'Our hearts are shattered': Stratford Festival actress Martha Henry dies at 83
Stratford Festival actress Martha Henry has died at the age of 83.
Henry wrapped up her final performance of "Three Tall Women" less than two weeks ago at the festival.
Festival officials said Henry died of cancer in her Stratford, Ont. home on Thursday, surrounded by her family.
“Our hearts are shattered,” said Antoni Cimolino, the festival's artistic director, in a news release. “In losing Martha Henry we have lost the dearest friend, the most inspiring mentor and an unforgettable, original talent. Her profound love for the Stratford Festival, her ingrained wisdom and her integrity were for me a compass. The name Martha Henry is synonymous with artistry, intelligence and beauty. As an actor her performances became the stuff of legend. As a director her productions illuminated not only the text but the world that each actor inhabited as a result of her encouragement and imagination."
Henry joined the Stratford acting company in 1962 after graduating from Canada's National Theatre School. Her first role was playing Miranda in "The Tempest."
According to festival officials, Henry was diagnosed with cancer shortly before "Three Tall Women" was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She was able to come back to the staff in 2021. Officials said she used a walker and moved into a wheelchair in September.
Her final performance was on Oct. 9.
“Her clarity and luminosity that night was unforgettable, and she was very sick," Cimolino said about her final performance. "She wanted to do that part against all odds, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
“The part she played in 'Three Tall Women' is about leaving this world, about dying. She had the courage to share that with the public. She had the courage to share her own death in that way as a gift to the theatre.”
Henry performed in more than 70 productions in her career from 1962 to 2021, and directed 14 other plays. She was also artistic director of the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. from 1988 to 1994 and directed plays across Canada, in the United States and London's West End. She also taught at the National Theatre School, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Windsor and served on the Canada Council for the Arts.
Henry was born in Detroit, Mich. in 1938 and moved to Canada in 1959.
“She was an American who came to the festival and moved to Stratford because of the festival. She told me ‘any country that can create the Stratford Festival I want to be a part of,’” Cimolino said. “There was no one who had a greater impact on the Stratford Festival than Martha Henry.”
Officials said the Stratford Festival will host a memorial for Henry at "an appropriate time." The first Shakespeare production at the Tom Patterson Theatre will also be dedicated in her memory.
“My inbox and messages are jammed with not only contemporaries of Martha, those who worked with her, but maybe more importantly the future generation, those in their 20s and 30s who were taught by Martha, who will inform what it means to be in the theatre for decades to come,” Cimolino said “This is a heavy day for the whole of Canadian theatre.”