Denise Shrewsbury with Susan Collin during a recent improv production by Blended Artists Imaginarium.
John Gibbs and Rick Cina are two of the individuals involved in performances by Black Box Productions.


Susan Collins and her husband Michael were living what many consider to be a dream life. They lived in New York, Los Angeles – locations conducive to their professions. Michael worked in visual effects for television and film, and Susan was an actress. and acting coach.

But suddenly, everything in their life was flipped upside down, when Michael had a stroke caused by a brain aneurysm. He was only 43 years old.

“We had a very content sweet life with creative careers and two precious little girls at home. Two little girls that were confused and just didn’t know what was going on,” Susan explained. “Everything shifted at that point. Michael’s health teetered back and forth, hanging on by a thread. He came near death several times. That type of experience gives you an entirely different perspective on life.”

Michael, also a talented musician, playing both guitar and piano, was now left with limited mobility in his left arm and hand. He was now relegated to grueling physical therapy. Depression for what the family had lost hit every single one of the family hard.

Susan is originally from New Jersey, and Michael is ordinally from Hillsboro. A critical decision was made, based on necessity, to move closer to family for the support the Collins family so desperately needed.

After the couple’s daughters were born (Olivia and Isabella), Susan had already decided to shift her focus from acting to coaching other actors. After all, she had plenty of experience to back her up. In the acting business for more than 25 years, Susan worked in NYC, LA, and IL: acting for TV, film and theater, coaching, and public speaking. Her credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murder One, Profiler, Roseanne Barr Movie of the Week, Saved By the Bell, Saved By the Bell: The College Years, Murder She Wrote, and many others.

One friend warned her that there may not be a big interest in acting classes or a theatre group in a town the size of Hillsboro, and that it would be hard for Susan to live in a place where she would not be working in the arts.

“She meant well. Shey knew what I had already been through with Michael and wanted to save me future heartache,” Susan explained. “First of all, I don’t listen to negativity. But most importantly, after watching someone I love so much so close to death so many times, I promised myself that I was going to do what I wanted to do with my life, no matter what. You only have one life to live. Stop wasting time, follow your dreams, and live the life you want to live.”

Now that you know the back story, let me introduce you to the Susan Collins that I only most recently met, but instantly respected, appreciated and loved.

Susan brings a hint of sophistication, an aura of confidence, a taste of a bigger life and a glimpse of  “what could be” to this area of The Prairie Land State. Most importantly she brings an outlet for creativity, a way to discover one’s self, and the discovery of skills much needed for every day life, that can be gleened through the acting profession.

“You don’t have to want to be an actor/actress to benefit from being involved in acting,” Susan explained.  “Acting gives you a gift of learning who you are… a gift that will benefit you no matter what you end up doing with your life.”

Susan doesn’t expect anyone to leave her classes and go straight to Hollywood, but if you do want to pursue acting as a career, Susan is a great place to start. In fact, she is known as a “starter,” because she takes new actors and helps unlock their potential by bringing their talent to the forefront and helping them develop the skills and wisdom to navigate the increasingly complex and competitive acting industry.

What Susan gives to new actors is what she wished she had when she started out: instant knowledge of how the industry works and a guiding hand.

Susan offers acting classes for all through her business Black Box Productions. The goal of the classes is for all participants to explore and have a deeper understanding of what makes them unique. Using educational tools and techniques students will step out of their comfort zone while having fun, being

creative, and expressing it all through the fabulous craft of acting.

Classes will help children/teens enhance their imagination while doing improv, theater games, and script work. Exercises in self-confidence allow students to open up and understand what gifts they own that make them unique while learning speech skills, self-awareness, fearlessness, and strength.

Susan is also the founder and director of Blended Artists Imaginarium, a 501(c)(3) organization designed specifically for members of the local community that would like to play a part and be involved in performing arts. The mission of Blended Artists Imaginarium is to provide opportunities to foster community engagement in the performing arts while inspiring and developing future artists. They strive to be a safe place for children, teens, and adults to learn the art of acting, public speaking, improvisation and more.

Blended Artists Imaginarium is THE go-to business for performing arts in not only Hillsboro but all throughout Central Illinois. They are committed to supporting the performing arts and generating a greater appreciation of it.

Performances, which include improv, variety shows, scripted plays and so much more will be held at The Grand Theatre in downtown Hillsboro, next to the Orpheum Theater, both Eisentraut’s Theatre. Susan said that a murder/mystery is currently in the developing stages with a performance planned for later in the year.

“Our current group includes about 20 individuals ranging in age from 13 to 70 years old,” Susan explained. “It’s a fun, and talented group. We are currently full, but open to meeting other artists in the area.”

“Our group is very open, accepting, non-judgemental and support based,” she added. “There is no tearing down of anyone – we build each other up!”

While Susan is living her life the way she wants, the vital key to what she does is to show people they are perfect just the way they are – and that you can do anything. The bonus is that in doing that, Black Box Productions and Blended Artists Imaginarium is providing a safe place for kids to express themselves creatively, while giving the community fun entertainment.

“We want everyone to have a good time, discover who they are, be motivated and be MOVED!”

Keep in mind, Blended Artists Imaginarium is a non-profit.  Donations are needed in order for them to continue to bring amazing, innovative and professional performances to the area (And they are!  most events sell out quickly). Donations and your support are vital to continue the work of BAI.  Follow them on social media for information on future fundraisers.

Last, but certainly not least, Susan is a highly sought-after speaker covering a wide variety of topics from leadership, inspiration, and motivational, considered one of the best keynote speakers for live, hybrid, and virtual events alike.

For more information about acting classes, a key note speaker for your next event, Black Box Productions or Blended Artists Imaginarium, email Susan at [email protected], call  818-400-6818 or check out these websites:

Using educational tools and techniques students of Susan Collins/Black Box Productions will step out of their comfort zone while having fun, being creative, and expressing it all through the fabulous craft of acting.
This photo illustrates the premise of Black Box Productions. The performances are done in a “black box” with no visual effects and very few props, keeping production costs down while allowing the participants and audience to enjoy the creativity brought to the stage in an almost raw form.