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Austin L. Gardner


Austin L. Gardner makes his Southwest Florida debut in the role of Archdeacon Dom Claude Frollo in The Naples Players’ production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A religious zealot, Frollo uses his political office to wage war on the Romani, a fun-loving, Dionysian band of nomads that he and the people of Paris associate with the supernatural, witchcraft and the racist trope of kidnapping Parisian children to sacrifice in their Wiccan rituals.

That notwithstanding, Frollo finds himself inexplicably attracted to the Romani street dancer Esmeralda. With her, he is driven not by hatred or religiosity but by lust followed by seething anger and self-righteous revenge when she rejects his advances and offer to spare her life. Throughout the story, Frollo tries to convince the King, the people of Paris, Quasimodo and even himself that is murderous acts of violence and genocide justified as God’s will. Gardner handles this wide range of motives, intentions and emotions with amazing deftness, creating such a menacing on-stage villain … or monster … that the audience doesn’t know whether to boo or applaud him at the end of the show.

Some of Austin’s favorite roles include King Arthur in Camelot, Fagan in Oliver, and Javert in Les Miserables. A lifelong fan of Victor Hugo’s work, he directed an original stage production of Les Miserables for his post-grad capstone project while studying at PCC, where he received his Master’s Degree in Education with a theater emphasis.

“I’ve always loved bringing stories to life,” says Austin. “Theater is an outlet where I can be myself and use my talents, while also stepping into the shoes of different characters, traveling through time, and capturing a lot of amazing ideologies and the encapsulation of the human experience that is found in theater and these amazing stories.”

Gardner did not find the stage until he was 18, but he’s been acting ever since. “Performance gives me a feeling of fulfillment I don’t find anywhere else,” Austin amplifies. “I think it’s that ‘chasing the dragon’ feeling that keeps me coming back. I’ve never been able to stray too far from it because I’ve fallen in love with the process of being a part of something bigger than myself and creating art that makes people feel. The wonderful, positive experience of creating something with others as a team and creating new life experiences is something that I want to relive over and over.

July 7, 2023.


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