Marcia Murdock Gardner, an actor, educator, dramaturg, casting director and literary manager most frequently associated with Signature Theatre, died January 20 at her Alexandria home after a battle with cancer. She was 66.
Gardner, a graduate of the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts in New York and of the University of California at Berkeley who held MFAs in directing and playwriting from the University of Minnesota, made her local debut as an actor in Signature’s first production, Mill Fire, in 1990. The next year she instituted a play reading series for the company, and later assumed positions of dramaturg and literary manager. In 2006 Signature named her Education Director.
As an actor, Gardner received a 1996 Helen Hayes nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Resident Play for her work in Signature’s Poor Superman, and also appeared at the Guthrie Theatre, Berkeley Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and Colorado Shakespeare Festival. As a dramaturg, three of the plays she worked on – The Diaries, Melville Slept Here, and Waiting in Tobolsk received Charles MacArthur nominations as outstanding new play, one – Norm Allen’s In the Garden – received the Charles MacArthur award, and one – Nijinsky’s Last Dance – won the Helen Hayes Award as Outstanding Play. As a director, her production of Vera won a Mary Goldwater Award as outstanding production.
Gardner taught at the University of Minnesota and at Hamline University, where she also served as Director of Theatre. As Signature’s Education Director, she founded Signature in the Schools, which helps students in Arlington’s Wakefield High School to develop one-act plays.
She also oversaw technical and audition workshops, a playwriting program, resource guides to accompany the Signature in the Schools original scripts on historical subjects and events, and the Overtures Musical Theater Institute, Signature’s intensive two-week training workshop for young musical performers that is held every summer at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For this work, she received the Washington Post Award for Distinguished Community Service in 1998 and the Arlington Board of Education Outstanding Partnership Award in 2005. In 2008, WTEA gave her a “Hometown Hero” award for her work with students.
“She gave us all inspiration, thoughtful conversation, a smiling face and a shoulder to lean on,” Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer wrote. “Her contributions not only to Signature but also to the Washington theatre community have been endless.”
Gardner is survived by a daughter, Rachel, and a granddaughter, Rosemary.
Signature will hold a celebration of Gardner’s life on February 13 at 7 pm at the theater. There is no charge for admission, and reservations are not required.
If you wish, you may make donations in Gardner’s name to Signature Theatre for the Marcia Gardner Memorial Scholarship Fund for students in the Signature in the Schools program, or to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (“in Memory/Honor of Marcia Gardner/Rosemary Bridges) at Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,
6931 Arlington Road, 2nd floor, Bethesda, Maryland 20814 or online.