PAL Ottawa was recently the incredibly grateful recipient of an endowment left to our work by the late performer, theatre manager, and arts administrator Paul (Robin) Lapointe, who passed away on November 6, 2017, leaving behind his beloved partner of 34 years, Christian Ma. Our sister organization PAL Toronto was also the recipient of a similar legacy.
Lapointe (whose stage name was Robin) was a veritable workhorse at the Ottawa Little Theatre, starting at the age of 15 and going on to appear in 25 separate productions from 1950-55, including Elizabeth the Queen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Jack and the Beanstalk, Blood Wedding, Toad of Toad Hall, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He also served as an assistant lighting designer for The Voice of the Turtle (the 9th-longest running non-musical play in Broadway history and a rarely produced gem that sees a revival at Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival in 2019).
Paul eventually left the national capital region for Toronto and other southern Ontario environs (including Vineland and Stratford) where he worked as a performer, writer, broadcaster, and theatre manager. His work brought him into contact with the legendary generation of Canadian theatre artists who helped build the professional regional live theatre circuit. He worked at the landmark Crest Theatre of Toronto, and became friends with the likes of Marigold Charlesworth and Jean Roberts. (Some Crest Theatre veterans are now resident at PAL Toronto’s location). He was also associated with the Red Barn Theatre at Jackson’s Point, Ontario (Canada’s oldest continuously operating professional summer theatre until it was destroyed by fire in 2009).
Paul’s sister Louise Needham (herself a veteran of the Canadian arts scene, having worked “the best job of my life” at the National Arts Centre from 1973-86 doing everything from administrative work to sewing curtains for operas) shared with PAL Ottawa that her family had a great love of the arts. With five sisters and three brothers, Paul grew up in a Rouyn-Noranda arts family bound together by a social conscience and love of natural beauty. Their mother was a musician, and their father owned The Lido movie theatre, which proved a special treat for the kids because until the 1960s, children under the age of 16 were legally banned from going to Quebec movie theatres both because of a 1927 Montreal fire tragedy and pressure from the clergy.
“Dad had a sliding door in his office, and on Friday nights if we were good, we were allowed to go in and watch the movies, which always seemed to start with a cowboy serial, where the leading man drops off a cliff and you have to wait till next week to find out if he landed,” Needham recalls. “There was one French and one English movie, and we loved the musicals. On Sundays we would all gather around the piano and Mother would play all the new show songs. Paul and I were very close, and we put on plays and went camping together too. It was a lovely way to grow up. I keep very good memories of it.”
Louise, who always kept her hand in amateur theatre (often doing everything from props to assistant direction at community productions that played in Gloucester High School) married broadcaster Ed Needham (who hosted a long-running show on Toronto’s CFRB) and spent the past 20 years dividing her time between her Quebec cottage and Florida. It was during the summer that Paul and other family members would gather for special reunions.
Louise said she is delighted Paul left a legacy to PAL Ottawa “because what you represent is everything he was. The desire to give hope to people who might face a little struggle. Our parents taught us to be kind and understanding.”
Though now in her 80s, Louise says she has plans to continue being involved in the community. Her mother lived to 102, she says, “and we inherited her genes. We’re very young-thinking and believe we can still save the world.”