Richard Farrell’s award-winning performance in a Sault Theatre Workshop production helped launch his professional acting career.
The Montreal native died Dec. 31. He was 89.
“Richard Farrell was one of the greats from the Sault’s theatre community,” Sault Star theatre critic Robin Waples in an email. “(He) went on to make a life in theatre, always grateful for his beginnings with the Sault Theatre Workshop and the dedication to quality work that he learned here.”
Farrell had experience in theatre in Montreal and Toronto before his work in the insurance industry brought him to Sault Ste. Marie in 1965. He credited Janet Short, a long-time community theatre leader, for getting him involved with STW.
The two, alongside Nancy Winters, made their debuts with the theatre company in the 1966 production of A Breath of Spring. Richard Howard directed.
“On stage, he was quickly compared to British actor Robert Morley in his bombastic delivery, countenance and facial expression,” said Waples in her book First Act: Sault Theatre Workshop, The First Fifty Years.
Additional roles with STW followed for Farrell including 4=1, The Beaux’ Stratagem, Look Homeward Angel, Tom Jones, The Seven Year Itch and Endgame.
Farrell, John Meadows and Arla Jean Sillers starred in Luv during STW’s 1970 season. The comedy directed by Ron Chudley won major awards, including best production and actor for Farrell for his performance as Harry Berlin.
Luv was just the group’s second production to advance to the Dominion Drama Festival. Farrell was named best amateur actor in Canada.
“The Sault Theatre Workshop was, of course, the major turning point in my life,” said Farrell in First Act.
His success at Dominion Drama Festival, and the encouragement of directors who worked with him in Sault, spurred Farrell to turn professional, said former STW president Harry Houston.
“With all the exposure right across the country it was there and he had to do it,” said Houston. He worked with Farrell in Tom Jones and Endgame.
Farrell turned professional and worked in television, film and theatre.
He appeared in two films by David Cronenberg (Rabid, Dead Ringers) and made a pair of appearances on The Littlest Hobo.
Farrell was part of the Shaw Festival ensemble for 19 seasons between 1973 and 2004. He appeared in more than 40 productions, said communications co-ordinator Jenniffer Anand in an email. His credits included The Front Page, His Majesty, Blithe Spirit and The Playboy of the Western World. Christopher Newton, the Shaw’s artistic director, directed him in On the Rocks in 1986. Farrell shared the stage with Martha Burns in Night of January 16th in 1987.
Gord Rand worked with Farrell at Shaw, including appearing together in The Playboy of the Western World.
“We had a blast,” said Rand in an online tribute. “Richard was very gentle and supportive – but always mischievous and fun.”
Farrell and Ian Deakin appeared together in Windfall, a Theatre Plus effort in Toronto.
“He had such a natural presence, and great comedy timing,” said Deakin. “He made it all look so easy, and so truthful. He had such a varied career and obviously learned from life, making everything he portrayed in the world of pretend look and feel real. I will always admire him.”
Farrell is one of several actors who appeared in STW shows and became professional actors. Others include Hillary Connell, Keith Knight, Leslie McBay and Jack Wetherall.
Farrell was predeceased by his wife, Mary. Farrell is survived by his four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Farrell’s life will be held at a later date.
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