Daytime soap opera fans fondly remember Petronia Paley from her runs on THE DOCTORS (Jessie Rawlings), ANOTHER WORLD (Quinn Harding) and GUIDING LIGHT (Vivian Grant). The talented actress continues to take on new acting challenges but has also moved in the world of directly and teaching. She is currently the director for "Munched," a play by Kim Porter currently running at Manhattan Theater Source until November 22. WE LOVE SOAPS TV recently spoke with Paley about her career and latest projects.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you originally from New York, or did you move here to act?
Petronia Paley: I came after graduating from Howard University with a degree in acting, and I was immediately drawn to the Negro Ensemble Company, where I took classes and was in one of their productions, and The Public Theater. I was lucky enough to get some work down there, and that was the beginning of my career. At some point, I got an agent, and she was the one to get me into daytime television, getting me under-fives at that time.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You decided on a career in acting pretty early then?
Petronia Paley: I did! I knew, in college. I had always wanted to act, so I took an acting class--there was no turning back at that point.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When you came to New York, did you want to be on Broadway? What was your goal?
Petronia Paley: That's an interesting question. I never thought about Broadway. It seemed commercial to me (well, it is commercial) and that was not my goal. I know that for some people with whom I graduated, that was their goal. I was always drawn to experimental theater, or the avant-garde theater, and interestingly enough I got involved in soap operas. [laughter]
I think that's where my thinking was, but in college, for one of my projects, I decided to do a commercial. So there was something in the back of my mind about commercial theater, but it wasn't Broadway commercial theater for some reason.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I remember you well from ANOTHER WORLD as Quinn. How did that role come about?
Petronia Paley: I had actually contracted with THE DOCTORS and I was there for about a year, but that didn't work out. I had originally auditioned for one character on ANOTHER WORLD and they decided to cast that character as a white actor, and I didn't get it. But Paul Rauch (I always thought of him as my godfather) created another character, Quinn. And they just called me up, and offered me the part! I didn't have to audition, because I had auditioned for the other part, which had not worked out, and that part actually went nowhere. That character was canceled. But the Quinn character, for some reason, locked onto their imagination, and they started writing for that character.
At some point, they decided to put it under contract, and it was the start of many wonderful things in my life.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Who did you play in THE DOCTORS?
Petronia Paley: I played Jessie Rollins, she was a black doctor and I (originally) was brought on to be the love interest of a white character. But they had another black/white romance on another soap that had not gone well. The woman playing the part, the black actor, had been fired, because people didn't like the story line, so that didn't work out.
So, originally, I was brought on for this kind of setup, but somewhere along the way, they realized it wasn't going to go anywhere, maybe because of the other situation, and that was dropped. And I was terribly new, and inexperienced, and not very good at it, and I was let go.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was that your first time doing a TV show?
Petronia Paley: No, it was my first time under contract. I started doing these under-fives [on other shows]. So it was the first time I had a shot at a character.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: ANOTHER WORLD is expected to be released on DVD by SoapClassics at some point. As Editorial Director, it's a challenge for me to choose episodes, because the show changed writers and producers and directions all the time. Even in the course of the six years you were there, they changed writers and producers more than once.
Petronia Paley: Oh yeah. That always instilled the fear of God in you, because you didn't know what was going to happen next.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you have a favorite story from your time on ANOTHER WORLD?
Petronia Paley: I guess the story that is most memorable to me, and most touching to me, is such a sad story. The first love interest I had on the show was Robert Christian [who played Lt. Bob Morgan], and he was a wonderful, wonderful actor, and we got along so beautifully. He died tragically, from AIDS, and it was working on that show that I learned about it. In fact, he was one of the first people diagnosed, so it was a sad and tragic time. I had this lovely person who I loved working with, and we had such a great time, and yet it was such a tragic end for him.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The character of Bob was killed in a video arcade drug bust in December 1982. Robert Christian died on January 27, 1983 at age 43.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Were you surprised when Quinn was a victim of the Sin Stalker [in 1987]?
Petronia Paley: I think I was a little surprised. I was so used to working, and loving working, but I've always been a believer in positive thinking, so when it happened I thought, "Maybe it's time to go onto something else."
I took it in stride, not knowing how long it was going to be between jobs. I suppose I was okay with it, although it did come as a bit of a surprise.
Interestingly enough, what happened (and was kind of strange, too--and it's actually one of my favorite stories) was that after I was done with soap operas, and had done all this commercial stuff (when I was done with GUIDING LIGHT), I started doing classical theater. Which was totally out of the blue! I did Shakespeare, I did Chekhov, and I did Greek plays, so that was kind of interesting, because usually that doesn't happen with soap opera actors.
Then at some point, I got into directing! So it was like I was on some sort of trajectory. I don't know where it's leading, but it's been kind of interesting.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: With GUIDING LIGHT, were you hesitant to take another soap? Or happy to have steady work again?
Petronia Paley: I was very happy, because when you're used to working, you expect to work and you want to work, and you wonder why you're not working. Also, I've always done commercials. So yeah, you want that regular work. You feed on it, you need it, and you love it. And so, I was very happy when that worked out.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you have a favorite episode of GUIDING LIGHT?
