To be someone else, it helps to know who you are

Rodney Gardiner
Rodney Gardiner

Actor Rodney Gardiner is currently playing Nathan Detroit in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” Previous notable OSF roles include the two Dromios in “The Comedy of Errors” and Guy in “The Imaginary Invalid.” Gardner earned a BFA from State University of New York and is a founding member of New York’s Waterwell Theater. He has been performing Shakespeare since the age of 14. He is married to choreographer, Sarah Lozoff; they have two lovely children. We visited at Café 116 in Ashland one beautiful day.

EH: How did you get interested in acting?

 RG: I did oratory contests as a kid. I didn’t turn to acting until ninth grade when I heard about a school in downtown Miami called New World School of the Arts. I’d heard that it was a performing arts high school, like “Fame,” that I had seen on television. We did two hours of arts at the end of every day. That school completely changed my life.

While I was at high school, I joined a theater group of teenagers who created works influenced by Jerzy Grotowski and the Polish Poor Theater. We created plays in that spirit and took them to jails, rehab centers, shelters, group homes, places like that. Generally it was about drug abuse, drug addiction, HIV and AIDS. We performed those works for those audiences; I was with that group for five years. We were doing that work all over Florida.

I come from a history of theater-making. It was only natural after I finished school that I was looking for opportunities, not just to shop myself, but to make theater. Working with the Waterwell Theater in New York, helped ground me as an artist. All I ever wanted to be was a working actor. I wanted to make good theater and be respected by the people I respect. That’s one of the reasons that I’m happy and grateful to be here.

For the most part I’ve worked with directors who are really sensitive and allow you to bring as much as you can to the table and don’t shut down your uniqueness, directors who allow a true marriage between the unique abilities of the performer and the story that we’re trying to tell together. I get to work with fresh vibrant artists, and I get to do the classics which I have so admired from my childhood. Generally I’m spoiled for great experiences here.

EH: How does working in theater affect family life?

RG: Before we came to Ashland, we did so much traveling, because I kept getting work in different places. I love the idea of my kids having a unique experience, a unique perspective. I don’t shy away from the fact that being an artist is a lifestyle choice. But I’m proud to have my children be a part of that tradition. My wife also works at the Festival. She designed movement for several of the shows here.

EH: So it’s a nice combined lifestyle with someone who understands what it takes.

RG: She gets it, but she doesn’t actually have to be subjected to the insanity of an actor. Acting is an introspective profession. I always tell young actors, “don’t train as an actor until you have a decent grip on who you are, because it’s so probing. Before you have people poke and prod you to see how things work, and to exploit that for artistic expression: to use it all on stage, you’ve got to figure out who you are.”

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