Peoria, Illinois-born Tommy Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt ‘12 knew at a very young age he wanted to be involved in the arts in some capacity and began performing in the third grade. He was first involved with local theatre in 2007 when cast in the ensemble of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat at Quad City Music Guild in Moline, Illinois where he grew up.
When a close friend from high school was accepted to Graceland University and mentioned to Tommy how much she enjoyed the campus, he traveled to visit her and attend the mainstage theatre production of Guys and Dolls in which she was performing. He fell in love with the atmosphere at Graceland and the quality of the theatre department.
Tommy attended Graceland from 2009-12, where he was a part of Closson House. His time at Graceland helped him discover his capabilities and taught him about how much drive it takes; not just to succeed but to exceed expectations. His fellow classmates and the faculty constantly challenged him to push his abilities. “They celebrated when you celebrated, and they helped you push through if you struggled. Without my music and theatre professors and close group of friends at Graceland, I wouldn’t be as successful in my craft as I am today. That’s why I am passionate about helping my students exceed in what they do,” he said.
Tommy found his path back to his alma mater, Moline High School, in March 2015 as a director and choreographer. He choreographed the musical Grease (2015) and Fiddler on the Roof (2016). Most recently, he directed and choreographed Cinderella. After graduating from Graceland, he became involved in productions at local theatres such as Quad City Music Guild (Moline, Illinois), Richmond Hill Players (Geneseo, Illinois) and Cedar County Spotlight Players (Tipton, Iowa). Some of his roles include Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (2012) with fellow Graceland graduate Lindsay Anderson Zahniser, Nigel Rancour in Something’s Afoot (2013), Oscar Wilde in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lillie (2013), Marcellus Washburn in The Music Man (2016) and The Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2016). This July, he will cross off a bucket-list show when he performs in West Side Story at Quad City Music Guild.
Throughout his time at Graceland, Tommy’s music and theatre professors helped him focus on building his confidence not only as a performer, but also as a director, conductor, set constructor, lighting designer, and most importantly, a team member.
“When people hear the word ‘musical,’ I don’t think they realize all that goes into putting on a show. It’s not just about the performers or the music. Those may be key parts, but there are so many more people involved who don’t get enough credit. People don’t realize that without lights, the performers can’t see. Without sound, performers can’t be heard. Without stage crew, the performers would have no set or props, and without the orchestra, the performers would be singing acapella.”