Last post, I mentioned that I was, perhaps, “a bit too excited about the prospect of seeing a 30 year old soap opera…” But then I watched the return of Ryan’s Hope, and I remembered why.
It really was the littlest thing. In the RH episode that aired just before General Hospital’s “Brenda” marathon, John and Maeve Ryan had gone to bed angry – very angry. There was no dialogue, just a long-married couple getting reading for bed, trying to stay out of each other’s way.
The next episode opened with Maeve returning from morning Mass and starting to prepare breakfast. She filled the tea kettle and set on the stove. (Back in the day, soap set kitchens had running water and working gas stoves.) Johnny came in from walking the dog, and as Maeve cracked eggs into a bowl, he grabbed some silverware to set the table. And they talked – the way couples do in real life – until their former daughter-in-law, Delia, interrupted them.
In the next scene, Faith was changing the sheets on her bed when her sister, Jillian, entered. These two were also at odds. And as Faith stripped the sheets and put new ones on, she had to keep stepping around her sister; finally, she pushed her out of the way with a pillow. And that was that. No pillow fight, no hair pulling, no histrionics.
The choreography created by between the characters as they performed the most mundane tasks in these scenes beautifully underscored the emotions – and reminded me of how little we see that sort of thing on today’s soaps. A reality echoed in Michael Logan’s TV Guide interview with Elizabeth Hubbard.
TV Guide Magazine: Now everyone on the soaps has that checkbook. Everyone has the private jet.
Hubbard: Everybody's rich! Once there was a class system in Oakdale and that was fodder for a lot of great drama. Where did that go? I should think now, with our economic troubles, that conflict between the haves and have-nots would be even more interesting and relevant.
La Liz also noted another major change between the soaps of then and now. “I've heard that one of our producers even warns the new actors who work with me. ‘Oh, be careful, because Liz likes to work. She likes to rehearse. She likes to try things!’ Like there's something wrong with that!” I was just looking at an Another World script from 1964. The show was still 30-minutes, and was broadcast live. The rehearsal schedule began with a 4:30-6:30 table read the previous evening. On the day of broadcast, 9-11 rehearsal; 12-1:15 camera and blocking; 1:15-2PM, run through 2-2:30: dress rehearsal; 3-3:30PM, AIR.
These days, there’s virtually no rehearsal time scheduled, yet soap actors are expected to do a scene in one take. But an actor simply knowing his or her lines – even knowing their partner’s lines, as well – is a far cry from two actors rehearsing a scene, and together, uncovering all the beats hovering beneath the words. I miss subtext.
© 2010 Lynn Liccardo
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