Meghan Gardiner’s first big performance occurred 13 years ago on her 15th birthday. She stood on a hockey rink, surrounded by ice and drowning in the cheers of hockey fans in Vancouver as she braced herself to sing the national anthems before a Canucks game. Gardiner knew she was a hit. She gracefully walked off the stage and threw up in someone’s popcorn bucket.
Today, Gardiner is a 28-year-old seasoned actress, singer, and playwright who has performed her own play, Dissolve, over 300 times in North America. She returned to Toronto this month to perform shows at the University of Toronto campuses and York University.
Gardiner’s performance is filled with an air of mystery—even before the show begins. Audience members are oblivious to the fact that she is the performer as she chats amicably with others before the show begins. Her costume is merely a black tank top and black pants as she portrays over a dozen characters at once. Her set is a wooden chair on a dimly lit stage, with a spotlight shining on Gardiner.
She obviously is no longer nervous about performing.
Gardiner is unlike any other performer. To one audience member, she is a hero because of her thoughtful and educative play about date rape drugs. The audience could unquestionably feel the power in Gardiner’s performance.
“She was very good, the way she changed [and] went in and out of characters. I could definitely get what she was saying at once,” said Danielle Lewir, a university student who attended one of Gardiner’s performances, “It was good stuff, I could definitely get what she was saying.”
Dissolve, the first play Gardiner has written, relies heavily on the imagination of the audience upon which she paints a landscape through her tones and actions.
Since she doesn’t plan to leave Canada behind for the star-spangled Hollywood scene, her fame may be somewhat limited. She admits that the career of a performer isn’t an easy one, since it relies heavily on other people to work with you in a production. Also, there are times when go will be jobless for months.
“In a sense, I don’t necessarily feel that [performing is] my job, I feel like it’s my hobby,” Gardiner said. “I think that in order to stay afloat and stay sane, you need to be able to do a whole bunch of things.”
And she has done a lot of things.
Dissolve is only one of the latest productions in her decades of performing. Gardiner knew that she had wanted to perform since the age of four.
“I feel quite lucky that I knew what I wanted to do so early,” Gardiner said. “It really gives you a focus, and a passion also gives you confidence as well.”
Gardiner spent the majority of her life in Vancouver. In her younger years, she would sing in the Prestigious Vancouver Children’s Choir, perform small roles in plays, and spend time with her close-knit family.
“My family is the reason I’m still pursuing this career. [They have] been nothing but 100 per cent supportive,” Gardiner said. “My parents were absolutely incredible . . . I truly believe that I wouldn’t be continuing along this path if I didn’t have their support.”
The talented youngster lunged at every chance to take performing arts courses. She aspired to be like Barbara Streisand and admired songstress Idina Menzel. Surprisingly, Gardiner was never the type of person to perform in front of friends and family members or to command the attention of the room.
“I wouldn’t say that I was a drama queen as a child. I definitely had a shy bone,” Gardiner admitted.
After high school, Gardiner enrolled in the acting program at the University of British Columbia. In her final year of the program, Gardiner produced Dissolve for a class assignment.
“I wrote Dissolve as a response to horrendous, horrendous experiences that were happening to other women as well as myself,” Gardiner explained.
Dissolve received an incredible amount of attention, and shoved Gardiner into the continental spotlight of performing and writing. While still performing Dissolve, Gardiner’s talent led her to other performances, which included minor roles on hit TV shows Cold Squad and The L Word.
“The L Word especially was one of my most favourite moments of my career,” Gardiner reminisced. “It was fabulous, it was just fabulous . . . I was just in my element, it was one of my most favourite days.”
Gardiner had played an opera singer on The L Word, which allowed her to combine both singing and acting into one performance. Despite the fact that many of her roles seem to be geared towards an older audience, Gardiner enjoys any type of play which challenges her acting or singing skills.
“I just finished Beauty and the Beast, and I got to play a feather duster and sing Disney songs—it was so fun and fluffy,” said Gardiner with a laugh. “I can go off and do a fluffy musical for a few months and enjoy that, just for my soul, you know, a musical can just do wonders for your soul.”
By taking on many different forms of performing, Gardiner believes that she will never get bored or run out of new things to try. She admits that her favourite performance to date is the role of Eliza Doolittle, the “feisty pepper-pot” in My Fair Lady, who sings 12 songs and displays an aura of confidence that Gardiner loves to express on stage.
“I guess I give my characters a strength, and I really try and give them a journey,” Gardiner said. “I try to give them a beginning, middle, and end to their journey. I guess I’m so committed that nothing will stand in my way from continuing along this career.”
In her lifetime, Gardiner has performed in 30 different TV shows and plays, and contributed to six different voice credits. Currently, she is working on a revamped version of Dissolve, and another play stored in the vault of her mind. Her next big “performance” will be in April as she marries a Torontonian actor whom she met at Vancouver’s Jessie Awards five years ago.
As for where Gardiner’s career will take her after marriage, she believes she will probably remain in Canada for a long time.
“I am a firm believer in Canadian theatre, and I love Canada, I love my country and I don’t actually have a desire to live in the States,” Gardiner said. “So, I just would love to have a prolific career here in Canada.”