Originally Posted Online: Nov. 01, 2012, 12:00 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 01, 2012, 11:23 pm

From business to show business for Q-C actress

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By Claudia Loucks, cjloucks@qconline.com

Photo: Submitted
Liz Blackwell, of Coal Valley, and Christopher Tracy, of DeWitt, star in the new Richmond Hill Players' production, 'A Nice Family Gathering,' opening next week.

GENESEO -- Liz Blackwell has a connection to her character in the upcoming Richmond Hill production of "A Nice Family Gathering."

Mrs. Blackwell, who is cast as Helen Anderson, said, "Having grown up in a family with four siblings and loving parents who never verbalized their feelings, I am able to relate to the dynamics and emotions of this family."

She said the character allows her to be "comedic, sympathetic and heartbroken, which provides a much wider range than other roles have provided for me."

Jennifer Kingry, Geneseo, directs "A Nice Family Gathering," a comedy by Phil Olson.

The setting is Thanksgiving Day, time for the first family gathering at the Lundeen household since the patriarch died. Dad, seen only by one of his grown sons, has returned as a ghost on a mission -- to tell his wife he loved her, something he neglected to say during 35 years of marriage. But she can neither see nor hear him, and his resentful son is a reluctant messenger.

The trouble begins when they realize Mom has invited Dad's old golfing buddy to Thanksgiving dinner -- as her date.

Mrs. Blackwell said "A Nice Family Gathering" is a perfect addition to the Richmond Hill Players productions, adding that it "overflows with talented, enthusiastic, passion-driven people who create a fun atmosphere and a fantastic theater experience for the audiences."

The actress grew up in Moline, where she was active in children's theater during the summer months from her grade-school years through high school.She took a 30-year plus hiatus from the stage when she completed her education, earning a master's degree in business from the University of Iowa, and worked on her career.

"My acting experience did manifest slightly, allowing me to become the first woman elected to the Bettendorf City Council," Mrs. Blackwell said. "Twin State Engineering & Chemical Company, Davenport, hired me as its first office manger, and I had the remarkable experience of working for Hovey and Scott Tinsman."

When her husband, Jeff Blackwell, received his doctorate from the University of Iowa, the couple moved to California, where Mr. Blackwell served as a superintendent of schools, and Mrs. Blackwell became the chief financial officer for a consortium of eight Indian tribes overseeing three full-service clinics.

"I received my stockbroker's license and established my financial-planning practice," she said.

When the Blackwells' daughter, Stephanie, was born in 1991, the couple moved from Bishop to San Rafael, Calif., where Mrs. Blackwell worked for Hartford Asset Management as a retirement specialist working with municipal clients.

"During our 20-plus years in California, my love for the theater was limited to haunting dozens of productions up and down the state," she said.When Mr. Blackwell retired in 2003, the couple returned to the Quad-Cities, and they now live in Coal Valley.

Mrs. Blackwell became involved in theater with Playcrafters in Moline, working backstage with props and stage-managing.Her first onstage role was Clairee in "Steel Magnolias" at Richmond Hill in 2004, and she said it was "a truly life-changing event for me."

She also was in "California Suite," and she played Mrs. Stanford in "Sex, Please We're 60" with Richmond Hill during the 2011 season.

"After several backstage experiences, I finally found the stage at Playcrafters with the role of Bella in 'Rehearsal for Murder.' However, my most unique experience, not considering stage- managing 'The Hobbit,' was working as a dresser in 'Greater Tuna' earlier this year with the Richmond Hill Players in Geneseo."

Mrs. Blackwell currently teaches English at Mercer County High School, where she and another English teacher direct the annual plays.

"My involvement in theater has given me great pleasure, and now I have the opportunity to awaken a passion for theater in teens," she said. "I see the light and excitement in their eyes as they bring a character to life or contribute to a successful, applause-provoking performance."

If you go

-- What: "A Nice Family Gathering."
-- When: Nov. 8-11 and 15-18; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.
-- Where: Barn Theater, atop Richmond Hill Park, Geneseo. 
-- Tickets: $10, $8 on Thursdays. Call (309) 944-2244 or go to rhplayers.com.