Fort Worth — Bill Newberry, who co-founded Circle Theatre with his late wife Rose Pearson, and served as its longtime managing director, has died at his home in New Orleans. He was 67.
Newberry took over running Circle Theatre along with Timothy Long, managing director, when Executive Director Pearson died in 2016. They hired Matthew Gray as artistic director in early 2018; Long became Executive Director and Newberry retired.
In the summer of 2018, Newberry moved into an apartment at his son Michael Newberry's new home in New Orleans, where the junior Newberry had recently relocated for a job. Michael Newberry says the cause of death is not known, because Bill had recently been given a clean bill of health by his doctor.
"We had seen him two hours prior and when he wouldn't answer his phone, we let ourselves into his apartment and found him passed," Michael Newberry says. "He was not complaining about anything and we had plans to go to a Mardi Gras parade later in the day."
Born Sept. 8, 1951, in Houston, Newberry's love for theater led him to pursue the craft at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. While there, he became active in the local theater scene, and in a 1978 production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire at Fort Worth Community Theatre (later Fort Worth Theatre; now defunct), he played Mitch. Blanche was played by Rose Pearson. They fell in love and decided to start a theater.
After a few performances in a west Fort Worth strip mall, they moved the theater to the back room at the Mexican restaurant La Hacienda on Bluebonnet Circle, the “circle” in the theater’s name. The theater, founded in 1981, was one of four started by actors who had worked at Bill Garber’s Fort Worth Community Theatre and/or Mel Dacus’ Casa Mañana. (The others, in order of founding, were Johnny and Diane Simons' Hip Pocket Theatre, Jerry Russell's Stage West, and Rudy and Marian Eastman's Jubilee Theatre, all founded between 1977 and 1981.)
Newberry and Pearson married a few years after Circle was founded. In the late 1980s, Circle moved into an office building on Magnolia Avenue, and in 1994, into the below-street-level Sundance Square space where it currently resides. The theater would become Fort Worth’s second Actor’s Equity Association Small Professional Theatre (SPT), after Stage West. (Casa Mañana was at a higher AEA level.)
Although Newberry was Pearson’s Managing Director, often designing sets and serving as stage manager, he was happy to have Rose be the face of the theater’s artistic mission, which favored newer plays and rarely produced works by well-known playwrights, championing the work of writers like Bruce Graham, Tom Dudzick, Michael Hollinger, and Lauren Gunderson.
“Bill was that quiet man in the background,” says Tim Long, who started with Circle as an intern in 1999 and is now the company’s Executive Director. “He was never a people person…he let Rose do the work and he took care of the business. They made such a perfect team.”
When Pearson was diagnosed with cancer earlier this decade, and her condition gradually worsened—and although everyone thought she would beat it, because she was always a fighter—Newberry and Long started making a succession plan.
“Both of us started taking over the Rose roles,” Long says.
Long says that because of Pearson’s illness, he was able to say everything he wanted to say to her. Newberry’s passing was a complete surprise. “I thought he was going to live decades, I’m in shock because he took care of himself and his father lived well into his 90s,” Long says.
“He was my mentor, my friend, and was someone I trusted and respected, and I’m going to miss him a lot,” Long adds. “My kids are going to grow up not knowing Bill, and that kills me.”
Newberry is survived by son Michael, daughter-in-law Courtney Newberry, and grandchildren Daniel and Zoe.
There will be a casual, come-and-go celebration of Newberry’s life, 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 12 at Circle Theatre. "He would not want any hoopla or speakers, so we are keeping it a laid-back get-together," Long says.
» To see more photos of Bill Newberry, including many with his family in New Orleans, click the Slideshow icon in the floating menu at bottom left of your screen