Petronia Paley: I loved when Gilly, my daughter, got married [to Hamp], and they brought on Roberta Flack, and it was such a lovely wedding. They really did a beautiful job. Quinn never got married, but it's always such a big to-do. They did such a lovely wedding for Gilly, and she was such a popular character on the show. So that episode, I thought, was very nice.
She married a guy who also died tragically, Vince Williams. He was a very nice man. They had been on a few years before I came on, and then they decided to develop the back story, with her mother and all. She [Amelia Marshall] was such a joy to work with. I just recently saw her, she came to New York, and it was just so wonderful, I hadn't seen her for a few years and it was just wonderful to reunite with her.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you cross paths with Paul Rauch on GUIDING LIGHT?
Petronia Paley: Yes! He was the one who got me started on ANOTHER WORLD, and then he came to GUIDING LIGHT, and I just thought, "Oh, my god, Paul! " I just loved him so much. Actually, he was the one who ended up giving me the ax on that show [laughter]. So I guess I went full circle. Is he still around?
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Within the past year, he was working at THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and he left. He's still active.
Petronia Paley: I'm happy to hear that. So many people have stories about Paul Rauch, but I always, because he gave me a start, I always loved him.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you ever consider a soap after GUIDING LIGHT?
Petronia Paley: For the longest time, I did not want to do a soap, but I'm thinking of creating a soap for the radio... you know, Internet radio.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell me about how you got into directing? Was that something you always wanted to do?
Petronia Paley: Yes, but it wasn't conscious. It was something that just came later, during that period when I had to re-invent myself. So I studied with a very wonderful teacher and got into it that way. I enjoy it. I would like to do it more, and make more money at it than I do now! But I do enjoy it, and I'm still learning the craft of it all.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell me about "Munched"?
Petronia Paley: "Munched" is really a play about a mother and a daughter trying to find each other. They have been separated for 25 years because the mother was imprisoned, on the belief that she had tried to murder her daughter, and had actually murdered her other children. It's based on the notion of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, which is a medical thing.
But I don't believe that's really what the story is about. It's about the two of them trying to find a way to get back together. For the daughter, it's really her journey more than the mother's, but they're both waiting to reconnect. The daughter is the one who goes in search of finding out if her mother actually tried to kill her or not, and it's actually very funny, in places.
The woman who wrote it, Kim Porter, really does mix the drama--the pathos--with the humor of it. We have some lovely actors, some emerging actors, doing it, I found some lovely talent to be in it. I'm just hoping it all works out well!
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Where is it playing?
Petronia Paley: It's at Manhattan Theater Source, which is at 177 MacDougal Street. It's a short run, but we're hoping we'll get some buzz.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What's the biggest challenge to you as a director?
Petronia Paley: I think a big challenge is just finding all the support you need to make it happen in terms of your designers. I'm actually up for an award, I directed "Antony and Cleopatra" back in February, and there's something called the Audelco awards, which is awards given by the black theater community in New York. The show is up for five Audelcos, and it's my first nomination as a director.
The challenge is always that there's never enough money. You have to make the best of what you have. It's a wonderful challenge, but it's also a nerve wracking challenge.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: At this point, are you more interested in directing than acting?
Petronia Paley: For many years, they told you you had to specialize, you had to do one thing and focus on that, and I did that in acting. I've come to realize that that is totally bogus. You have to go where the work is. I definitely want to stay in the game, I love what I'm doing, I love directing, and I love acting. I have to do it all! I also write, and I've been teaching for about ten years. I love all of these things. I can't imagine not having any of them in my life.
I did "Raisin in the Sun" last March, I loved it, and I'd love to be on nighttime television of course--who wouldn't?
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Where can we find out more about “Munched”?
Petronia Paley: Sugar Valley Theatricals has a website. Also, there's a page on Facebook called, “Munched" by Kim Porter.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When you started on TV, there were many soaps in New York City. So many job opportunities for young actors have now gone away.
Petronia Paley: It's so sad. When I first came, I think there were about 13 soaps. Because I teach now, I see that it's a terrible thing for the young actors. It's very sad. That whole market, it's all gone, and it's horrible. I just hope, and pray, that there's work for them. I see them in my classes, and I wonder, “Where are they going to work?"
I tell them all the time that they have to create their own, which, of course, makes it harder. They have to create their own shows, they have to create webisodes, they have to be more pro-active in their careers. It's terrible, it's hard, but that's what they have to do.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If you could go back to when you first came to New York, and give your younger self some advice knowing what you know now, what would it be?
Petronia Paley: I would say to continue to develop yourself, don't give up. Just keep developing all the things you want to do. When I was on a soap, if I had asked, "Can I perhaps watch you direct?" Maybe I would have had an opportunity to direct television. I would say, develop all of your skills, develop everything you've got!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to order tickets to "Munched".
Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps and is currently a producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the indie short May Mercy Lie, which is currently making the rounds at film festivals.