When the cast and crew of Ivor Johnson's Neighbours, at Ship's Company Theatre, found out that cast member Bill Forbes had passed away in his sleep last Monday, they shut down the production for the day. The group later elected to complete the play's run (it ended on July 26) in honour of Forbes' memory. Artistic director Pamela Halstead says it has brought Forbes' friends and loved ones out to Parrsboro in droves.
"People have felt like they should come here almost to pay their respects," she says. "People want to come and talk about Bill."(A public memorial is planned for September.)
The 50-year-old Forbes had worked in multiple areas of the Halifax and Nova Scotian theatre scene not only as an actor, but also as a writer, director and designer. Josh Cruddas co-starred with Forbes in The Gravesayers in May, and says that Forbes' expertise was apparent early on in the production.
"When we first did the read-through, Bill was able to pick discrepancies out in the script," he says. "He had a great sense of being able to see into the future and judge how an audience would react to the show. I've never seen that ability in an actor before. It was really, really cool."
The common thread that links most people's memories of Forbes is his sense of humour. Halstead points out that despite his considerate nature, Forbes possessed "a scathing wit" that distinguished him when he was onstage. "Oh, he was a hoot," she says. "He would chase Gay Hauser around backstage and just say obnoxious things to her in character. And during the play he got a few chances to improv, and we really didn't know what he would say next."
Former co-star Anthony Black says he remembers Forbes coining this phrase: "If life gives you lemons, cut 'em open and squeeze 'em in someone's eye---why should you be the only one suffering?"
But mingled always with Forbes' humour was a sense of professionalism. His legacy of work with Performing Arts Lodge Halifax and other theatre institutions earned him the respect of his peers.
"Even with all the troubles the industry has gone through, he was never disillusioned," Cruddas says. "He always cared."
Halstead knew Forbes for nearly two decades and witnessed the ebb and flow of his career. She says his final role as Duddy in Neighbours was one of his best.
"The great thing about this role was that Bill was such a nice guy, and Duddy is such a male chauvinist pig," she says. "Bill was gay and he loved playing this Neanderthal asshole. It's that thing where you get to play someone so outside of who you really are."
Halstead says she wants people to remember that Forbes was in the midst of one of the best years of his life.
"He was at the top of his game," she says. "It's very sad to lose someone with so much potential. But I'm so pleased he was in a place where he was happy and working, and loved, and surrounded by all of that."