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Interview with Matthew Gardiner

Growing Up Gay and Escaping to the Magical World of Musical Theater

Episode 11: Show Notes

Today’s guest is someone who the Washington Post has called “one of the top young musical-theater directors in the land” and “one of those rarefied musical theatre beasts.” We are thrilled to be joined by Matthew Gardiner, a director, choreographer, and producer in Washington, DC, where he is the Artistic Director of Signature Theatre. At Signature, Matthew has directed over 25 productions and has a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and honing the theaters’ anti-racist practices, as well as his own. In this episode, Matthew speaks candidly about his experience of growing up as a young gay man in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and shares how musical theater allowed him to imagine a gentler and more magical world. We discuss the stories he is drawn to, particularly those that challenge the status quo and break down oppressive practices, the impact the current sociopolitical landscape has had on the theatre community, and what drives Matthew to challenge his audiences and push boundaries, plus so much more! Ultimately, Matthew hopes to impart a message of humanity and acceptance through his productions, and he shares that labor of love with listeners today. Make sure not to miss this insightful conversation with inspirational arts leader, Matthew Gardiner!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Matthew shares some insight into his creative journey within the entertainment industry.

  • His experience of growing up as a gay man in Maryland in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

  • How musical theatre allowed him to imagine a gentler and more magical world.

  • The progress Matthew has witnessed, particularly for white gay cisgender men.

  • A reflection on identity as an identical twin and Matthew’s coming out story.

  • Matthew’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as an Artistic Director.

  • Why he draws attention to stories that illuminate our humanity and challenge the status quo.

  • How #MeToo, COVID, and the current US political landscape have impacted the musical theatre community.

  • Acknowledging that the theatre community tends to exist within a certain ideological bubble.

  • Pressure Matthew feels to live up to the expectations people have of our organizations.

  • The central role that storytelling plays for Matthew as a director and choreographer.

  • What drives him to push boundaries and surprise his audiences, not placate them.

  • The message of love and acceptance that he hopes to communicate through his productions.

  • What Matthew would wish for his 10-year-old self: more joy, fewer walls!

  • What he’s currently working on and what to look forward to in Signature’s upcoming season.

  • Question of the day: Mathew’s first celebrity crush!

  • Sharing some of our key takeaways from today’s conversation with Matthew.


“There are certain artists that like digging into the specificity of a single role or a single point of view within a creative process. For me, I'm much more excited by looking at the bigger picture and bringing all these varying viewpoints together.” — Matthew Gardiner [0:08:29]

“I needed to imagine a more gentle world, a world that felt more magical than the world that I was living in as a young, gay kid who was bullied, who was picked on.” — Matthew Gardiner [0:10:10]

“I’m interested in stories that illuminate our humanity and challenge the status quo. The reasons I'm attracted to La Cage aux Folles, West Side Story, and Cabaret is because—at their core—they’re stories about viewing the world differently or breaking down oppressive practices.” — Matthew Gardiner [0:21:18]

“As artists, our job is to push boundaries, to test boundaries, to see what is possible. How do we surprise our audience? How do we excite our audience in new ways? The worst thing to me would be for somebody to respond to something I've created and say, ‘That was fine.’” — Matthew Gardiner [0:36:01]

“That's what is important to me: creating experiences and telling stories that call upon our better angels; that call upon us to be better humans, better people.” — Matthew Gardiner [0:40:40]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

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