A Conversation with Adam Gardnir

Interview with a Set Designer and Queensland Performing Arts Leader

I have had the utmost pleasure of working with Adam Gardnir professionally on multiple productions during my time with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), including Brisbane seasons of RentWhite SnakeArmistice and many more. He was someone I considered a mentor during our time are colleagues. Despite everyone’s busy schedule, he was always willing to provide insights and information, making my day-to-day job a lot easier.

While we have both gone our separate ways from the organisation, he has continued to work in the sector. His roles include becoming Executive Director for Altitude Theatre and – more relevant for this interview – a freelance Set Designer for productions such as Mamma Mia’s current Gold Coast season! The Musical.

As the Gold Coast season of Mamma Mia! The Musical was commencing, I was able to pitch a few questions towards Adam, which I invite you to read the full transcript of below.

A huge thank you to Adam Gardnir, Matt Ward Entertainment, and the team at M10 Collective for their time and effort in making this Q&A possible! Interested in seeing Mamma Mia! The Musical on the Gold Coast? Tickets are still available for the season which will run until 11 July 2021. For more information and to book tickets, click HERE.

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First of all, how are things going? From becoming executive director at Altitude Theatre to working on productions such as Mamma Mia!, what is it like to be Adam Gardnir in 2021?

In South East Queensland in 2021, I’ve been lucky enough to open two productions that I produced (The Producers and Once On This Island by Altitude Theatre) and two shows that I’ve designed (Taming of The Shrewand Queensland Theatre and Mamma Mia! for Matt Ward Entertainment). It’s been a very busy time and the wonderful thing I’m noticing across the industry here is a great deal of collaboration and understanding between companies. Artists and venue teams are working tirelessly to present work and welcome audiences in so many innovative ways and I find it very inspiring to be a part of.

What inspired you to get into set designing, and do you have any personal highlights from your career?

Even though as a child I didn’t know it was a real job, I’ve wanted to be a set designer all my life. And I have proof – my pre-school paintings all have this black line of humps at the bottom of the page. When my mother asked me a few years ago ‘what is that line?’ I said ‘that’s the front row of the audience. It’s their heads and shoulders sitting in the dark looking up’. From that, I think I’ve always seen things through a stage designer’s lens. 

My career highlight, well I’m lucky enough to say it’s a hard choice. I guess designing the original sets for Moonshadow (the Cat Stevens musical) in Melbourne was pretty out there…as was the plot. I also loved designing shows for The Production Company (Anything Goes, The Producers and Gypsy). And this Mamma Mia! has been a blast, with our awesome cast and top-shelf creative team. Yeah, it’s probably true that musicals tend to be my favourites. 

What was your mindset and thought processes when it came to designing the set of Mamma Mia? Have you opted to go for a more traditional style akin to the original productions or done your own take on the set?

Matt’s big idea for Mamma Mia! is to really bring it to the Gold Coast, so while we are setting the show in its original location (a Greek island), we are adding the sparkle and can-do attitude that is so prevalent on the GC. This means we are making the funnest Mamma Mia! around.

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How did you keep busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was not entirely possible for shows to go on?

During the lockdown, I was incredibly busy, mainly starting up Altitude Theatre with my husband (Joseph Simons, Artistic Director) but also constantly redesigning productions for new venue configurations and covid-safe capacities, including Mamma Mia! It was actually more work than ever – eeek!

Is there anything in particular which drew you to work on Mamma Mia?

I love the songs! What other musical contains this many massive pop bangers? And the way the show has been directed (Tim Hill) and choreographed (Joseph Simons) is a pure delight – I knew it would be! And the cast, led by our incredible MD Kuki Tipoki, really give their all to every scene and every number and it shows in the way the audiences have responded.

What is your favourite moment and favourite song in Mamma Mia!?

The Mega Mix – the plot is done, the weddings have concluded and everyone is in love again – it must be time to dance! And when the audience gets on their feet to join us, it’s awesome.

What advice do you have for those who may be looking to enter the industry as a set designer, a performer or as a creative?

Do it.

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Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fourteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.

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