When asked what he wants to have done before he dies, Professor James Gardner says: “For me the most important thing is twofold, number one: tell a story to an audience and affect them, either make them laugh or make them cry. Number two: help other people, give them the skills to do number one.”
With a career spanning back decades, it is conceivable that Gardner would have accomplished these goals already. Yet, he pushes himself and his students to obtain these goals.
A cacophony of voices fills the Narrative Television and Acting classroom as students shuffle around preparing to make their way on the television soundstage.
Gardner’s voice parts the sea of sound, “Okay, let’s head into the studio!” Once inside Gardner candidly guides students in a rapid-fire, no-nonsense manner. Though painfully direct at times, his is a voice students respect.
“Why are you texting?! You will be fired!” Professor James Gardner chuckles at a student, who hastily drops their phone. This approach is what Professor Ivar Brogger calls, “bad cop.” Professors Gardner and Brogger instruct students together. Brogger, an industry vet of 40+ years, works with acting students in front of the camera and interprets instructions given by Gardner’s group, the crew of directors behind the camera. Gardner leads TV production student, Justine Senna (BFA.TWP ’18) today’s producer, who trails Gardner as he darts from one corner of the stage to the next. “There is a lot of give and take,” says Brogger about their course. With many moving parts and limited time, directions come like water from a fire hose, simultaneously, from both professors.
Garner’s style stems from his desire to entertain and to captivate his students. “One of my greatest heroes in life is Don Rickles, and his ability to use humor and insult and make a point I always appreciated. When you are in this classroom, you are an entertainer and the way you have to reach them is by entertaining.”
Gardner rides the line between effective, caring instructor and loveable jerk and succeeds as one of the most passionate, talented professors at Chapman University. Read his full biography here.