NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

August 15, 2013

'It feels like home'

Former 'Days of our Lives' star relocates to Newburyport

By Ann Reily
Features Editor

---- — Six years after his character was killed off “Days of our Lives,” Steve Blackwood has forged a new life for himself, continuing to build his acting résumé while also teaching his technique to other thespians.

Now, Blackwood, who played Bart Beiderbecke for 10 years on the long-running NBC soap opera, is starting another brand-new chapter. He and his family, which includes wife Karen and 15-year-old daughter Nicole, are making themselves at home in Newburyport after living in Michigan for the past four years.

Enjoying a cigar outside The Tannery Marketplace earlier this week, Blackwood said they settled on Newburyport after visiting and falling in love with its charm. They also like that it’s a creative hub, since Nicole, who will attend Newburyport High School, is a writer and Karen is a plein air artist who enjoys painting ocean landscapes.

“We took a tour of all the towns, and this is the one we really loved,” he said. “It feels like home because there’s an artsy vibe that wasn’t present in Michigan.”

Having just arrived last week, Blackwood and his family are staying in a hotel in Haverhill while waiting to close on their new house, which is near Anna Jaques Hospital.

“We’re all scared, but we have a feeling in our gut that this is the right thing to do,” he said.

This Saturday, Blackwood will teach a seminar at The Actors Studio on “Cold Reading Technique.” It’s a technique that Blackwood is very familiar with, having used it successfully just a few years ago when he landed the part of the bank manager in “Machine Gun Preacher.”

Blackwood had prepared an audition for a priest part in the 2011 film, which is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a former gang biker who becomes a preacher and advocate for African orphans.

After he read for that part, the casting director said, “‘No, you’re more of this banker character,’” Blackwood said. He was then handed the script and told to just do the scene on the spot.

When Gerard Butler, who plays Childers in the film, went on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” to promote the film, his scene with Blackwood was the one shown to audiences.

“As an actor, I know how hard cold reading is,” Blackwood said.

Spots are still available in this weekend’s three-hour workshop, in which Blackwood will show participants how to trust their instincts and personalize copy. Actors will receive scenes in class and have just a few minutes to look at them before doing cold readings.

The path to fame

Growing up in Michigan, Blackwood said he was a shy child who didn’t give much thought to performing. But he idolized comedic actors like Jerry Lewis, Cary Grant and Peter Sellers. He realized he wanted to entertain people after watching “A Shot in the Dark,” the 1964 Pink Panther movie with Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

“This is what I want to do,” he said. “I want to make people laugh.”

He took his first acting class as a student at Oakland University and really caught the bug after hearing the applause following his first performance, in Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke.”

He also credits the book “Respect for Acting” by Uta Hagen, saying, “It changed my life.” After graduating from college in 1978, he drove to New York City “with about $200 in my pocket.”

There, he auditioned for and was accepted into a class at the Herbert Berghof Studio with Hagen, a famed actress who originated the role of Martha in the Broadway premiere of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee.

Eventually, he decided to move to California to pursue his career. Immediately after their wedding in Merrimack, N.H., he and Karen hit the road to Los Angeles, where he continued his studies with renowned director Milton Katselas, who taught him about the “administrative side” of show business. After getting his résumé, pictures and reels together, he “started getting small roles” on TV shows like “Quantum Leap,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

Shortly after, he got his big break, courtesy of the casting director for “Days.”

“Fran Bascom saw me in a play in Hollywood and asked me to do some bit roles on ‘Days of our Lives,’” he said. “One day, she called me up to do a three-day role as Bart.”

Bart was introduced as a sidekick for Stefano DiMera, an evil mastermind who terrorizes the soap’s core family, the Bradys. Blackwood’s take on the character proved popular with viewers.

“My roots were comedy,” Blackwood said. “So I made this henchman, Bart, into more of a bumbling character. Humor on daytime was not done a lot.”

Three days turned into 10 years, off and on, with Blackwood playing the character from 1997 to 2007. The role found him in a number of embarrassing and hilarious situations, including a stint as a stripper. An accomplished jazz singer, Blackwood also got to show off that talent a couple of times as Bart, whose last name is a nod to jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke.

Bart met his demise when he was caught in the middle of a sword fight between Tony and Andre DiMera, both played by Thaao Penghlis.

Being written off hit Blackwood hard.

“I loved working on the show,” he said. “You really do feel like it’s your family.”

He says he still keeps in touch with Penghlis, “a sweet man” who left “Days” in 2009.

Moving on

Blackwood and his wife had always said that if Bart were ever written off the show, “We would go back to a place where they change the seasons.”

So with that in mind, they headed east. They tried Connecticut first, due to its proximity to New York, but it wasn’t the right fit and they ended up moving to Blackwood’s home state, where he could take advantage of tax incentives for movies and be close to his parents. He filmed six movies while he was there, including “Machine Gun Preacher,” “Cedar Rapids” and “Beyond the Mask,” and taught acting classes at Oakland University and Hillsdale College.

“It gave me a training ground as a teacher,” he said.

After Michigan’s tax incentives fell victim to budget cuts, the Blackwoods decided to go farther east, and that’s how they ended up in Newburyport, which isn’t too far from Karen’s hometown of Nashua, N.H.

In addition to Saturday’s seminar, Blackwood is teaching a cold reading workshop at the Marblehead Little Theatre on Sept. 7 and an on-camera workshop at Endicott College in Beverly in November. He also has a new guidebook out for actors, “The Steve Blackwood Sessions,” which is available on Amazon.com.

His goal is to eventually form a “master class of well-trained actors,” a group similar to one he created in Michigan that would help each other get work, perform staged readings and perhaps even create their own online series.

Of course, because resurrecting the dead is a common practice on soap operas, Blackwood hasn’t entirely closed the chapter on Bart.

“I’d love to fly in and do a story line where Bart’s evil twin, Bert, comes back to wreak havoc on the Bradys,” he said.

If you go

What: “Cold Reading Technique,” a seminar with actor Steve Blackwood

When: Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: The Actors Studio, The Tannery Marketplace, Mill 1, Suite 5, 50 Water St., Newburyport

How much: $65

Registration and more information: 978-465-1229 or marc@newburyportacting.org