Timothy Findley’s theatre collection donated to U of G
Novelist and playwright Timothy Findley’s extensive personal collection of theatre memorabilia is being donated to the University of Guelph.
“I’m giving our memories of Canadian theatre from the past 40 years to the University’s wonderful theatre archive,” said William Whitehead, Findley’s partner. Whitehead will tell the stories behind some of the items in the collection March 16 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Room 384 of McLaughlin Library. The event is open to the public.
A Guelph honorary degree recipient who made frequent visits to the city, Findley, who died in 2002, felt a strong attachment to U of G, said Whitehead. “We made the decision to donate these items to the University of Guelph quite some years ago.”
Findley and Whitehead met through the theatre in 1962 and kept all the costume designs, set designs, production photographs and props from the plays they were involved in. The collection covers most of the walls in their Stratford condominium. The entire collection, with the exception of a portrait of Findley, has been donated to U of G, although it will physically remain in Whitehead’s home as long as he lives. Two items from the collection will be displayed in McLaughlin.
In addition to such well-known novels as The Wars, The Piano Man’s Daughter, The Telling of Lies and Not Wanted on the Voyage, Findley wrote six plays and was intimately connected to the theatre throughout his career. “Tiff, as we called him for the initials of his name, Timothy Irving Frederick Findley, spent 15 years as an actor before he started writing,” said Whitehead.
In 1962, Whitehead was jointly running the Red Barn at Central Library Theatre in Toronto and met Findley, who was cast in three plays, including The Rivals. “In the course of the production, we lost an actor to cancer and I had to take over his role,” said Whitehead. “One of the items in the collection is a photograph of Tiff and me during the production, which was the only time we ever appeared together on stage.”
Other items in the collection include masks of Findley and Whitehead’s faces by Guelph artist Connie Gallotti. The portraits are part of Gallotti’s “Cultural Connections” collection, which represents a broad spectrum of Canadian talent, including David Suzuki, Bruce Cockburn, Karen Kain, Liona Boyd, Peter Gzowski, Joni Mitchell and Margaret Atwood.
At the March 16 event, Whitehead will read a speech from Findley’s 1981 play, John A.:Himself. In the play, the press is personified as a ventriloquist who controls the words of Sir John A. Macdonald. The John A. doll is also part of the collection. John A.: Himself was the only one of Findley’s plays that was never published. “He always wanted to rewrite the first act but never got the chance,” said Whitehead.
Findley’s final play, Shadows, was performed at the Stratford Festival shortly after Findley’s death. His other plays are The Stillborn Lover, Can You See Me Yet? and Elizabeth Rex, for which he won his second Governor General’s Literary Award (his first was for The Wars).
Although he gave up acting to pursue writing full time in 1962, Findley never lost his love for theatre. “The greatest gift anyone could give him was to let him be present at the rehearsal of a ballet or play,” said Whitehead. “Giving public readings of his prose or fiction almost replaced the nervous energy he got from acting. He once told me: ‘I have such stage fright. The only way I can escape it is to perform the role of Timothy Findley reading, so I can hide behind that character.”
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.