was still active and performing right up to the end.
In 2012, his wife told Senior Living Magazine, “He is a self-made man driven by a near-indestructible engine, which ticks over at a steady rate. He keeps the same pace with everything, from learning lines to setting ‘live’ mousetraps and emptying them at regular intervals throughout the night.”