Arts & Culture

Bill Newberry, co-founder of Fort Worth’s long-running Circle Theatre, dies at 67

The late Rose Pearson, founder of Circle Theatre, and her husband, Bill Newberry, in 2007. Newberry takes over as executive director of the company this season.
The late Rose Pearson, founder of Circle Theatre, and her husband, Bill Newberry, in 2007. Newberry takes over as executive director of the company this season. Star-Telegram archives

Bill Newberry, who co-founded Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre with his wife, Rose Pearson, has died, the theater’s executive director, Tim Long, announced in a note to patrons on its website. He was 67.

Newberry, who died Saturday, was born Sept. 8, 1951, in Houston, but was raised in Fort Worth. Long says that a come-and-go celebration of life has been scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the theater, 230 W. 4th St. in downtown Fort Worth.

“He was always enjoyable to work with,” Long told the Star-Telegram. “He always had a positive attitude and was one of the most easy-going, calm people you could be around.”

Newberry and Pearson met during a production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Fort Worth Community Theater, according to Star-Telegram archives. Pearson played Blanche, the faded beauty played by Vivien Leigh in the famous 1951 movie version, and Newberry played Mitch, portrayed by Karl Malden in the movie.

Pearson, who wanted to direct, and Newberry, who wanted to do set design and more, put together a couple of productions at what was then Kell Street Cafe. The shows were popular enough that they sought a bigger space. Along with Newberry’s father, Wilson Newberry, they founded Circle in 1981 in a former Mexican restaurant space on Bluebonnet Circle (hence the “Circle” in the name).

They married in 1985. “I think it’s the only way you could have a relationship in this business because of the strange hours,” Newberry told then-Star Telegram staff writer Mark Lowry in a 2000 story. “Only theater people understand us.”

The theater moved to West Magnolia Avenue in 1987, and in 1994 moved to its current home in the basement of the Sanger Lofts Building on Fourth Street in Sundance Square. Pearson became executive director, and was known for greeting patrons on opening nights and giving pre-show speeches at many performances, encouraging patrons to buy early-bird subscriptions — and to turn off their cellphones.

The couple won the Elston Brooks Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Live Theater League of Tarrant County and named for longtime Star-Telegram entertainment writer Brooks, in 2004.

According to the Circle website, Newberry designed more than 100 sets at Circle, and appeared in more than 30 productions, as well as frequently serving as stage manager and technical director and overseeing the theater’s finances. He retired in December 1987. Pearson had turned to directing even before co-founding Circle, and directed many productions at the small, offbeat theater.

“They both had a commitment and a drive that was almost unparalleled in the theater business,” Long says.

According to Lowry’s 2000 story, Newberry’s love of drama began in elementary school and continued through Richland High School and Texas Christian University. After Pearson’s death in 2016, he took over as Circle’s executive director. He retired in 2017, and Long, who had been involved with the theater for nearly two decades, became executive director.

“I was looking back on some emails and correspondence with Bill,” Long says. “When he retired, I told him, ‘I’ve got such big shoes to fill. ‘He said, ‘You’ll fill ‘em.’ I thought, ‘That’s Bill in a nutshell.’ “

The Thornton Wilder classic “Our Town” is currently running at Circle. Long says the theater will dim its lights in Newberry’s honor during this week’s run. Shows are Feb. 21-23, Feb. 28-March 2 and March 7-9, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays and 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. The theater is at 230 W. 4th St. in downtown Fort Worth, 817-877-3040,, @circletheatrefw on Facebook.

Several other sites have reported on Newberry’s death, including Theater Jones, CultureMap Fort Worth, Art&Seek, and more.

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

Robert Philpot has been a features reporter for the Star-Telegram since October 1992, and currently covers the Tarrant County (and sometimes more) restaurant scene. He also writes general-entertainment stories and features about DFW TV and radio personalities.