Quad-Cities Fathers Share Their Love of the Arts with Their Sons And Daughters
Mark McGinn’s love of the theater is literally in his blood. His father Jack (who died in 2000) started performing at Quad City Music Guild in Moline within two years of its founding in 1949, and was in dozens of shows.
Mark, a 67-year-old Bettendorf resident, started with Guild at Prospect Park in 1972, playing clarinet for “Fiddler on the Roof,” and his first stage role was in 1976’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” (as one of the apostles).
McGinn has since been involved in more than 70 other shows (including last summer as John Wilkes Booth in Black Box’s “Assassins” in Moline), mostly at Guild and on stage, but he’s also played in the orchestra, designed sound and been on stage crew. He’s proud that his two sons, Sean (39) and Daniel (36) have caught the theater bug, too.
Sean doesn’t work on stage but he has played drums in orchestra, done sound design, and more recently has been assistant director and scenic designer. Dan has been onstage in many shows, and now lives with his family in Appleton, Wis., and all five are part of community theater there.
Mark got to play the title role in Guild’s 1996 “Will Rogers Follies,” with Dan as Will, Jr. and Sean played in the pit. The three were also in “Titanic” at Guild a few years later.
“The thing I was proudest of was watching the boys work and perform and doing so in a professional manner,” Mark recalled recently. “Kids are kids and will play around and have fun. That’s good and expected, but when it came time to do what needed to be done, they did it without hesitation. I really enjoyed (and still do) hearing about how good the boys are.
“We are part of four generations at Music Guild and now branching out to other theaters,” he said. “I feel blessed that my kids and their kids are able to use their talents to entertain others.”
Dan’s three boys all have been on stage in numerous productions in Appleton. Mark noted an interesting link in the family-friendly show, “Annie.” He played Daddy Warbucks in Guild’s 2017 production; Dan played the bald billionaire shortly after in Appleton’s Zephyr Players production, and Dan’s son Jacob played Warbucks in the Kids Stage production. They all shaved our heads.
Family traditions at Music Guild
The McGinns are hardly alone among Q-C families in which a father has inspired subsequent generations to pursue arts and entertainment roles. And it’s practically a tradition at Music Guild, which is not doing summer shows this year for the first time in 72 years.
Kevin Pieper’s lineage at Guild goes back to 1954, when his father Bruce first auditioned and proceeded to embody many leading roles.
“As I got older and was able to participate backstage, I loved being able to watch him from the wings of the stage,” Kevin said recently. “And was so fortunate to be able to be in a number of shows with him in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Likewise, as my daughters, Heather and Hillary became active, it has been a great joy to watch them perform, direct, music direct, choreograph and be in shows with them.
“We have been blessed to have had many wonderful theatre moments together that I cherish and will always hold dear,” he said. A particularly special memory was last July, when Kevin; his wife Valeree, and daughters (Hillary is now 29, Heather 33) shared the stage together for Guild’s new production of the Broadway favorite, “42nd Street.”
“It is second nature to me, growing up watching my parents perform and becoming involved in my early teens,” Kevin said. “My daughters have spent countless hours in theater involvement since they were very young and it is an important part of their lives and, also now, their husbands. I think families tend to get involved once they discover theatre is a great outlet where they can spend much time creating, growing, socializing and having fun together.”
“The experiences in producing a musical or play production can last a lifetime and can provide countless opportunities to learn and grow talents and skills,” he added. “It is also important to give back to those organizations which make these opportunities available, so they may continue to do so far into the future.”
“Growing up around such a magnificently creative process provides all sorts of opportunity to discover where individual interests lie,” Kevin said. “There is something for everyone to do.”
“My parents are the reason that I love music and theater,” Hillary said. “From a very young age, I remember going to see them in shows, attending rehearsals, and awing at their talent. From the first shows I saw my parents and grandparents in, I knew I wanted to be on-stage with them too.
“We have been so fortunate to be in shows together and continue the theater tradition in our family,” she said. “From my grandparents to my parents, to myself and Heather to our husbands, we continue to hold theater close to our hearts. I can’t imagine my life without music and theater and I owe that all to my parents.”
“I always felt that dad shared what pure enjoyment musical theater can bring,”
Heather said. “It allows you to escape and become a part of a new life or reality and establish close bonds with others who appreciate that as well.”
She said talent can be developed, but people aren’t just born with it. “ I believe the way I was raised instilled a desire to want to develop those talents,” Heather said.
