As an award-winning actor, director and educator, Dr. David E Gardner was a true legend of Canadian theatre who sadly passed away in February 2020. Dr. Gardner began his decade-long connection to the Hart House Theatre as a student at U of T in the late 1940s. In 2014, along with his daughter Jenny, he generously established a program to support the development of Canadian theatre talent.

The Dr. David E. Gardner Apprentice Director Program celebrates Dr. Gardner’s legacy of supporting and nurturing Canada's next generation of artists at the Hart House Theatre, which he considered  his "home theatre. Since its creation, the program has supported at least one U of T Student Apprentice Director each season, providing them with much-needed practical experience by working alongside experienced professional directors on full-scale, high-quality productions at the Hart House Theatre.

But what happened to this valuable training program over the past year, when all live theatre venues in Ontario – including Hart House Theatre – were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic?  Well, in the spirit of “the show must go on,” the Hart House Theatre has reimagined the art of storytelling through virtual means, and the Dr. David E. Gardner Apprentice Director Program has played an integral part in that reimagining.

Moving into the Virtual

Singular Sensation Online was spear-headed by Hart House Theatre alumna Jennifer Walls. Over the past year, this live-streamed, bi-weekly online show presented by Hart House has become a hub for musical theatre and cabaret lovers, and a safe performance place for artists to hone their craft in a supportive atmosphere. It is thanks to the Dr. David E. Gardner Apprentice Director Program that Hart House Theatre has been able to offer singularly spectacular learning opportunities to two U of T students who have received first-hand production experience supporting Singular Sensation Online.

This Spring, Cass Iacovelli and Devni De Silva, are working alongside Jennifer Walls and the co-producer of Singular Sensation Online, Stephan Dickson. So far, Cass and Devni have assisted in show segment research, script writing, guest bookings, run-of-show tasks and outreach support.

Devni De Silva

“So far, being part of the Singular team has been an incredible learning opportunity…To see the guests that come on the show and listen to their experiences, unedited, both as an artist and as humans surviving in these unpredictable times has been nothing short of inspirational. I am truly grateful for Hart House Theatre and the Dr. David E. Gardner Apprentice Director Program for giving me this opportunity.”

Cass Iacovelli

“I've been loving the experience so thoroughly. The team is supportive and knowledgeable in such impactful ways…Hearing new perspectives and projects from the guests and learning how to host has been powerful… I'm growing so much from my time with this team!”

By being exposed to the innovative thinking and creativity of alumni artists like Jennifer and Stephan, emergent, “next generation” talent like Cass and Devni gain invaluable experience doing what they love. Even in this virtual world, through the fund created in his name, the legacy of Dr. David Gardner continues to enrich the students who engage with Hart House Theatre whether they aspire to professional careers in the industry or whether they simply want to feed their love of live theatre.  We invite you to join the audience for the bi-weekly Singular Sensation Online to experience a little of that same love yourself.

If you would like to provide a gift of support to the Dr. David E. Gardner Apprentice Director Program, or if you have any questions about supporting Hart House in other ways, please contact Peter Wambera, Hart House’s head of Advancement, at [email protected].