Article by: Christopher Dawson
Looking into a room that is cluttered can sometimes result in mixed feelings. You might
think the owner is lazy or messy. Then you learn that room belongs to a teacher; a theatre teacher to be exact. Stacks of textbooks and scripts and theatre programs rest on random spots on the floor or in one of the wooden chairs meant for a visiting student. Pictures of past performances, students and family members, framed and dusty, decorate the purple walls of the office to display the love for the life of the man that has created many, if not all, of the smiles immortalized in the countless photographs on the wall.
Professor Douglas Hoppock, theatre arts teacher of Northeast Texas Community College
for the past thirty-odd years, and fellow Texas Christian University alum and proud Horned Frog, has finally decided to retire. On the day I went to interview him I expected to find him in that cluttered office, but I find it empty and not so cluttered as some of the pictures have taken down and the stacks have been moved to boxes. I find Professor Hoppock, or Papa as he is best known among his students, is resting on the stage. He reads up on an article, humming to himself and enjoying the solitude. His thin
frame glasses rest on his hooked nose and he resembles a bird, a wise old owl, but he’s really just a wise old man. A modern day Socrates blessed with a taste for dark clothing and argyle socks.
I pause and looked up at the stage wall. Posters of his past shows, not all but some, cover
the stage wall in a proud display of past accomplishments. “Well, do you want to get this show on the road?” he asks in a voice that has the odd distinction of being both smooth and gravelly. It’s the voice of a man you know is tough and you don’t want to mess with him, but you also know he’s nice and would help you no matter what.
“Sure,” I say and get my recorder out while I take a seat across from him.
What are the words that you can use to describe your thoughts/feelings on retirement? In general, how does it feel?
“Hmmm…it feels like…it doesn’t feel like retirement. It feels like graduating. I’ve been in school, literally, every year since I was six years old. Either going to school or teaching school. I think now we’ve graduated and we’ve got a new direction we’re going. I hope to be the focus of our grandson’s life for the next few years. So, I guess in some ways, I’ll still be a teacher.”
Over the decades you’ve encountered many people. What is your one hope you did for them whether that person be a teacher, friend or student?
“What I did for them? I hope I served as facilitator to their talent. I hope they had a sense of freedom to create. I never thought of myself a director/dictator. I felt that if I could lead them to self-discovery then that was the greatest teaching that you can do. So hopefully my students know that they had a lot of freedom here. Maybe some gentle nudging.”
What will you do with all of your free time?
“Play with the grandchild, we hope to travel, I would love to write and I feel that I’ve got at least one or two plays in me. I feel that I will the proper amount of time to invest in that sort of expression. That’s kind of on my bucket list. I don’t have a desire to act or direct, but I would like to write. I have a nephew in Austin and he has bought a film studio. He’s wanting me to help him in terms of theatre, so I’ll probably be involved in that.”
Are there any regrets you have? Plays you never produced or risks you didn’t take.
“I’m a firm believer that my life has followed its intended path and I really don’t have regrets. There are some great plays that I would have loved to have done and that I never got around to doing, but no real regrets. It’s just, if you think about it, you’d have to live to 1000 to do all the things you’re interested in doing. In terms of risks…I don’t really think of theatre as risk taking. At least that’s not how I look at it. As an actor you’re interpreting a script and as a writer you’re providing the meat for the actor to digest. As the director you’re like the medium. You’re taking the words of the playwright and giving them to the actor so you can create an understanding.”
What would you say is your proudest moment on the NTCC stage?
“Sherry and I getting married.”
*Miss Sherry, as she is known to the many students of Papa, is Professor Hoppock’s second wife. His first wife, Elaine, a lady that I never met, but have always heard great things about, died after a long battle with cancer. I’m sure she was a fantastic human being because Hoppock has the innate ability to find the best people and bringing them into his life. That being said, I now know how he got Miss Sherry. She’s a wonderful woman, always smiling and always ready to give someone a hug and let them know how much she cares. There are many words that can be used to describe Sherry Hoppock and they are: rare, unique, genuine, motherly, and pure. Of all the people I’ve met Miss Sherry is probably the purest human on earth when it comes to the love to she gives and exudes to the people in her life. Being around is an intoxicating experience and it’s next to impossible not to smile and laugh when you hear her soft chuckle and see her beaming
smile all the way across the room. Papa and Miss Sherry were wed on the NTCC stage on July 24, 1999 and they’ve been a wonderful couple ever since and will a wonderful couple forever and on.
Do you have a favorite story you’d like to share from of the NTCC shows?
