Ms. Gardner, 66, was associated with the Signature for nearly 25 years, and was something of a jack of all trades. She started as an actress in Signature's first production, Millfire, and almost instantly started a play-reading series for the company, in 1991. She went on to become the literary manager, casting director and dramaturg. Finally, in 2006, she became education director.
Signature's education program includes Signature-in-the-Schools, which develops and produces an original one-act play with students from Wakefield High School, in performances for audiences from Arlington high schools. Other education projects in the Arlington schools include technical and audition workshops, a playwriting program, as well as study guides to accompany Signature-in-the-Schools original scripts on historical subjects and events.
Education programs also reach out to young theatre artists across the country. Overtures Musical Theater Institute is 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.
Her work as Signature dramaturg including productions of The Diaries, Three Nights in Tehran, Otabenga, In The Garden, Melville Slept Here, Waiting in Tobolsk and Nijinsky's Last Dance.
Ms. Gardner taught at The University of Minnesota and Hamline University where she was also director of theatre. As an actor, she appeared at The Guthrie Theatre, Berkeley Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, Minneapolis Children's Theatre and Colorado Shakespeare Festival. She received a Helen Hayes nomination for her performance in Poor Superman at Signature. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York City and the University of California at Berkeley, she held MFA degrees in directing and playwriting from the University of Minnesota. In 2008, she received the WETA 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."
She is survived by her granddaughter Rosemary and her daughter, Rachel.