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Remembering Gary Gardner


This season, Illini Student Musicals will be remembering an University of Illinois great, Gary Gardner, who passed away peacefully of natural causes in his home on Saturday, June 15, 2013 at the age of 69.

Gary Gardner- 2013

Gary was born on March 24, 1944. He was raised in Danville, Illinois and later graduated from Danville High School. Gardner continued his education by earning a B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and, in between, an M.F.A. in playwriting at UCLA’s College of Fine Arts.

As a student at the University of Illinois, Gary directed a number of student run musical productions including The Music Man, featuring a breath-taking musical finale which incorporated the Champaign High School marching band. As a student at UCLA, he won the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award for his play, “August and Ice Cream.” The play was produced in Los Angeles and garnered two Drama-Logue Awards.
Gary had an infectious personality who touched the lives of everyone he met. At UCLA, Gary was voted the #1 Professor, best known for his class, the1012167_10102380094797766_1527375848_n History of the American Musical Theatre. At the University of Illinois Gary pushed the boundaries of success with every production he was a part of. Gary inspired thousands of students and pupils to joys of musical theatre.

Gary Gardner embodies the spirit of Student Musical Theatre,and it is for that reason that Illini Student Musicals is proud to present its 2013-2014 season in loving memory of Gary Gardner.

We invite you to contribute in memory of Gary Gardner. To donate, click below:


Why Contribute?

From the director of Guys and Dolls 1973, Pearl Kane.

I don’t know about you, but some of my life’s memories are collecting dust but yet some are as vibrant as if they happened yesterday.  My office walls are littered with reminders – some for tomorrow and many of yesterdays. Among the many photographs, post-it notes and to-do lists hanging in my office are a few reminders of the distant past – and a very old “Guys and Dolls” poster is still hanging.  It’s a proud memory of me directing the show for the Illini Spring Musical in 1973 – first female director, and it was the 50th annual show.  A lot has happened in my life since then – a long career in the nonprofit sector, the last 19 years in my own consulting business.  A family I cherish.

And…relationships that lasted, helped by Facebook of course and the will to keep going.

Gary Gardner and I remained friends through it all, probably at first because of Brian Lasser and then, well, because we really had a deep connection.  He conspired with my daughters two years ago to make my 60th birthday crazy memorable and I will cherish that forever.  Now he is gone.  No warning.

No more Ethel Merman incantations, endless stories about people I will never know but who he made come to life with his ongoing commentary, no more inspiration for young thespians who Gary fiercely believed in and mentored.

I wanted to find a way – in Illinois – as he is a favorite son of Illinois; to pay tribute to the life of Gary Gardner.  In pursuit, I found that I could give back as well – for being given an opportunity to direct on a big stage in front of 6,000 people and be part of student-produced theater that has meant so much to hundreds of thousands of students for 90 years at U of I and on many other stages as well.  Gary Gardner got me connected to the Illini Spring Musical first as assistant director of “Fiddler” and then the big job of “Guys and Dolls.”  I was content with the black box theater at the Armory so the allure of the big stage was pretty daunting!

The Illini Union stopped supporting student-produced theater a couple of years ago but that didn’t stop student-produced theater!  Not to be thwarted, students formed their own 501c3 and began an independent student organization – Illini Student Musicals.  They are an amazing and resourceful group, producing two shows per year, collaborating with the Champaign-Urbana Theater Company and performing in the newly renovated theater at Lincoln Hall.

Illini Student Musicals have agreed, happily and with great respect – to dedicate their 2013-14 season to Gary Gardner.  Gary would have been touched by these students’ voracity, talent and love of musical theater.

I have made a meaningful contribution to their fundraising effort and I hope you will too.

Even though they sell more than 3,000 tickets and spend, on the average, a mere 76 cents per costume, they have financial needs of a several thousand dollars per year and they do fundraise.  My contribution allowed them to buy the rights to “The Wedding Singer” and get started on production earlier than usual.

I hope you can join me in making a contribution to Illini Student Musicals.  Pay tribute to the memory of Gary Gardner and salute student-produced theater at the University of Illinois.  Just click on or visit them on Facebook.  You can donate by clicking on “Lending a Hand.”

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, listen and consider contributing.


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