Ship’s Company Theatre is in shock after the sudden death Monday of Nova Scotia actor Bill Forbes, 50.
Forbes was starring in Ivor Johnson’s Neighbours as Duddy and also rehearsing Ferry Tales at the Parrsboro theatre when he passed away at his Kennetcook home on his day off.
After Forbes didn’t show up for rehearsal Tuesday morning, the theatre company later called the RCMP, who found him in his home.
“It looked like he’d mowed most of his lawn and gone in to lie down and he didn’t wake up,” says Pamela Halstead, the theatre’s artistic producer.
Tuesday night’s performance was cancelled as actors gathered in the theatre to come to terms with the tragedy.
“They discussed it and said they’d like to finish the run in honour of Bill. Everyone is trying to do what they can to help and to honour him.”
Don Allison is taking over his role in Ivor Johnson’s Neighbours, which wraps up Sunday. Christian Murray is taking over in Ferry Tales, which opens Aug. 5.
Halstead had known Forbes, originally from New Glasgow, for 18 years since he directed her in a show he wrote for the Grafton Street Dinner Theatre.
“I am amazed, as word gets out, the number of people that Bill has touched,” she said Wednesday. “He was heavily involved in Grafton Street Dinner Theatre, and the Feast in P.E.I., and in the Saint John dinner theatre, and he toured many years with Mermaid.”
Halstead said “Bill was wonderfully talented.”
“He was also a writer and a designer.”
She recalled how he designed the set and costumes for a co-op production of The Lion in Winter and went home one day to cut up an old coat and make boots for the king, whom he played.
“Bill never had a bad word to say about anybody. He was always very steady. He was a very unassuming guy and very kind and gentle and always very friendly.”
“Bill was just involved in everything,” said Christopher Shore, executive director of Theatre Nova Scotia. “He’s a much, much loved member of the community.
“He was an Equity representative for years and just one of those people that everyone depended on. He was always someone who stepped up. He was a cornerstone.”
Forbes had worked extensively as an actor, writer, director and designer with such companies as Mermaid, Mulgrave Road, Ship’s Company, Festival Antigonish, Two Planks and a Passion (for which he built the large Odyssey puppets), Exodus, Live Bait, Toronto Theatre Sports, Halifax Fringe Festival and Phoenix Dinner Theatre.
His film and television work included Black Harbour, Liocracy, Sleep Murders, Just for Laughs, Shattered City, Elvira Kurt’s Adventures in Comedy and Emily of New Moon.
He was a board member for Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) Halifax and Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre, and an Atlantic Canadian Actors’ Equity councillor.
“Bill had been a part of PAL since it formed,” said Shore. “David Renton and Jean Morpurgo started it in Halifax, but he was one of the early board members and was always involved.”
Forbes was on a streak of consecutive work. He had performed at Neptune Theatre for his first time last fall as Hawkins in The Devil’s Disciple and in May in the Halifax Theatre for Young People’s debut production of The Gravesavers.
Then he arrived at Ship’s Company to tackle the redneck Duddy, who is in an altercation with a snooty neighbour played by Gay Hauser.
“I would certainly say Duddy was some of the best work I saw Bill in and he was having so much fun,” said Halstead, who directed Ivor Johnson’s Neighbours.
While Duddy was completely opposite to Forbes’s nature, she said “he loved playing the character and he loved tormenting Gay. He’d follow her backstage and say obnoxious things.”
“He’s only 50 years old,” she said. “Obviously, it stinks. The two pluses are, one, according to the police, he died very peacefully, and, two, he was really, really happy right now. He’d professionally had a really good year.”
He’d also turned an old schoolhouse in Kennetcook into a home “and he was loving it.”
The Halifax theatre community is planning a memorial in Halifax in September once the summer theatre season is over.