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Gardner, David

CTE photo
David Gardner

Actor, director, educator, and critic David Gardner was born in Toronto Ontario in 1928. He died February 8, 2020 in Toronto at the age of 91. He attended Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute from 1942-46, and made his acting debut on CBC radio in the fairy-tale series, Once Upon a Time. He is an alumnus of the University of Toronto's postwar Hart House Theatre, where he played Othello, Macbeth and Marc Antony under the direction of Robert Gill; and Constantin opposite Kate Reid in Chekhov's The Seagull. In the summer of 1949 he went professional with Ontario's Straw Hat Players, and stayed with them for four seasons.

During the 1950s, he appeared with the New Play Society in Spring Thaw and was Littlejohn opposite Giselle Mackenzie in their Royal Alexandra Theatre pantomime Babes in the Wood and Bold Robin Hood. He also played with the Crest Theatre and Jupiter Theatre in Toronto, the Canadian Repertory Theatre in Ottawa, Brae Manor Playhouse in Quebec, as well as touring North America with the Canadian Players in Hamlet and Peer Gynt.

During his three seasons at the Stratford Festival, David Gardner was seen in the NYC production of Tamburlaine the Great (understudying Anthony Quayle) and at the Edinburgh Festival in Oedipus Rex and Henry V.

After winning a Tyrone Guthrie Award, he undertook a 1957 theatre research tour of thirteen countries in Europe, writing articles for the Globe and Mail and recording radio broadcasts for the CBC.

He stayed on in London for a year (1957-58) playing at the Royal Court Theatre and starring in the West End production of Marc Connelly's Hunter's Moon , eventually returning to Canada with John Neville and Judi Dench in the Old Vic Company's 1958-59 tour of North America.

He chaired the Committee that founded the National Theatre School of Canada in 1960, kicked up his heels in Toronto's Clap Hands revue, and then turned his hand to directing and adjudicating from 1960 to 1969, producing seventy-five dramas for CBC Television (including The Paper People by Timothy Findley), directing stage productions for the Crest Theatre, Hart House Theatre, and for the 1961-63 Canadian Players tours of Masterpieces of Comedy , The Lady's Not for Burning, and his now-famous Inuit interpretation of King Lear with William Hutt as Lear.

He served as Artistic Director of the Vancouver Playhouse from 1969 to !971, where he directed highly successful productions of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He added theatre for young people to the Playhouse in 1969. When the Playhouse board refused to produce George Ryga’s Captive of the Faceless Drummer, about the FLQ crisis in Quebec, Gardner resigned.

However, he did inaugurate the National Arts Centre's English-language theatre with his well-remembered production of Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. While Theatre Officer for the Canada Council (1971-72), he convened the catalytic conference on "The Dilemma of Playwrighting in Canada" that was instrumental in launching the new era of alternative and experimental theatre and First Nations Theatre in Canada. He also lobbied for the production of at least one Canadian play per season by regional theatre companies; and for the subsidization of more than twenty new theatres across the country.

In the mid-1970s, David Gardner returned to academic life, taking first an M.A. (1974) and then a Ph.D. (1983) in Canadian Theatre History at the University of Toronto, where he later taught and directed for several years. He also lectured at York University, the National Theatre School of Canada, and for twenty years gave the annual "Acting for the Camera" course at George Brown College.

As an actor and director in the mid-1970s, he was seen in such regional theatres as the Neptune Theatre, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Hamilton's Theatre Aquarius, Ontario's Red Barn Theatre at Jackson's Point, the Huron Country Playhouse, the Academy in Lindsay, the NAC, and again at the Stratford Festival in 1986. In Toronto he has played for Tarragon, Canadian Stage, Necessary Angel and Factory Theatre. He either performed in, or directed, over 850 stage, film, radio, or television shows.

Dr. Gardner also wrote extensively about theatre in Canada for The Oxford Companion to Canadian Theatre, edited by Eugene Benson and L.W. Conolly (1989); The Canadian Encyclopedia; The Dictionary of Canadian Biography; The Beaver; Theatre History in Canada; Theatre Research in Canada; and the Internet's Literary Encyclopedia. He also wrote chapters for Later Stages and Magic Lies. He was a founding member of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research in 1976, and was awarded Honorary Membership in 1993 for his "distinguished service to theatre in Canada". In 1999 he donated his 25-year Canadian Theatre History Collection to the Thomas Fisher Library at the University of Toronto. His unpublished anecdotal memoir is titled The Theatrical Adventures of a Shy Extrovert.

In November 2004, David Gardner was awarded "The 2004 Herbert Whittaker/Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre" by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.

With his wife, Dorothy (d. 2011) he had a daughter, Jennifer Gardner.

Last updated 2020-03-05