Shatner's career and contribution to the Festival in its founding years will be honored at a gala at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel Oct. 21.
“I am proud and happy to be a Canadian and proud and happy to receive this Canadian award,” said Shatner in a statement. “I guess I am just proud and happy.”
“As a screen and television actor, William Shatner has had a legendary career,” added artistic director Antoni Cimolino. “He is known around the world for his iconic portrayal of 'Star Trek'’s Captain Kirk, and for a host of other leading roles, including T.J. Hooker and 'Boston Legal'’s Denny Crane. But many people may not realize that he has also won acclaim as a classical actor. One of my favourite pieces of Stratford lore is the story of William Shatner going on as the understudy for Christopher Plummer’s Henry V in 1956. He became an overnight sensation. In fact, Chris later reflected: ‘I knew then that he was going to be a star.’ It gives us great pleasure to pay tribute to William Shatner and his legacy at the Stratford Festival. We look forward to creating a tribute worthy of his illustrious career.”
Shatner was a member of the Stratford Festival company for three years, beginning in its second season, 1954, when he played Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew, the Young Lord in Measure for Measure and a member of the chorus in the acclaimed production of Oedipus Rex. In 1955 he played Lucius to Lorne Greene’s Brutus in Julius Caesar, Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice, and reprised his role in Oedipus Rex. In 1956, the year he famously understudied Plummer, Shatner played Gloucester in Henry V and Fenton in The Merry Wives of Windsor. He then toured to Broadway, playing Usumcasane in the Festival’s production of Tamburlaine the Great.
Shatner was last in Stratford in 2009 for a screening of the documentary "Gonzo Ballet" at the Avon Theatre as part of DocFest. The film profiled the Milwaukee Ballet’s performance of Common People, a dance presentation set to the music of Shatner’s critically acclaimed album "Has Been." Tables for the Stratford Festival’s Legacy Award presentation to William Shatner are now available at two levels: Silver ($25,000) and Bronze ($15,000). To reserve, contact the Festival’s director of advancement, Rachel Smith-Spencer, at (519) 271-4040, ext. 2402.
Last year the award was presented to Dame Maggie Smith, who was a Festival company member for four seasons between 1976 and 1980. The first recipient, in 2011, was Christopher Plummer, a member of the company for 12 seasons, beginning in 1956.