In Memory of Paul Collins
Shanghai’s English-language theatre community has lost someone special. Paul Collins passed away last week due to the cruel surprise of a hidden cancer. It has shocked us all, not only because no one should be taken away so soon and so suddenly, but also because his spirit, dedication, and talent made an indelible impression on so many of us.
The theatre community is a wonderfully diverse group. Our members run the range from complete amateurs making their first tentative steps in performing, to semi-professionals trying to make a living from their art. We have dreamers, drama-merchants (more interested in what’s happening off-stage than on), and a multitude of artists who are able to channel the truth and beauty of the universe into their performances. Our beloved Paul filled every one of these niches at some time or another.
From the moment that Paul met the cast of King Lear during their post-performance drinks (‘You’ve been doing Shakespeare? I love Shakespeare!’) until his final set of rehearsals for The Crucible, Paul’s delight in English Literature, his dedication to drama, and his determination to continually improve as an actor shone through in every audition, every rehearsal, every performance, and every late-night discussion.
From the producer’s perspective, Paul’s helpfulness, reliability, and gallantry were ever-present. He was the first to volunteer to help with get-in and get-out, with props, costumes, publicity, and anything else we might need. He was so reliable – always arriving on time and assisting others whenever he could. In fact, the last thing he did for East West Theatre was to completely overhaul and update our press contacts list.
On stage Paul’s artistry, hard-work, and skill made a permanent impression on all. In the words of Philip Hohol, Paul’s first director in Shanghai, “I have had the blessing to work with Paul, and I was struck by the humility with which he approached his craft. He always looked as if he was afraid of letting people down, but of course it was just the opposite. He walked on stage, disappeared into his role, and contributed to each play with such imagination, such humour, and such bravery, that everyone felt lucky to be performing with him. He made the rest of us look better, which as anyone in the business knows, is the highest compliment you can pay to an actor.”
Paul’s final role was acting as Reverend Parris in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The director, Danny Wall, had also worked with him on other shows, and he shared some thoughts about Paul, saying he was “always so perfect in whichever role he found himself in.” It is lucky when a director can glance over the cast members and not be able to envision any other person in a particular role, but that was always the case with Paul.
He further noted that playing a supporting role requires special talents. There are acting skills needed, of course, but there’s also the ability to be open, to be reliable, helpful, and willing to do whatever it takes. Paul had all of these qualities and more. He was always a solid and dependable addition to any cast. Off the stage, these qualities were even more apparent. He was helpful and welcoming to all, becoming fast friends to Shanghai veterans and newcomers alike.
Paul often joked with Danny that his parts for most plays were that of the minister or priest, or the uncle or someone’s brother. But true to life, these roles sum up so much about him—the kindly, familiar, and jovial person that we trusted and relied on. We have lost all of that, as well as a true artist whose emotional honesty and dedication to truth and beauty shone through in every performance. We all feel that we now have to work just a little harder to make plays that he would be proud of. Yet, at the same time, Shanghai will always glow brighter for his memory.
Paul Collins’ stage acting credits in Shanghai included:
2011 Polonius in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
2011 Peter in Zoo Story by Edward Albee
2011 Gus in The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
2012 Dr Rance in What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton
2012 Yakov in North Bank, Suzhou Creek by William Sun
2012 Eilert in Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
2013 Henry Saunders in Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig
2013 George Aaranow in Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet
2014 Dr Sapirstein in Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
2014 Paul in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, Revised
2014 Little Girl in Samhein (devised)
2014 Julian in Rendevous by Jason Lasky
2015 Police Inspector/Barman in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
2015 Thomas in Agatha’s Anguish by Charmika Stewart
2015 Yakov in Shalom, Shanghai by William Sun
2015 The Ticket Keeper in Devil’s Fables
2016 Philippe in Heroes by Gerald Sibleyras
2016 Nestor in Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
2017 Minister/Barman in Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas
2017 Sims/Papa in The Nether by Jennifer Haley
2018 Rev Parris in The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Along with many films, web shows, and voice recordings.