Guelph Little Theatre remembers beloved actor and director Denise Gismondi

Guelph Little Theatre remembers beloved actor and director Denise Gismondi

Denise Gismondi was an active member in the theatre community, acting in, and directing countless shows in her lifetime, in Guelph and surrounding areas

The leaves were changing and fall was in the air when Denise Gismondi took a trip to the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls last September.  

“She was very taken with the life cycle of the butterfly,” said Tracy Biggar, who made the trip with her close friend of over 20 years.  

“I think it gave Denise some comfort to think that whatever stage you are currently in, it isn’t necessarily the last stage of what’s going to happen to you.”

After a courageous battle with cancer, Gismondi passed away May 11.  She was 65.  

A retired teacher with the Upper Grand District School Board, Gismondi was an active member in the theatre community, acting in, and directing, countless shows in her lifetime in Guelph and surrounding areas.

Pamela Niesiobedzki-Curtis knew Gismondi, a fellow teacher, for over 20 years. Both friends were diagnosed with cancer at the same time, three years ago.

“We were battling cancer together. The deal was that neither of us was going to check out early,” Niesiobedzki-Curtis said.

The pair really bonded in a play 10 years ago.

“We created a team for several shows. And we did work as a team. Denise was a hard worker and had a great sense of humour. She was a real people person and would not miss Pilates, no matter how she felt,” Niesiobedzki-Curtis said.

“I will miss her smile, her sense of humour, and just being there.”

Gismondi had a long community theatre presence in Guelph, Wellington County, Kitchener-Waterloo and beyond, and was a member of the Western Ontario Drama League, serving as a committee chair.

Long time friend Simon Leibovitz says Gismondi excelled as a director, actor, producer, stage manager and any other role in community theatre she chose and was asked to embrace.

“I have known Denise Gismondi since the early 1980’s when she was part of a children’s theatre troupe that visited schools in Guelph and Wellington County,” saud Leibovitz, a former communications officer with the Upper Grand District School Board.

Working in various educational settings throughout her career, Leibovitz says Gismondi was creative, energetic and dedicated.

“Denise was a stalwart in the Guelph and environs community theatre scene for countless productions over the years.  Audiences, casts, and crews benefitted from her artistic prowess and creativity,” Leibovitz said.

Just prior to the start of the pandemic, Denise, along with another ‘theatrical friend’, Jennifer Milne, and Leibovitz came together to form their own theatre company based in Fergus, called Centre Wellington Theatre Productions. 

“Denise produced and Jennifer directed the very successful ‘Charlotte’s Web’, while I served as an advisor to the production,” Leibovitz said.

“While looking forward to another production, the pandemic interrupted our plans, and then my move from Guelph to Toronto, Denise’s illness, and all of our families’ priorities led us to disband the company last year.”

Married to her husband Paul Harding for over 34 years, Gismondi was a mother to Rachel and Nathan and grandmother to Evelina and Emilia.  

“Her good-natured approach, gentleness, and creative soul will be sorely missed by her colleagues and friends, of which I was blessed to be one,” Leibovitz said.

Guelph Little Theatre president, Shona Sneddon first met Gismondi about 10 years ago.

“I met her at the theatre,” Sneddon said.

“We were in a production together. And we were the only two women in the cast. The play was The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon. We were curling on stage. It was funny. She’s so tiny. I remember thinking how’s she going to do this? But she just commanded the stage with her character.”

Sneddon says Gismondi was a talented actor, board member, director, producer and most importantly, a friend. Even though she was small in stature, she has left a huge impact on her Guelph Little Theatre community.

“She was dependable. We could not have gotten a lot of things done if she wasn’t with us,” Sneddon said.

A celebration of life will be held in memory of Gismondi at Guelph Little Theatre in September.

“Her birthday is in September as well, so it is very fitting,” Sneddon said.

“Everyone can celebrate all of the wonderful moments, the positive things, and the impact Denise has had on our lives over the years.”

Whether is was a reoccurring role as the fairy queen at the Royal Medieval Festival in Waterloo, or taking to the stage for the Mysterious Players Dinner Theatre, Biggar says Gismondi could make anyone laugh.

“She was always so funny. She was so good at improv and talking to people in character. She would do anything for a laugh,” Biggar said.

The trip to Niagara Falls will always hold special memories for Biggar.

“There was a piece of music called ‘The Butterfly‘ that Denise played for me,” she said. 

“I’ve now put that on my play list too because it was so moving to her. And it has become really moving to me.”