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Wednesday, May 31, 2023


Tribute highlights UH legend’s impact


Although he passed away in 2013, Sidney Berger and his theater legacy, especially the foundation of the Houston Shakespeare Festival, shined in Sunday’s tribute. | Courtesy of Gary Fountain

As dozens of glasses were raised to the heavens in honor of a UH legend, a few members of the crowd bowed their heads, eyes twinkling just as brightly as their glasses.

“To Doc,” they said in unison for the second and final time Sunday evening.

More than 100 people gathered to pay tribute to Sidney “Doc” Berger at the Jose Quintero Theatre. Berger passed away Feb. 15, 2013. He directed, produced and taught at UH for 41 years until he retired in 2010. During his time at UH, he served as the director of the School of Theatre and Dance until 2007 and founded the Children’s Theatre Festival and the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

“I think tonight was a wonderful opportunity for alumni and friends of Sidney to pay a tiniest hint of tribute he is due,” said Jim Johnson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance.

Many colleagues, alumni, former students, faculty and friends swapped stories of Berger, sharing how he was innovative, kind and brilliant. Many say UH’s world-renowned theater department wouldn’t exist without Berger. David Gottlieb, for example, credits Berger for putting UH on the map.

Gottlieb, former dean of the College of Social Sciences and CEO of the Cynthia Woods Pavilion, said Berger was one of his best friends at UH. He said Berger was one of the people who diligently worked to transform the University what it is now, and that’s just not in regards to theater.

“Sidney Berger brought more international attention to the University than any other faculty member I know,” Gottlieb said. “If it was never for Sidney, there would be no Moores School of Music, because Moores was so impressed by him.”

Berger’s influence spread throughout Houston, reaching places like high schools in Acres Homes and the Ensemble Theatre. Berger worked with many local and international theaters.

One of the many in attendance Sunday who worked with Berger was Robert Peeples, an Alley Theatre actor.

“He was an intellectual truck driver,” Peeples said. “He was a very passionate man, a very strong man, a very tough man. He was in your face … he was tough and he knew exactly what he wanted … He was one of the best directors I ever saw.”

Mary Fanioni, whose husband partnered with Berger in the 1970s to produce such works as “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Where is the Sun,” said Berger had a sense of goodwill and helped people. He viewed his students as his family and his legacy.

“He was extremely intelligent. He was extremely loyal, self-disciplined, a self-starter,” Fanioni said. “Nothing was impossible. If he could think of it, nothing would stand in his way.”

Pamela Guinn, one of Berger’s former mentees, said Berger knew how to get the best performance out of everyone. In her case, he would tease her. Although she recalls when she was casted as Thomasina in “Arcadia,” he waltzed her around the stage to show her how it was done. She remembers most his love for Shakespeare.

“None of us understood his love for Shakespeare,” Guinn said. “You can’t measure it.”

Sandra Hopkins, Berger’s wife, said the tribute was remarkable.

“My husband was bigger than life. This evening shows the love he had for his students and colleagues,” Hopkins said.

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