‘Is there something in this small town for my daughter? She’s driving me crazy.’ Such are the words of a mother desperate to fulfil her 13 year-old daughter’s nagging requests. Steffanni Gardener craved nothing more than to be on stage, to be acting, to be ‘free’. It is evident the passion Steffanni holds for the theatre and acting. Her quirky mannerisms and exuberant expressions are that of an alternative aspiring actress, but it is now, as a student of UOW studying a double degree of Arts and Creative Arts, that Steffanni has fulfilled her desire to study theatre alongside another ambition… education.
Steffanni’s passion for education stems from her love of acting and theatre. ‘The theatre is a medium for people to learn about humanity and what’s happening in the world. It is a tool for learning.’ Steffanni’s aspiration is to fuse education and theatre to teach and inspire. ‘I want to continue to grow and learn, to expand the mind, to be a vehicle of knowledge and I want to do it all through the means of theatre.’
Growing up in Cowra, a small country town in central NSW, Steffanni began dancing at age 5, which she believes ‘bought out her creative side.’ However, it was at age 13 that Steffanni’s inner actress grew more prominent. Steffanni became involved in a youth project called YAMA, which was a collaboration of young people and drama teachers at the local high school. ‘It kept us out of trouble and extended the creative practice to the younger generation.’ Steffanni remembers YAMA as the time when she began to think seriously about ‘what the theatre can do and how it can educate.’
Through her teenage years, Steffanni continued dancing at the Cowra Ballet School and was a dancer in the semi-professional ‘Torsion’ youth choreographic ensemble, performing at local events as entertainers and competing in many local eisteddfods. However, it was the Musical and Dramatic Society (M&D) in Cowra, which ignited Steffanni’s amateur acting career, starring in many of the local productions, the recent being ‘Pride & Prejudice’, as Elizabeth. This year, Steffanni moved to Wollongong to begin university and is now a member of the Phoenix Theatre in Coniston.
Many achievements have come Steffanni’s way through hard work and determination. Over the years, Steffanni has been nominated for three Canberra Area Theatre (CAT) awards and in 2013 won ‘Best Youth Actress in a Youth Musical’ for her role in a YAMA production ‘Snow White and the Pirate Adventures.’ Adding to her successes, Steffanni believes the HSC is one of her greatest achievements purely because of her schedule at the time. ‘I was working part-time, still dancing, rehearsing for Pride and Prejudice and studying. It just proves you don’t have to be a hermit to achieve high in the HSC.’
Yet, no success comes without tribulations. Steffanni has had her fair share of injuries; tweaked backs, sprained ankles and pulled hamstrings, however it is the mental injuries, which have shaped Steffanni. ‘My parents split when I was 14. It was an unfriendly process. I couldn’t see the light for awhile.’ Parallel to her parents split, Steffanni suffered severe bullying for most of her high school years, which she says still affects her in small ways today. Despite these negative forces, Steffanni believes resilience and strength have come out of her trials to give her what she describes as ‘a unique view of the world; I believe I can use it to my advantage to help others perceive things through a different lens.’
Steffanni’s energy and enthusiasm for the theatre and education continues to grow stronger everyday, now as a creative arts student of UOW. ‘I know it will be a tough road in the industry, but I’m so thankful for Mum complying to my nagging and hassling; “Mum, I want to do drama, I want to act, find me something, Mum!”