By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 7, 2024.
The curtain has closed on the life of a Lethbridge theatre icon.
Fran Rude died Friday at the age of 86 at Chinook Regional Hospital.
Since word broke of her passing, social media has been flooded with tributes to a woman who gave a multitude of people over the decades the chance to showcase their talents on stage and behind the scenes.
Rude last year was honoured by the Allied Arts Council with the Joan Waterfield Memorial Award for advancing and enhancing the arts in Lethbridge.
That award was fittingly presented to Rude by her long-time friend and collaborator Ken Rogers, who was among the many offering tributes to her this week.
She also was a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Platinum Jubilee medal in 2022 for her contributions to the arts.
On Saturday, Rude’s life will be celebrated at the Lethbridge Senior Citizen’s Organization from 2 until 4 p.m.
Rogers, who worked with Rude on many productions, said she will leave a two-fold legacy in the community.
“First, having brought so many challenging and rewarding productions to Lethbridge which otherwise may never have seen the local stage, and second having directed and mentored hundreds of local performers, many thrilled to play a ‘role of a lifetime,’ and many of whom have now become the latest generation of leaders in the Lethbridge theatre scene, which gave Fran immense satisfaction for the future,” said Rogers on Monday.
For many years, Rude travelled to New York City to catch the latest shows “and most of what we presented in Lethbridge over the years she had seen during its initial run or revival on Broadway, including The Secret Garden, Sweeney Todd, Evita, Les Miserables, Light in the Piazza, Wonderful Town, Follies, and City of Angels. She had the vision and sense of purpose to bring such shows to Lethbridge,” said Rogers.
“The Secret Garden” was Rude’s final show, which she helped stage with Rogers last fall as a fundraiser for the LSCO. It had previously been performed here in 1993.
Rogers said almost everything he knows about musical theatre was because of Rude, and he will be forever grateful to her for that.
“It is its own unique art form apart from music, drama, opera, or dance, and therefore requires its own approach. Her years of trips to New York to catch the latest offerings on Broadway set the bar high for her directing – mediocrity was simply not on the table. Of course we could never match the production values of a Broadway show so Fran focused on the script and score to bring the story and characters alive for local audiences, always striving to be true to the author’s intent,” said Rogers.
“Her mantra, whether in a song or theatre number was that the story or script came first, then the development of the characters within that story, followed by how that informs the reason for the existence of the score.
“She was very patient with my ignorance in our early years working together and once I figured out my job as conductor was not just about the score but about how and why the score exists to support the characters and the story, we started to read each others’ minds and the rest is history.”
While having a clear artistic vision for each production, Rude took an organic approach to theatre, said Rogers, “always ready to take a role, scene, or number in a new direction as we worked together with performers in rehearsal. She always sought performers’ input and loved watching and helping them discover and grow in their roles, which also informed me about where the music was heading.
“Heaven help the actor who would ask ‘What’s my motivation?’ She much preferred their motivation come from within through their study of the script and character. Musicals have a lot of moving parts and I appreciated how we would address and solve the inevitable problems or issues outside of rehearsal, always striving to deal with such matters in private, not in front of cast members.”
Rude also attended every rehearsal, noted Rogers, “getting her wheels spinning in the early vocal and choreographer rehearsals as she was seeing potential arise in each performer. Then she would “get to work” in later dramatic rehearsals. I loved this organic back and forth and mind reading as the shows came together.”
Rude was known for her eye for talent, which Rogers said she often referred to as her “inner ear,” meaning she was listening and watching for potential as well as ability.
“She had great faith in her performers and I know particularly enjoyed helping young or new-to-her performers take on roles that would stretch their abilities and help them grow further. It was fun watching her get performers to do things they did not know or think they could do. She attended and supported pretty much every theatrical event in town, including many years of volunteering at the music festival, and loved giving opportunities to so many performers over the years, sometimes young and sometimes not-so-young but still new to the stage or to musicals.”
Mark Campbell worked on many productions with Rude, starting with “Kiss Me Kate” for Lethbridge Musical Theatre in the 1980s.
He said Rude took chances when casting Campbell because he wasn’t a trained singer.
“Sometimes she wanted an actor who could sing,” said Campbell, adding Rude had a lot of trust in him.
That trust included casting him in the key role of Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which Campbell called one of the dream roles of his life. And she also cast him in another memorable role as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.”
Rude helped cast members understand their roles and created passion among them, he said.
Because of Rude, Campbell got to sing with the Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra in major productions and fondly recalls the Starlight Lounge shows she and Rogers put together.
Well known city musician and educator Don Robb called Rude’s death “a huge loss for everybody.”
He first worked with Rude in 1985 on the show “Chorus Line.” He’d never met her before that endeavour which started a long-lasting collaboration. It was his first opportunity to conduct an orchestra in a musical theatre pit.
“I did lots and lots of shows with her, all kinds of different musicals,” he recalled Monday, during a span of four decades.
Those shows included three different productions of “JCS” as well as shows such as “Annie,” “Guys and Dolls” and others.
One work which he cites as “a powerful story,” was the anti-war play “All is Calm” that Rude did for the LSCO.
Jana Mackenzie, executive director of the Allied Arts Council, called Rude “a pillar of the arts and theatre community.”
Rude, said MacKenzie, also was a philanthropist who contributed more than her time and energy to the arts community.
“She did so much.”
Rude was predeceased by her husband Victor, her parents, six siblings, three brothers-in-law and a step-granddaughter. She is survived by three step children, Gerry Rude of Medicine Hat, Grant (Patti) Rude of Edmonton and Donna Rude of Oliver, B.C. along with step-grandchildren Carling Gerlinsky, Lisa Rude and Max Rude along with other family members.
Born in Quebec, she moved to Lethbridge briefly in 1964 and returned permanently in 1966. She worked 28 years for Alberta Social Services and when she retired in 1994, was regional supervisor of Foster Care Services in southern Alberta.
In 1968, she married Victor who died of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2008.
She spent more than five decades involved with the arts,first as an actor and singer before turning her attention to directing. During her directing career, she helmed more than 60 productions.