Please pardon any randomness in this post, it’s my immediate reaction to the loss of my friend — Jim Coppens.
His graciousness knows no bounds, and I hope South Bend Civic does some very special things to celebrate his life over the course of the next year if not longer.
I first met Jim Coppens twelve years ago in the green room of South Bend Civic Theatre‘s Firehouse before a performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I finally met the man behind the voice on the answering machine, “Thank you for calling South Bend Civic Theatre. Our next production is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams . . . “ The man who called each patron personally to confirm reservations. The man who I would come to realize knew every patron who crossed the threshold of the theatre. A man I believe Dos Equis lost out on in casting their Most Interesting Man in the World.
And while my name was wrong in that program for some reason, Jim would soon be writing program bios for me where nothing was ever wrong.
Throughout rehearsals for my very next show Jack and Jill, directed by Leigh Taylor, Jim would pop in and say nothing. To this day, I have no idea what he was doing — or more likely what he was checking up on. Chalk it up to paranoia, but I always assumed it was me.
From those early days with South Bend Civic, I’ve learned the many links I have with Jim Coppens — from his knowledge of my childhood parish to his self-deprecation and humility to his earliest profession of teacher — and I am humbled by those ties.
I’ve shared the stage with him many times. He was my ex-girlfriend’s father in Moon Over Buffalo when I wrestled a half-dressed, sweaty Jim out of a closet to the wonderful reactions of Pat Berardi; he was my brother in Little Foxes alongside my evil family of Melissa Gard, Craig MacNab and Ed Ronco; but I think my favorite was when he played my father in Long Day’s Journey into Night, as he sought to guide his dysfunctional family of Mary Ann Moran, Ted Manier and me out of the darkness.
Despite my twelve years with the theatre, I never was directed by Jim. I auditioned for him. Twice. Wanted to other times, but it just didn’t work out for us. The first time I wasn’t right for the part. Another time I had a conflict that kept me from auditioning for what might have been a life altering experience — though the role was handled easily by Rick Ellis. Yet another was just bad timing, and the last he wasn’t able to be part of. It just wasn’t quite meant to be. A hole in my resume that will remain gaping.
I think the most flattered I’ve ever been — though Jim was no flatterer — was to know that he was in the audience for my most recent play. Knowing he was as ill as he was, compounded by the knowledge that he’d lost a child himself, he came to see Rabbit Hole accompanied by his graceful wife Linda. I couldn’t believe it.
I could not be more proud to know and call Jim Coppens — friend.
In his life, he played many roles, and I’m glad he and I were part of the same play.
I love him, and I feared disappointing him like he was my own father.
Good night sweet prince, father, brother, husband, teacher, coach, actor, director, mentor and friend. He may have felt ordinary, but he lived an extraordinary life that reached all the way to the highest court in the land.