When Scott Mayer created the Ivey Awards 11 years ago, he wanted an advisory board steeped in the local theater community.
"Who can you think of who sees more theater than anyone else?" Mayer recalled asking a broad swath of people. "Nancy's name came up more than anyone."
Nancy was Nancy Burbidge, who with her husband, Jack, was a constant presence at opening nights, theatrical fundraisers and galas. She loved to talk theater, often asking critics what they thought at intermission, offering her unvarnished opinions and wondering what other shows were worth seeing.
"They were amazing," Mayer said of the Burbidges. "She would come to our committee meetings and tell us what she'd seen. Sometimes they were at nine shows a week."
Nancy Burbidge, of Edina, died on July 3 from Alzheimer's disease. She was 81.
"What was so great about them was that they went to shows across the board," Mayer said. "They'd be at the Guthrie one night and then Walking Shadow the next."
The North Dakota native graduated with a nursing degree from the University of North Dakota and began her professional career in pediatric care at the University of Minnesota Hospital. She later worked at the University of Minnesota Eye Clinic. After retiring in 1994, she volunteered in Central America, helping doctors operate on children with cleft lips and distributing eyeglasses.
Mayer noted that he had the opportunity to meet someone who had known the Burbidge family while growing up.
"Their house was the one that all the neighborhood kids wanted to be at because Nancy was always up to something," Mayer remembered the person saying. "That wasn't surprising to me at all because Nancy has always been a character."
She and Jack were ardent swing dancers and on a lark they tried out for a national TV dance contest and made it to the final round. An accomplished cook, she was legendary for her dinner parties and won blue ribbons for her pickles at the State Fair. The couple visited 49 countries, and their home had photos of them in historic and exotic locations.
Burbidge served on the Iveys (the annual celebration of Twin Cities theater) and the Theater Exchange. She also worked with the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Common Hope (helping children and families in Guatemala) and the League of Catholic Women.
Richard Cook, artistic director at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, said he frequently would glance down to the front row, center, on opening nights, where Jack and Nancy would sit.
"If there was a standing ovation, Nancy would start it," Cook said. "She reveled in being there and cheering the artists on."
Cook said the Burbidges "jumped at the opportunity" to open their home for Park Square insider parties, where actors would introduce upcoming shows and perform outtakes.
"The panache and style of the woman was a fond memory," Cook said. "They had that great, open spirit about valuing the moment."
Even as her health declined in recent years, Burbidge would still attend performances, with Jack gently holding her arm and helping her remember theater friends.
"It was so heartwarming to see Jack still taking her out, after her diagnosis," Mayer said.
In addition to her husband, Burbidge is survived by four children — Steve, Susie, John and David — and ten grandchildren. A service will be at 5 p.m., July 20, at Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 4537 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis.