As posted by the Stratford Beacon Herald , November 17, 2014
The Festival stage was the perfect setting for the celebration.
In his 24 seasons with the Stratford Festival, Bernard Hopkins had made that stage a second home. He had captivated audiences and fellow actors in an unforgettable series of roles while treading those boards.
So on Sunday, Hopkins’ friends and family took to the same stage to pay tribute to the man, sharing stories, memories and songs with one final audience.
“Bernard would be so pleased to see so many friends here today,” said artistic director Antoni Cimolino, gazing out at the faces in the Festival Theatre.
Encircled by the costumes from three of his most memorable roles – Parolles from All’s Well That Ends Well, Touchstone from As You Like It and Snug from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Hopkins’ Stratford Festival family talked about a man with a passion for the “breathless wonder” of theatre.
“Art came first for this man,” Cimolino said. “He fiercely valued, above all else, true service – true service to art and true service to art in ourselves.”
The first speaker at the celebration of Hopkins’ life, Cimolino talked not only of Hopkins’ surpassing talent as an actor, but praised his dedication as both a director and a teacher.
“I’ve lost a mentor and I’ve lost a chum,” Cimolino said. “For the company, the company has lost a voice – a voice that valued innocence and valued beauty, a voice that was filled with joy. He loved this theatre. He loved this stage.
“Let’s remember that voice.”
Hopkins died peacefully on Wednesday, Oct. 22, in the arms of his husband, Ian White.
Actor Lucy Peacock talked about fabulous dinners during their shared time in late-1970s Montreal. Hopkins would summon young actors to his hilltop home for wonderful meals, bottles of wine and hours of conversation.
“We would flock to him and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden age,” Peacock said. “… The wine would flow with gusto, Bern with his cigarette holder and his scarves.”
The discussions, she said, were “challenging, and full of mysteries and metaphors.”
“There was never, ever nothing to discuss, and we would laugh sans intermission.”
In addition to anecdotes from his theatre family, the celebration included a couple of songs from Hopkins’ beloved musicals and a handful of dramatic recitations. Company member Shane Carty performed a rousing She Loves Me from the eponymous musical by Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock while actor Thom Allison sang Not While I’m Around from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
“Bern loved musicals,” Carty said by way of introduction, “and he loved this one.”
Tom McCamus paid tribute to his old friend with a reading of The God Forsakes Antony, a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy. Sharry Flett took to the stage to recite Philip Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb, a poem that was read at the poet’s own memorial service.
“Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love.”
Love was also the “leitmotif” of Sara Topham’s remembrances of her friend and mentor.
“It has been my privilege to call Bernard Hopkins my teacher and my friend,” she said. “He taught me about acting, about love and about life … and I know I’m not alone in that experience … He never, ever stopped learning; he never, ever stopped teaching, and he never, ever stopped loving.”
While many friends were able to share their love for Hopkins in person, many others were unable to make the trip to Stratford because of professional commitments. Cimolino and Chick Reid shared some of the letters that had arrived, reading the remembrances from Brian Bedford, the Lear to Hopkins’ Fool, and fellow acots Kelly Handerek, Kyle Blair and Seana McKenna.
“It was his unbridled passion for the theatre that inspired so many of us,” Blair wrote.
The celebration of Hopkins’ life concluded with a performance of the funeral song from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline by actors Stephen Gartner and Gordon S. Miller, who shared the famous lines: “Fear no more the heat o' the sun, Nor the furious winter's rages; Thou thy worldly task hast done, Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages: Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”
After Gartner and Miller left the stage, the entire company, including the audience, finished by singing the hymn, At the River, giving a final shared voice to the celebration.
And then the service ended on another perfect note, with a closing – and rousing – standing ovation for Bernard Hopkins.