Obituary / Farewell Renald Navilly, actor, director and mentor

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Renald Navilly, Photo Gerry Orkin 2017
MEMBERS of Canberra’s theatre and mental health communities have been saddened to learn of the death early this week of one of their brightest lights.

Renald Navilly (née Navarro) died on Monday aged 64 after an eight-year battle with cancer.

A brilliant actor, director, mentor and in his later years an award-winning creative arts therapist, Navilly’s career in Canberra stretched over nearly 40 years.

As recently as last year, he was honoured with the Award for Excellence and Innovation by Mental Health Justice Health Alcohol and Drug Services ACT, for having been instrumental in the development of the Ethics and Standards of Practice for Creative Arts Therapists and for highlighting the role of creative arts therapy in recovery.

Always a commanding presence on stage, especially in comedy and physical theatre, Navilly was associated with many of the ACT’s more adventurous theatre groups, including Canberra Youth Theatre, Jigsaw Splinters Theatre of Spectacle, and the company he formed with his wife Fiona, Tango 160.

Renald Navilly’s response to the Myuran Sukumaran exhibition
He was also a formidable teacher and mentor to Canberra performer Mikel Simic in helping stage the cult Canberra export, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen.

Renald Navarro was born in Germany in 1953 of French-Algerian parentage. After travelling Europe, he became besotted with theatre in his 20s and travelled, performing, to Africa and the Pacific, finally visiting Australia in 1976, and eventually staying.

It was in the same year that, as part of The Ozo Brothers, he was engaged by Domenic Mico for the arts group Blue Folk at Strathnairn, performing circus-like theatre to wildly enthusiastic audiences.

After performing in Sydney and around Australia with The Ozo Brothers and Circus Berserkus, he and his future wife, Fiona McVilly, were engaged by Mico in 1981 to perform at the theme park Canberry Fair and moved here permanently.

In the 1980s he worked at Jigsaw under then-director Peter Wilkins. He travelled in 1984 with McVilly to Europe, then, on returning, directed shows like “A Morality Tale” for Canberra Youth Theatre under Amanda Field before joining Don Mamouney’s company, Fortune Theatre, where he played often idiosyncratic lead roles.

He was hired as a coach/teacher by Splinters and continued with the company on large-scale spectacles at EPIC and in many public spaces.

In 1991 their jointly-formed company, Tango 160, came to national notice with “Solitude, My Mother, a Glimpse of Olegas Truchanas,” a pared-back theatrical tribute to the doomed wilderness photographer. This was later revived, but the company also staged other ‘precursor’ works on a small scale—“like haiku poems,” they thought.

With a growing family, Navarro and McVilly decided they wanted a unique family name, so changed both their surnames by deed poll to a new conflated name, ‘Navilly,’ and were married.

Family also brought the necessity to earn more money than the theatre usually affords, and while Fiona moved away from the stage, Renald was determined to stay in the arts, so re-trained, taking out a Masters in Creative therapies from RMIT University.

A productive career as a creative art therapist ensued. Renald had a huge impact on the treatment of mental health in the ACT and was the force behind the opening of a welcoming new mental health facility next to  Canberra Hospital precinct which  offered outlets for patient to realise themselves through visual arts, music, writing and play, depending on what he judged to be appropriate.

Renald moved into a small studio located in old fibro huts between Childers Street and Kingsley Streets in Acton in 2005, setting up workshops and rehearsals to raise awareness of the transformative power of the arts, first through the Canberra Creative Arts Therapy Network and then in association with Belconnen Community Services, Canberra Playback Theatre and Canberra Dance Theatre. He was present in February 2012 when ‘Playing Field Studio’ moved to a new, permanent home on Kingsley Street Acton, describing those involved as “a family.”

In 2010 he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Periods of remission followed by recurrences, the 5th one last month.

Throughout this period Renald continue working as a creative arts therapist. During the last six month of his life after a friend gave him a blank book, he put his energies into pen-drawing, producing what Fiona describes as “amazing pictures, evolved in his own way, improvising.” His last weeks were spent perfecting his impressions of the recent Myuran Sukumaran exhibition at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, “Another Day in Paradise.”

Exhausted by medical interventions, Renald stopped treatment several weeks ago. Last week he told a friend, “I have no regrets, therefore I have no fear.”

Renald Navilly (née Navarro) born August 27, 1953, died May 28, 2018. He is survived by his wife Fiona, his children Lula, Victor and Gloria and his two grandsons. A celebration of his life will be held at Gorman Arts Centre, Ainslie Ave Braddon at 1.30pm on Sunday, June 3, all welcome.


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