Stage Door News

Niagara-on-the-Lake: Venerated actor David Schurmann has died

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

For decades, whenever a Shaw Festival play needed someone with a distinguished English charm, David Schurmann answered the call.

The tall, gentlemanly actor appeared in more than 40 productions at the Niagara-on-the-Lake company, starting in 1981. His upper crust demeanour and unmistakable voice anchored productions of "Henry IV" and "This Happy Breed," and brought levity to shows such as "Blithe Spirit" and "Getting Married."

The well-liked performer, born in 1943 in England, succumbed to cancer over the weekend — the second blow to the Shaw Festival family in recent days following the death of veteran actress Mary Haney last week.

"Whenever you thought of David Schurmann, you also immediately thought of the word 'gentleman,'" said longtime Shaw actor/director Jim Mezon. "He was the definition of that word in every aspect of his life on stage and off."

Schurmann spent four seasons with the Stratford Festival and worked for companies including Theatre Calgary, but the majority of his acting career was spent at Shaw. During his first season he appeared in "Camille" and "In Good King Charles' Golden Day," quickly establishing a style that was perfectly suited for the company's period plays.

"He was a wonderful actor, dignifying many stages across the country with his portrayals of kings, prime ministers, bishops and patricians," said Mezon. "He was in every sense an aristocrat and his kind will not be seen again."

Schurmann's final season at Shaw was 2016, appearing in "Our Town" and "Uncle Vanya."

"Nobody could touch David Schurmann for elegance, class and grace," said his "Uncle Vanya" co-star Neil Barclay in a Facebook post Tuesday. "Add to that wit and warmth and a keen intelligence and every so often, a drop of acid to surprise."

Actor Peter Krantz made his Shaw debut with Schurmann in "Camille" 39 years ago, and said his refined style made him a key figure at the company.

"So many parts in the Shaw cannon where right up his alley," he said. "I used anything I could from him, because he was the real deal."

Krantz was in awe watching Schurmann in "Henry IV," calling it the "performance of his career."

"I was in that production and for some time I was worried for his sanity, as the part was so challenging. He really was a pro, through and through, as well as a wonderful man."

Another longtime Shaw co-star, Peter Millard, fondly recalled Schurmann's impeccable dinner parties and love for cryptic crosswords.

"I shall miss calling and singing 'Happy Birthday' to him, and I shall miss him calling and singing the same to me."

Former Shaw Festival publicist Odette Yazbeck recalled Schurmann as "grace and class personified." Between his comedic roles such as in "Charley's Aunt" or heavy drama such as "Henry IV," she said he "made it all appear so effortless."

By John Law for

Photo: David Schurmann in title role in King Charles III with Patrick Galligan and Gray Powell. © 2018 Cylla von Tiedemann