Peter Gardiner-Harding

Most actors who aren’t established stars show up at auditions,
wait for callbacks (which may never come), work briefly on a play
or film, and then go through the process all over again — while
waiting tables or driving cabs.

Peter Gardiner-Harding has found an entirely different way to
survive as an actor. From his base in Toronto, the 48-year-old
actor-director approaches corporations and nonprofits with a
win-win proposition: Hire him and his troupe
(www.playsthatwork.com)
to create plays that dramatize workplace issues, from boss-employee
tensions to new ways to recharge workers’ energy. The plays that he
and his fellow actors create for in-house audiences are not only
carefully researched in consultation with the people involved —
they’re interactive, too. Among the many tools Gardiner-Harding
uses is the Forum Theater approach developed by Brazilian director
Augusto Boal, in which audience members can suggest alternative
directions for the action and propose solutions to the play’s
problems. ‘I want an art form that people can embrace and let into
themselves. I want to connect with them where they are,’ says
Gardiner-Harding.

Born in Montreal, he had an early bent for theater and music,
but his parents’ death when he was 17 pushed him in an entirely
different direction; with a younger sister to support,
Gardiner-Harding took a business degree from the University of
Toronto and became an accountant. He also put away his dreams of
acting and singing.

Many years later, after encountering socially concerned plays,
he began to wonder whether he could combine the business
connections he’d made as an accountant with an acting career that
emphasized helping people — and a new business was born. In 2000,
Gardiner-Harding let his accountant’s license lapse, had his dark
hair streaked with bohemian blond highlights, and made a full-time
commitment to his new life. He’s since moved with his wife, Irene,
to British Columbia, commuting monthly to his Toronto business
base.

His clients include major Canadian banks, universities, and
medical facilities — among them a Toronto hospital at the center
of the recent SARS epidemic. In each of the years since he launched
the business, he’s made more money than in his best year as an
accountant — while bringing the healing power of theater to bear
on real lives. Sure beats waiting tables.

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