“Favorite story? Well, there are funny stories and then are heart rendering stories. Several years ago, a handful of years ago, I had a young man who was blind. He was in theatre and he did several plays. I told him a play that I’d like to do is ‘Butterflies are Free’ which is about a young blind man who is moving out on his own and trying to establish his own identity. The student’s name was Dillon Schlosser and he said yes, he had heard about it in high school. Imagine being blind and you can’t read the script unless it’s in braille. So what he did is he had his mother or sister read him the lines and he had a very quick memory. Actually he learned his script in about a week. The old phrase ‘life imitates art’ well in this case it was art imitating life for him and on closing night his entire family was here. In terms of an emotional night at the end of the play his character finally gives up. His mother has been a very clingy person wants him to come back home. He gives up and his mother tells him that he’ll be okay and he doesn’t need to come home. It fit Dillon’s life at that point. He now works at Disney in Orlando and is over a group of actors that are disabled and he is helping those that are in need of that lesson he learned or hasn’t learned that lesson. Because of that show and because of him, I love him cause he’s such a great guy.”
What would you like to be remembered for career wise at NTCC?
“I guess kind of similar to the answer I gave earlier for providing opportunities to express their talents. I gave them those chances. I know I’ve been able to help others and I’ve been to other places and he goes four years without being able to do anything on the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student audition during the course of a school year that didn’t get a part. Providing that opportunity for them. One of the parents approached me last night during the tornado drill and he told me how theatre had really changed his son’s life. They had moved and uprooted him out of his high school and came here and he just hated being here. He didn’t like anything and when he got into a play he found a sticking place. I’m sure you’ll agree with this that theatre is a melting pot and we embrace diversity better than other entities on campus. Theatre embraces diversity of culture, religion, race, sexual orientation, politics, etc. and that makes everyone closer and more understanding.”
Do you have words of encouragement for anyone who might be reading this and is interested in theatre? (Acting, writing, directing, anything)
“I believe that if you have a calling inside your head, if it resounds to you to be a performer, a writer, a director, anything that deals in the arts then it’s one of those career choices that is the most difficult to make a living at, but by the same token I think you owe it to pursue it. Otherwise you’re 90 years old and you’re kind of wishing you’d done something, like regrets, something you wanted to do, but never did. I would like to encourage people to pursue their talent and there’s always time to do something else. The ancient Greeks believed that every man had a destiny, they called it a daemon, which was your destiny and that is what you were meant to be. The only problem is that your daemon had to make yourself obvious to you, but it could only do it once and your job was to recognize it when it happened.”
And with that, the interview ended. Papa had a play to get ready for and I had to go home and get ready to come back and watch it. There was a calm feeling as we sat there when the interview had ended and I could feel the ghosts of past shows rise up to surround us. A few chills went up my spine and did my best not to get emotional knowing that I had shared my final moment on the stage with Professor Hoppock.
I returned later that night to be with friends and fellow alumni to watch the performance
of Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ and I listened to the actors give their lines with heart and soul. The laughter of the audience will resonate with me forever and serve as a happy memory so that I may visit it during a time of sorrow. With the lights up and the show over I said my goodbye to Papa and Miss Sherry.
Saturday, April 30th, I had witnessed the last show I’d get to see directed by Douglas Hoppock. It was fitting end to a good Saturday. It made me think of a quote about teachers and I feel that this is one that really describes the influence that Papa has had on many of his students. It’s a quote from Henry Adams stating: ‘A teachers affects; he can never tell where his influence stops.’ And that is exactly what Professor Hoppock has done for his students. He welcomed them into his classroom and when they left they were able to see the world a little differently, maybe more colorful or with more humor, but he opened their minds and broadened them. He saw to it that no matter where they went in this life his stories and wisdom followed like a curious shadow never leaving you alone in the sun. Whether it was to the concrete jungle known as New York or to the cobblestone streets of London or the ancient ruins in China, Papa’s influence has followed his students everywhere. I know that Papa is happy going into his retirement and I know that he deserves it and he should know and understand that everyone, every alumnus, is happy to say that they helped contribute to his, and Miss Sherry’s, happiness.
Christopher Dawson is a lifelong resident of Texas and is an avid fan of comic books, rock music and sci-fi movies. He has two degrees in Writing and Theatre Arts, which he received from Northeast Texas Community College and Texas Christian University. He has taught English and Literature in Beijing, China and walked on the Great Wall. When he isn’t busy reading or writing or listening to new music he’s usually taking applications for possible girlfriends. He loves dogs, college football, and travel.