In Memory of Paul Collins

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.