What Ed Berry loved most about theatre: 'Everything'

Ed Berry. Firehouse. Photo by Brian Brooks.

 Ed Berry, back left, with the cast of Firehouse Theater Company’s 2012 production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde.’ Photo by Brian Miller.

Soft-spoken bear of a man stared death in the face — and cracked wise. ‘That’s who he was,’ friends say.

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Ed Berry knew his death was imminent as he sat in his Colorado Springs hospital room last Saturday. He didn’t know whether he had days or hours left when the cafeteria worker called and asked what he wanted for breakfast. With his trademark sardonic humor, Berry just laughed and told the caller, “We’re going to have to play that by ear.”

“Here he was looking death right in the face, and for him to pop off that line — that’s pretty indicative of who he was,” said his longtime friend Maggie Stillman.

Berry, a longtime member of the Colorado theatre community in a wide variety of capacities, died Tuesday morning from the effects of long-term congestive heart failure. He was 62.

Ed Berry Quot“Ed faced death as he faced life, and that was with courage and bravery,” said his friend, Matt Lang. “We should be so lucky to take that and incorporate that into how we face life every day.”

Berry was also a proud nerd, Stillman said. He loved BBC murder mysteries — especially episodes of Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders — the Denver Comic Con and all things space, from last summer’s eclipse to the hit CBS sit-com The Big Bang Theory. If the subject was sci-fi, Stillman said, Berry was all about it.

“We’re both part of a Facebook group called The Nerdverse, she said. The group quotes actor Simon Pegg‘s philosophy: “Being a geek means never having to play it cool about how much you like something.” 

“He really liked posting photos of nerdy T-shirts,” Stillman said.

Berry once stood all day in a line at Denver Comic Con to grab a ticket to a panel featuring William Shatner. Then he gave it to Stillman.

“He was always a person you could rely on to give all of himself to you — and be happy to do so,” Stillman said of a man also known for a soft-spoken nature that gave him uncommon observational powers.

“Ed knew that I was carrying a child before I did,” said his friend, Ona Canady. “He came up to me and said, ‘Maybe you should check before drinking that wine.’ I did, and he was right. He was like an owl who would only talk when he knew that he was right.”

It wasn’t the number of theatre companies Berry worked for that was as remarkable as the number of jobs he took on for those companies. Berry was a director, assistant director, stage manager, sound designer, board member and publicity photographer. He was, simply put, a guy who did anything that needed doing. He loved nailing boards to a stage as much as he did directing a show.

“I think we have lost someone who everybody really loved working with,” his sister, Colleen Berry Linder, posted on Facebook.  

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Berry was there for John Hand when the founder of Colorado Free University started his Firehouse Theater Company at the former Lowry Air Force base. And he was there for Hand’s sister, Helen Hand, when she scrambled to keep her brother’s dream alive after Hand was murdered in 2004.

Firegouse Theatre. Photos by Ed Berry.“When my brother bought the old Lowry fire station, he started a ‘readers theatre’ series that cost a dollar a class,” Helen Hand said. “John wanted to be around interested people, and he didn’t care about making money from it. Ed was one of those interested people. The bond that was formed among the participants was powerful. They were creating something new and supporting each other to take new risks.”

Ed was among the friends who pulled together after Hand’s death to help his sister keep Firehouse together. “First we formed a board just to keep Firehouse going, and Ed was one of the founding members – so he was there for me from the get-go,” she said.

(Samples of Ed Berry’s theatre photography, right: Emma Messenger in ‘The Lion in Winter,’ and Greg West in ‘I Am My Own Wife,’ both for Firehouse Theater.)

Berry never aspired to perform onstage, but he loved being a part of the creative process. Helen Hand depended on Berry for his quiet and calm whenever things got loud and agitated. “He was the kind of guy who waited until things quieted down to state his opinion,” she said. “He was low-key, soft-spoken, steady and supportive. He never got caught up in the drama — he never created it, and he never spread it.

“I remember once when we were sitting in a board meeting. People were going off in different directions and things were falling apart from all sides. Ed suddenly spoke up and said, ‘Guys. We have to make this fun … or it’s not worth doing.’

“He didn’t demand attention,” she said. “He waited to speak for the moments when he could be heard.”

Berry helped select the plays that were presented by Firehouse and often assisted on productions directed by Brian Brooks, including Jekyll and Hyde and Earth and Sky. “And he was a fabulous photographer,” Hand said. He particularly loved photographing race cars.

Berry was a board member for the late Byers-Evans Theatre Company and was a mainstay at the Bug Theatre back in the early 2000s, when it hosted one of the area’s most admired acting ensembles. “He volunteered all the time and was a smiley presence, gently laughing with and encouraging everyone. Such an altruist,” said Mare Trevathan, now a co-founder of Local Theatre Company.

Berry was born in Dallas on Nov. 30, 1955, and attended Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. After moving to Denver, he worked for five years at Natural Grocers before moving to Colorado Springs in 2014.

His real-life profession was as a Network Administrator, where his main task was calmly resolving mission-critical software issues. In other words, Berry was a professional problem-solver. Just as he was in the theatre.

Berry was diagnosed with congestive heart failure back in the 1990s and came to terms with his his eventual fate years ago. Still the end came less than a week after doctors told him his last option was the heart transplant list, which he declined. “If it’s my time, it’s my time,” he told friends. He announced his terrible news on Facebook in typical straightforward fashion:

“Basically my heart is shutting down,. My heart was damaged through years of trying to pump blood through a 380-pound body. Even after losing 130 pounds, gaining it back, and then losing 157, the damage was already done. The upshot: My heart has run its course. It’s beat itself … well, to death.”

Berry spent much of his final days using humor to lighten the burden off his closest friends and family. When Stillman visited Berry in the hospital, he was watching Star Wars: A New Hope. “We got to talking and he said, ‘Oh man, now I’m not gonna know how Star Wars ends,’ ” Stillman said with a laugh.

A Ed Berry 800 3Later, Stillman asked Berry what he loved most about theatre. His answer? “Everything.”

Berry is is survived by his sister, Colleen Berry Linder. He was preceded in death by a younger brother, Kevin Berry, in February 2016.

A life celebration will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, in the ballroom at the Colorado Free University at 7653 First Ave., in Denver. It’s a pot luck, so bring food and drink.

In lieu of flowers, Berry’s sister asks that you make a donation to a favorite charity in his name.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Ed Berry. Crave Magazine. Ripple Effect. Courtesy Jim Willis. Crave Magazine featured the start of the new Ripple Effect Theatre Company founded by Maggie Stillman, seated front. Ed Berry is first from the right. Photo by Jim Willis, courtesy Maggie Stillman.

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