Dissolving 'Soap' Myth
By Alisa Armstrong
April 17, 1977
Angle gave Evan the brush-off. Harold married Alice before he divorced Marianne. Mike decides to quit college and Charles blames Sandy. They may be a chatty blast of passive action constantly in the throws of hyperbole - but don't tell that to a believer. A believer may retaliate by making you watch one with him ... then another ... and another. And at the end of the some 15 soap operas to choose from, if you're not an addict yourself, you'll at least have to admit that soaps are trying.
If you think the plot is complicated, compare it with what it takes to put one together. Victoria Wyndham, alias Rachel Cory on the NBC soap opera, ANOTHER WORLD, rehearses 12 hours to tape one hour.
She said she is up by 5 a.m. in her northern Westchester County, N.Y. farm, "rolled out of bed and rolled the car by 5:30," in the Brooklyn studio by 7 and back home again more than 12 hours later.
Three days a week, her life is pushed to a dead-run pace - "literally," she said.
"Ah, come on, 12 hours a day to make this stuff?" questions the cynic skeptically. The cynic, of course, is the one who works 9 to 5 - safely tucked far away from the temptations of daytime opera.
To the soap opera addict, however, 12 hours rehearsing makes the one hour that produces his daily bout of vicarious romance and intrigue.
It's for some a five-day-a-week 52 weeks-a-year fix.
No race, religion, sex, or age is safe from infiltration.
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall slips away from deliberations to ponder DAYS OF OUR LIVES; Sammy Davis Jr. is such a fan of LOVE OF LIFE he has made a guest appearance on it; former Texas Gov. John Connally and Andy Warhol are among the 10 million following the proceedings of AS THE WORLD TURNS; and it was once rumored that a quarter of the student body at Princeton University drop their books to watch THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS each afternoon.
The work that goes into making a soap opera bubble doesn't always show in the quality of the material, but Victoria Wyndham insists that some of the most serious acting in the business goes on in soapland.
"The cast of ANOTHER WORLD reads like the 'Who's Who' of the American stage ... everyone has been, is currently or will be working New York theater," she said.
She pointed out the caliber of acting in television soap opera has changed over the years.
"... 'Soap opera acting' is predominantly a thing of the past. Actors now are picking up subleties in the material and responding with their acting.
"I'm proud of my work; some of the best acting, best moments, are in this medium," she said.
Ms. Wyndham said it's not the actors that make a day so long on the soap opera set, it's the logistical problems.
Between three booms (with four sets of cables each), four cameras (with six sets of cables each), cameramen to push the cameras, and boom men to push the booms, it takes 12 hours of straight rehearsal just to get situated when and how everybody is doing to be where.
Shot in Sequence
Unlike movies, which are shot in segments, soap operas are always shot in sequence. This means there is no splicing film together and no chance to insert a better take her or there.
"Soap operas are rehearsed in our studio from beginning to end, over and over, always in sequence - complete with commercials," said Ms. Wyndham.
Compare this to the fact that six weeks is taken to produce 2 1/2 hours of theater. It's obvious how much energy must be compressed into the 12 hours of rehearsing before a soap's one-hour taped performance.
Yet acting the soaps is a coveted position.
It is a high-pressure medium allowing few, if any mistakes, but it does have its rewards. Old-timers can earn more than $100,000 a year withstanding the rigors of daily opening-night jitters.
One of the highest tests of an actor's ability in the soaps is ad-libbing. Few are giving prior clearance by a director to do so.
Victoria Wyndham, as Rachel Cory, is one of those qualified to ad-lib on ANOTHER WORLD.
If viewers often see her with other people's children, there is a reason for that.
Children used on the program are not brought out to the set until the day's final taping.
Children do not rehearse with a cast and, being children, cannot always be counted on to do exactly as they are told.
Ms. Wyndham said she enjoys this "under-the-gun work," and recalled some of the incidences that demanded quick headwork.
Viewers may remember the christening of little Cory a few years ago.
The actress who was holding him had no children of her own in real life and was "petrified," as Ms. Wyndham said, when the baby began to cry.
In an effort to calm him, Ms. Wyndham hinted from across stage, "Perhaps he has a bubble. Why don't you burp him?"
Upon realizing the actress didn't know how to burp a baby, let alone stop him from crying, Ms. Wyndham walked over to the child and held him until he stopped.
Since then, head writer, Harding Lemay, has realized how relaxed she is with children and has developed Rachel into the soap opera's frequent baby-sitter.
Keep track of the 35 major characters on ANOTHER WORLD is the job of Harding Lemay.
Characters coming in and out of amnesia, bouts of mate-swapping, injury, and sickness have to correspond with the actor's real-life schedule to some extent.
Mac Cory, for instance, can't appear on the set the same day that real-life Douglass Watson is appearing in a Wednesday afternoon matinee on Broadway.
Rachel Cory has to be "with some other man," or "sick with the flu," when Victoria Wyndham is in Reading for the opening of her sculpture exhibition in the Wyomissing Institute of Fina Arts.
Studies show the average person watches television soap opera 1 1/2 times a week, said the actress.
This forces Mr. Lemay to frequently recap in order to keep the average viewer abreast of happenings.
As a result of the recapping, the material is "at best mediocre and often poor," admitted Ms. Wyndham.
As spongy as it may seem, however, soap opera is the king of daytime television with a court of loyal followers
Little stands between the addict and his favorite soap.
Dissolving the myth that putting together soap opera is a piece of cake, is breaking no bubbles in the addict's book.
He knew it was a serious business all along.