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Friday, July 1, 2022
An appreciation: Two bright stars dimmed for Shaw

Mike Keenan

Special to The Lake Report

Tennyson said, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” The Shaw Festival mourned the loss this winter of two of its longtime stars, David Schurmann and Mary Haney, both of whom performed for decades and delighted audiences at all three stages.

Schurmann made his debut in 1981 and appeared in more than 40 productions up to “Our Town” and “Uncle Vanya” in 2016, then turned to directing in his later years. Shaw colleagues remember him for “Henry IV,” “This Happy Breed,” “Blithe Spirit and “Getting Married.”

Welland-born Haney joined the festival in 1978, performing in 60 productions, including “Major Barbara” and “The Cherry Orchard.” I remember her more recently for dominant performances in “Harvey” and “Juno and the Paycock,” which demonstrated her powerful acting range and depth.

In contrast, Schurmann, born in 1943 in England, was more apt to display colloquial English charm, an aristocratic flavour abetted by his vibrant voice. Shaw actor/director Jim Mezon remembers David as a “gentleman … the definition of that word in every aspect of his life on stage and off.” Mezon, now involved with the Norm Foster Festival in St. Catharines, described Schurmann as “a wonderful actor, dignifying many stages across the country with his portrayals of kings, prime ministers, bishops and patricians.”

Schurmann spent four seasons with the Stratford Festival while Haney, the sister of Trivial Pursuit co-founder Chris Haney, started backstage at Stratford, where her mother Sheila was a performer, then acted for five seasons there under artistic director John Hirsch. Christopher Newton arrived in 1980 at Shaw, and he quickly made Haney a key piece of his acting ensemble.

Actor Peter Krantz, now also with the Foster Festival, made his Shaw debut with Schurmann in “Camille” 39 years ago, and said Schurmann’s polished style made him a key figure at the company, referring to Schurmann’s “Henry IV” as the “performance of his career.”

Colleague Neil Barclay in a Facebook post stated, “Nobody could touch David Schurmann for elegance, class and grace. Add to that wit and warmth and a keen intelligence and every so often, a drop of acid to surprise.” Peter Millard, another co-star, loved participating in Schurmann’s exquisite dinner parties.

Shaw co-star Corrine Koslo reports that Haney, a graduate at age 17 from the National Theatre School in Montreal, was known off-stage for her “acid humour that could cut through any situation. She was like that her whole life.”

The Toronto Star obit on Feb. 28 characterized Haney as, “She laughed, joked and was friends with all – “out front” ushers, bartenders, ticket takers and house managers; backstage prop folks, dressers, set designers and crews. She stared at and learned from all of them, stockpiling in her already rich memory bank an unusual shuffle here, a doddering attitude there, a peculiar hand gesture, or a fresh accent to use in a future play. Others mannerisms and quirks were her bread and butter. And there was always a “Hi, monkey,” to anyone who glanced her way…Stories of her quick wit abound. For example, one hot Monday afternoon while keeping score with Butch Blake at the annual Stratford-Shaw Cricket Match she pointed toward the pitch, cleared her throat and whispered in his good ear, “You know I've messed around with both out there.” “Both what?” Butch asked. “Teams.” ”

Regarding mortality, the Roman lyric poet Horace once said, “I shall not wholly die, and a great part of me will escape the grave.” I think that’s quite true of Mary and David, but nevertheless, we will miss them both.