“I’ve been blessed to get to work with dad in many capacities at Music Guild. Through this, I’ve admired and respected his ease when it comes to communicating with the variety of people involved at Music Guild. Following his example has helped me to grow in every aspect of my life.”
Bill Marsoun, a 73-year-old Rock Islander, has had a vast influence on Music Guild and his family, including wife Cathy (a tireless Guild volunteer) and children Beth and Rich, who are in their 30s.
“To Cathy and I, the theater is what we do,” Bill, a frequent director and set designer, said. “We raised our kids there. As most families, we shared the laughs and the tears. To list all the times together would require a book.
The first Guild show he designed was “George M.” in 1972, and the first he directed was “1776” in 1992. Bill has been involved in some staff production capacity in over 150 Q-C shows, almost all musicals. Beth and Rich have been
involved for over 30.
Among Beth’s highlights were playing Ursula in 2017’s “Little Mermaid” and directing “Shrek” at Guild in 2018. All four of them worked on “Titanic” in the crew.
“If the kids were doing a show, Cathy and I were involved, at the Guild and high school,” Bill said. “We are glad the kids have remained in touch with theater. We would be happy with any choice.”
Bob Williams, another frequent Guild director, and his son Daniel; and Mark Holmes and his son Ben are among other Prospect Park denizens to share the family theater passion.
Continuing the Circa legacy for 30 years
Brett Hitchcock was 4 when his dad Denny opened Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island in 1977, and began working for him summers during high school (with many cleaning, fixing, moving, physical labor tasks). Brett, 47, started working full-time (in sales) in 1993 and hasn’t looked back. Denny is 78 and has no plans to retire.
“Being in a family business, a lot of times you start at the bottom and work your way up,” Brett (who’s title is director of audience development) said. “I started out with every crappy job.”
“The nice thing about starting at the bottom, you learn the whole business coming up, the least desirable jobs,” he said. “It gives you a good opportunity to learn the business…With every second generation person, other people say, ‘Here comes the owner’s kids, treated with kid gloves,’ but that’s not the case here. It also helps that, you’re putting in the time, not just showing up.”
“By doing the work he did, doing it so well, so dedicated, when he started with us full-time, he already had everybody’s respect,” Denny said. “It wasn’t just the boss’ kid; he had done the jobs, done them well. There wasn’t any preferential treatment he got.”
Brett said he never calls him Dad at work. “Actors come in and I refer to him as Denny,” he said. “It’s unprofessional to call him Dad at work; there’s no reason to flaunt that in people’s faces.”
“He has grown tremendously, has matured professionally,” Denny said of his son, crediting him with taking over The Speakeasy next door, and expanding it with everything from big band to burlesque and drag shows. “He’s ready for me to retire. The nice thing about it is, to know we have some fabulous people on our staff, nice to have a family member who’s there.”
Though Brett oversees other sales and marketing staff, he still attends to necessary scut-type work, like fixing a sewer backup. “It’s a family business, so it’s your title plus 12 other things.”
He said it’s been very satisfying to see the growth of The Speakeasy in the past decade, and while he and Denny may lock horns in disagreements at times, Denny’s the ultimate boss and they know how to compromise.
Walljasper daughters “shook up” by theater
Popular Circa actor Tom Walljasper has passed down his love of theater to daughters Bristy (33), Myka (22) and Krianna, a rising Moline High senior who’s performed 12 times on the dinner theater stage.
Krianna debuted on the Circa stage by the time she was 4, and has been more into theater than her sisters, said Tom, a veteran who started at Circa in 1992.
“She’s had the connection to storytelling and character, and has talked about making a living as an actor,” he said, noting Krianna played the lead Natalie in her school production of “All Shook Up,” and got one show in March 12, before coronavirus concerns closed the rest of the weekend.
“They showed up for their call (March 13), and a half hour before curtain they were told they had to shut down,” Tom said.
In “All Shook Up,” Natalie is one of the great roles, since the actress has to be Natalie also playing a guy at times. “As a dad, that was a very proud moment for me, to play that duality,” Tom said. “Pretending to be a guy, that’s very difficult.”
Tom played Jim (Natalie’s dad) when Circa did the Elvis jukebox musical in 2011. Krianna was around the theater when they did it, and “she fell in love with that show,” he said.
All three of his girls with wife Shelley (also a Circa vet) would sit backstage or in the dressing room while their parents were on stage.
The first thing Myka did at Circa, she sat in the light booth during “Grease” when she was 4 and the stage manager let her push buttons to change a light. Krianna played an orphan in “Annie” in 2018, and she got cast in Circa’s “Seussical,” a youth show this summer that was canceled.
