WHITE ROCK — Life is a funny old journey, isn’t it? There are those who know their destination and determinedly follow the path they have chosen. In my experience, most of us hop aboard for the journey, destination unknown. It can be an adventure that way, and full of possibilities. We just have to search for those possibilities and find friends with like-minded interests.
Many years ago when I first joined Surrey Little Theatre, one person summed up why he always sought out a community theatre club to join whenever he moved to a new place: They give the best parties. Well, that makes sense. Most people involved in community theatre are outgoing and are prepared to look at life differently. Most have a “regular” job and theatre is a “hobby.” It is a place that offers creative outlet, lets you donate all your free time to the cause, exhausts every bit of your energy – and they do have great parties.
So when Stella Gardner moved here from New Zealand seven months ago, she found a place near and dear to her heart with White Rock Players’ Club. She signed on to help with costumes for “Cinderella,” the company’s current panto production at Coast Capital Playhouse. Resident costume genius Pat McLean, is thrilled to have Gardner join the group to help with costumes, wigs and makeup.
“My mother used to tell me that I was sewing before I could walk,” Gardner recalled. “As a baby I was always crawling over her foot pedal while she was at the machine. As I grew up, she taught me to sew by teaching me to work it out myself and only pointing it out when I got it wrong. This was the perfect way for me to learn, as it let me work out the logic of how to do things, and allowed me to work outside the box and be creative in ways only my brain would work.”
Gardner wanted a life journey that would allow her to be a teacher. At age 14 she was placed in work studies at a local Kindergarten in Auckland. She discovered that she could make costumes from scraps for the kids, and one thing led to another. Soon she had her own costume company that she later sold for a neat profit.
When members of the club were asked to be extras on TV’s “Xena: Warrior Princess” set, they came in costumes.
“Within 30 minutes I was inducted into the costume department and was covered in brown tempura paint as I dirtied up costumes,” Gardner recalled. “From there, I worked on ‘Hercules,’ ‘Mask of Zorro,’ ‘Narnia,’ ‘Last Samurai,’ and then found myself doing work on ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit.’”
OK, wow! I guess it was about being in the right place at the right time with the right skills following the right path in life.
A move to Christchurch got Gardner involved in theatre, in a job working for the largest costume department in New Zealand, making and designing costumes for children’s shows.
“I found my love of theatre there, making one-off costumes, bringing joy to children’s faces as a lollipop-pumpkin-frog monster dances across the stage,” she revealed. “There is something more magical about theatre, onstage reveals and costume changes that you can’t hide with computer programs and calling cut.”
After spending seven years in earthquake-hit Christchurch, Gardner decided to move to Canada, where she spent time as a child and has duel citizenship.
“I am living with a wonderful man named Shawn Van Egdom, but needed something to complete my life.”
Last June, she saw “I Hate Hamlet” at the playhouse in White Rock, “fell in love with the feeling in the building, the history and the stories it has to tell,” and also developed a connection with those who stage shows there.
In Canada, with Michael Bell, who owned a touring theatre company that goes to schools all over New Zealand Australia to introduce children to the joy of theatre, she plans to open a playhouse within the next five years.
For now, she says, “White Rock Players’ Club is a family, one I am very happy to be part of.”