Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
A respected and versatile performer on the Winnipeg stage, actress-teacher-dramaturge Nancy Drake died at the age of 77 on Wednesday, Sept. 9, leaving the acting community to celebrate one of her great unsung roles: fiery advocate for her fellow theatre professionals.
According to the obituary from her family, the Winnipeg-born Drake earned roles in 28 plays at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and eight at Prairie Theatre Exchange. Drake also appeared in films such as New in Town, opposite Renée Zellweger, and in Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World.
But beyond her acting work, the mother of five was an inspiration, according to Shakespeare in the Ruins’ artistic director Rodrigo Beilfuss, who recalled as a student playing Regan to Drake’s Lear in a 2007 gender-switched production of King Lear at the University of Winnipeg, directed by Christopher Brauer.
Beilfuss says he was intimidated after watching Drake — who taught voice and diction in the U of W’s department of theatre and film from 2004 to 2008 — hold her own opposite Tony winner Len Cariou in an RMTC production of The Dresser in 2005.
"She just pulled your focus so easily when she was onstage," Beilfuss recalls. "I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is a powerhouse performer.’"
She also proved to be a giving performer in many ways, Beilfuss says.
"She was so generous, because she was working so hard as Lear onstage, as one does," he says. "But she also was working so hard backstage, basically becoming this acting coach and theatre mom off for all of us and giving us all kinds of advice and being super generous in sharing her experience.
"(She would) even give a bunch of us rides home after rehearsal. We had the most amazing conversations driving a few of us home every night, telling stories on the drive home in the dead of winter. Her ego was never running the show."
Local actor-director Debbie Patterson recalls Drake’s power in the role of Anne Boleyn’s fool in a production of her play, Head.
"As that character she was brilliant, because she had a great sense of humour and she was never afraid to speak truth to power," Patterson says, adding that latter quality applied to Drake offstage. "She was just fearless."
Actor-teacher-playwright Cairn Moore concurs.
"My favourite thing about Nancy is that she would always defend people in the (theatre) community," Moore says. "She would stand up for another actor or director and she would stand behind him no matter what. She didn’t care what it cost. She just did it.
"She was just that kind of person," Moore says. "It could hurt her future and she just didn’t care. She was just a force.
"She was a very straight-up, no-nonsense woman — just pure passion and drive."
"I think she just leaves a big hole in the community," Patterson says. "We’ll really miss her bravery."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
Updated on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 at 8:09 AM CDT: Adds photos
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