“It’s great,” Tom said of seeing his kids involved in theater and singing. “I come from a background in athletics, so watching your child do something, you have to sit back and there is not a darn thing you can do.”
An Adamson laugh riot for three decades
Jeff Adamson (now 65) started ComedySportz Quad Cities (CSz) 30 years ago in The Speakeasy space in downtown Rock Island, and moved it in 2010 across the street to The Establishment – all working with his fellow bald sons, Jim (now 43) and Patrick (40).
Jim started out stage managing, and after Patrick started doing the improv comedy in 1994, Jim took it up, as good-natured sibling rivalry.
“It’s harder on them because it’s your kids,” Jeff said of training them. “You want them to be good; it’s a bar I set for them higher for them. I never pushed them. It’s very seldom you have kids want to do the same thing you do.”
“My grandparents performed vaudeville, and both parents were public speakers,” Jeff said. “There’s something in the DNA. With Patrick, his 7-year-old daughter, she wants to be every production. My oldest grandchild, 15-year-old, she was in a musical and after the show, she said ‘I found out what I want to do the rest of my life,”
Last summer, CSz moved out of the Establishment and the troupe (part of a national improv organization) folded in late November, and the Adamsons shifted focus to their G.I.T. Improv troupe, first formed in 1997.
Formerly known as Guys In Ties, that group (which has female performers) was formed for companies, schools, and organizations looking for quality improv entertainment and training, but with a more professional feel and not involving teams. With Covid-19, those gigs also have dried up.
Patrick took over ComedySportz at the Establishment. Jim said recently he started performing in ’96, figuring if his younger brother could do it, he could also. Jim did more of the tech side, with lights and sound, at the Establishment.
“We sometimes would be three of us on stage, once a year,” Jim said. “It was the best; we operate on a whole different wavelength. We grew up together, so Patrick and Jeff and I, our goal was to drop a teeny joke nobody would get, but if you heard another Adamson chuckle, it was totally worth it. It was just a different goofy perspective.”
“There is another thrill of getting to be with your loved ones, doing what they enjoy, moving in a positive direction,” he said, “It’s awesome.”
Jim has learned discipline and perseverance from his dad.
“He’ll come up with these huge ideas, able to see the light at the end, course correct and keep going,” Jim said. “He’s very good, just personal communication. In terms of the language of love, people show you how they love you in different ways. He’s give you his time, actions. He’s not going to say he loves you, but he demonstrates it through his actions.
“From an early age, I felt dad loved us because of how involved he was in our lives. Some of it, you don’t get that perspective until you become a father. You don’t understand how much sacrifice how much work it is until you do it. This is what love is.”
“I don’t think he gets enough credit from Comedy Sportz in keeping everything afloat throughout the ‘90s,” Jim added. “He did everything, from not only the physical standpoint, creating training for everyone, he was the heart and soul of ComedySportz from the beginning.”
They now live across the street from each other in Moline; eight years ago, Jim and his wife bought his parents’ old house.
Forming close bonds at Richmond Hill Players
Mike Skiles of Geneseo is part of another long Q-C theatrical legacy. The 67-year-old is married to veteran Richmond Hill actress Jackie Skiles, whose mother Laura Favre was a co-founder of the Geneseo barn theater.
Mike and his 32-year-old daughter Dana have directed and/or stage managed many productions. His first show was “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 2000 and has been involved in over 60 shows. Dana has been involved in roughly 35 shows.
They have worked together as a production team where Dana usually directs and Mike stage manages and build the set. And when he directs, she stage manages,
They have been on stage together in three RHP shows: “Dearly Beloved” (2018); “Another Part of the Forest” (2005); and “The Good Doctor” (2005).
“We actually are hoping to be on stage together again. We both enjoyed working on something that we are passionate about,” Mike said. “It really means a lot to have my children being involved in something that I enjoy doing.
“As far as carrying on the family tradition, that goes along the lines of her mother and grandmother,” he said of Dana, noting Jackie has been involved a lot longer than either Dana or him. “As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for Jackie, Dana and I might have never discovered theater.”
“I don’t have any grandchildren in theater yet but I have no doubt that my six-year old granddaughter will someday tread the boards. I hope her first show is out here at RHP but really any place would be great,” Mike said.
Matthew McConville of Geneseo has done six shows at RHP, and his 15-year-old son Colin has done three (all together on stage). Matthew, 38, has three children, but Colin is the only one in theater.
After being in “Inherit The Wind,” the pair appropriately played father and son in Richmond Hill’s “The Diviners” (2017), and later had small parts in “Scapin.”
“Honestly, being involved in theater has been great for both of us, as it has brought us a lot closer,” Matthew said.
Jonathan Grafft, 45, of Geneseo also has been on the RHP stage with his children, Elisabeth (20) and Aidan (16).
His first show was in 2007 – “A Few Good Men” and he’s done 14 area shows. Elisabeth has participated in one show at RHP (“Cheaper by the Dozen”) and one at Playcrafters (“Anne of Green Gables”) and Aidan has been in two at RHP (“Cheaper by the Dozen,” and “Flowers for Algernon”) and two at QCMG (“A Christmas Story” and “Children of Eden”). He also was on crew for 2019’s “39 Steps” at RHP.
“I love that my children enjoy theatre and I cherish every moment I have spent on stage with them,” Jonathan said. “It is exhilarating to watch them build a character, but know that we can still communicate with a glance. It was great watching them bond with other members of the cast and fall in love with bringing a production to life. Theatre really is a family affair for us with my wife also having been in a number of shows including two with Aidan at QCMG.”
Loving being in The Spotlight
Both Brent Tubbs and his wife Sara are veteran area performers, and took a chance in 2018, by opening their own venue, The Spotlight Theatre in the former Scottish Rite Cathedral, Moline.
Brent, 37, and his wife have three kids, with two involved in theater – Taylor, 11, and Cooper, 8. Brent’s first Q-C production was an “Our Town” in the early ‘90s.
Taylor has been in five area musicals (including “Annie” at QCMG) and Cooper just made his debut last Christmas in the Spotlight’s “Miracle on 34th St.”
Brent and Taylor have been in two shows together at Spotlight – “Miracle” and “Matilda.” With Sara, all four of them were in the holiday production.
“The best part was all being together during rehearsals,” Brent said. “It was really great having that shared time together when normally you would be at rehearsals alone.”
“I cannot say enough what a benefit theater does to a person. It improves self-confidence, empathy, listening skills, responsibility and the list goes on and on,” he added. “Along with just the sheer joy and adrenaline rush you get from being on stage in front of an audience, to have that shared experience with my kids is just a remarkable thing.
“It also improves our understanding of each other, and I think our kids understand why Mommy and Daddy have pursued their dream for so long,” Brent said.
Multi-talented family creates art
Ralph Iaccarino, 73, of Davenport, is a well-known area artist who’s had a multi-faceted career and takes pride in the tremendous accomplishments of his artistic daughter Glorie, 50, and grandson Alexander, 32.
“When I see my nine-year-old granddaughter drawing, she has a penchant for proportion,” Ralph said recently. “It’s got to be something that runs in our family. I was the first person in my family that did art, My father played four instruments, in a lot of big bands. My two sons, Antonio and Gaetano, are fantastic musicians, so it seems that I don’t know if it’s genetics, what you grow up around, A lot of people in our family are into the arts.”
A prolific artist and musician (who recorded with Noble Spirit), Ralph made a name for himself over 30 years ago with two TV shows he hosted on WQPT (Quad Cities PBS) – “Art With Mr. I,” geared to children, and “The Creators,” interviewing other area artists.
“I was educated in art and philosophy, I had the background in music, and had the intelligence to ask questions and philosophize,” Ralph (born Raphael) said. “Because of that, I was able to get lot of people to help sponsor, like the Family Museum, the Arbissers, Zimmerman Honda, all these people believed in me and my work,”
His nonprofit organization, Life at Night, also made videos on art and gave them away for school teachers within a 50-mile radius.
Alex – who’s based in Austin, Tex., and sells his work worldwide — illustrates and produces artworks combining the craft of screen printing and the art of classic film posters. His intricate work illustrates officially licensed Star Wars and Marvel posters as well as for clients including AMC, PlayStation, and NBC.
“It’s very gratifying,” Ralph said of his talented family. “Alex did his first mural when he was nine. I must admit, I was born creative, but I don’t think I had a ton of talent. That came from learning, repetition, and practicing, Alex was born gifted. At this point, he’s known all over the world. It’s incredible; he’s gone to Paris, Dubai, people were waiting to get to his table in Dubai.”
Through connections he’s made, Ralph’s paintings are in the collections of the Costa Rican president, and actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood.
“Two important things – practicing art to make a living, and art activism, that’s something my daughter and I have a lot in common,” he said. “My grandfather asked me on his deathbed…I remember he got me to promise one thing, no matter how well your career goes, you have to be showing people how to do it, to be of service
To all these talented artists, Happy Father’s Day, gentlemen!