By the time I arrived at the Embassy Suites the line was filled with fellow Ohioans, all eager to spend time with their favorite soap actors. The first person in line was Sue Lewis, a fan of The Young and the Restless since its inception in 1973. She proudly showed me one of her treasures - a paper sleeve from a 45 record of "Nadia's theme" that was autographed by Sharon Case (who plays Sharon Newman Abbott) and Don Diamont (who just departed as Brad Carlton).
Actually, I met a lot of soap 'lifers' in the group. One fiftyish woman rubbed her belly and fondly remembered watching soaps during her pregnancies and then while raising her young children. My eye went to an attractive young woman who brought her grandmother - both fans of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a 5 month-old baby quietly sleeping in her mom's arms while she stood in various lines to get autographs. With sinking ratings and a nose-diving economy in mind, I silently willed that baby to bring a new generation of soap fans in to our midst.
A robust Q&A session followed, with Christian grabbing a microphone and roving amidst the audience to field the questions.
Q: Laura, if you could write for your own character, what would you have Carly do?
Laura Wright: Carly hasn't had her fun with Nikolas yet and that would be a little interesting. I mean…all over that mansion! Seriously, I'd like to work with my (soap) mother more, Jackie Zeman (who plays Bobbie Spencer). That would be fun. But I'm not a writer. I like Carly. Whatever they write for me is good - the crazier the better.
Q: James, how long does it take to rehearse your group scenes?
James Scott: What is that "r" word? We really don't rehearse, we don't have time. We just go up there and do our stuff.
Q: Do your storylines affect your real life? How do you keep it separate?
Tyler Christopher: Unlike actors who work on movies or Primetime. We do this every single day the whole year. So, yea, it does kind of wear on you. If you are in the middle of something that affects you personally I don't see any way not to take it home.
Q: How can you gauge how you did in a scene without a live audience's reaction?
Austin Peck: I automatically assume that everything I do is awesome right off the bat.
Murray Bartlett: We're in the studio all the time, so it is a bit like acting in a vacuum. Fan events like these are a great opportunity because we get to see what you guys like.
Q: Do your shows keep a gag or blooper reel?
Christian Le Blanc: Bill Bell (the late Executive Producer of The Young and the Restless) would never let those out. He didn't find humor in them.
Cameron Mathison: Sometimes the shows make some money by selling the really good ones to Dick Clark's Blooper show.
Q: Cameron, how did you like coming out on Martha Stewart's show in a Tarzan outfit?
Cameron Mathison: Thank you so much for bringing that up in front of my peers. Hey, let me explain. It was Halloween about 4 years ago and they tried to get me into a loin cloth. Sometimes I look back at things and say, "hey we all make mistakes."
Q: Adam, tell us about shooting the love scenes from the Director's point of view.
Adam Reist: It's kind of like playing Twister. It's really not romantic, it's all about camera angles and that's not always comfortable. It's trying not to show something, I tell them, "Put your hand here to cover this." As a director you feel a little voyeuristic. It's a lot more platonic on set, hopefully on screen it looks magical.
Q: Do you ever have to have a screen kiss with someone with bad breath?
Austin: I'll admit this because I'm still bitter about it. One of my first scenes in soaps was with Lisa Rhinna on Days of Our Lives. She shouted out (to one of the crew members) that I needed a breath spray. Another time, I had to kiss an actress who was on a macrobiotic diet. She had the worse case of flatulence.
Austin: On a related note, it's respectful to keep the tongue in the mouth.
Laura; Yea, you need to ask about that first.
Christian: You have to have 'the talk'.
Q: Does anything in your script ever surprise you anymore?
James: I've certainly had things I've read that I think aren't very good. You start to see clues woven in earlier that signal that you're going out. Like, when my character raped somebody.
Laura: In daytime, we don't get a roundtable reading so the writers don't get to hear us say when something won't work. Many times we go, "Are you frickin' kidding me?" They don't get to hear it. They're just one person sitting in a room trying to imagine the scene. Our job is to tell the story; it's their job to write it. Sometimes we'll start a scene one day and finish it the next and actually feel a different writer.
Q: Can you give us some sneak previews of your shows?
Murray: We actually get in trouble for doing that. Did you know that they put Edmund Grey (John Callahan, All My Children) in a wheelchair because the writers found out that John gave a story away to fans?
John Paul: After 37 years on the air, (Rex, One Life to Live), finally got a locked trash can. Seriously, they just added a new recycling bin next to our trash cans and when we leave we have to put them in to be shredded.
Q: Do you catch any other soaps?
Cameron: I watch a little of GH.
Laura: I watch them all, but I love Y&R. You gotta watch the competition!
Christian: I'll watch different performances of the people I know.
Adam: Just so you know, some shows have monitors up, so everyone can actually catch other soaps during their down time during the day.
Q: What would you do if you weren't a soap actor?
John Paul: I'd be a script writer for soap operas!
James: I guess I'd be unemployed.
Tyler: A chef. I've always wanted to own a restaurant.
Laura: When I was growing up, my dad owned gas stations, so I'd probably have bought a gas station by now. But, I'd be a mom and teach yoga. Oh, and make wine and drink a hell of a lot of it!
Austin: An Astrophysisisssss. Hey I'm so smart I don't even need to finish my words! Nah, I'd be a teacher and a daddy.
Brandon: Now, this would require a brain transplant, but I'd like to be a doctor of some sort. In another life maybe.
Murray: I'd do something that allowed me to work in nature, a ranger or something.
Christian: Hey, my Plan B's and C's are already in operation because I'm white-knucklin' it as I am! I'd be an artist or teacher or writer. I 'm such a nerd, but I could sit in a library and research genealogy all day long.
In addition to the meaty Q&A session, fans were treated with quite the impov session when they were given a chance to act out soap scenes with the actors of their choice. Unlike the fabulous mayhem that ensued on both of the Soap Cruises during this part, the addition of a soap director to the panel brought a sense of true storytelling to the tour. Before each the scenes were brought to life, Adam gave stage directions and invited audience members to contribute background details for actor motivation. Props and extras were quickly chosen and it was "action!' In one scenario, Cameron was to find a dead body (played by Brandon) strapped to a bomb in a trunk. Austin decided that the dead body needed to be disrobed and then given mouth-to-mouth. "You started this, I'm going to finish it," he ad libbed as he started the procedure. In another, the actors lined up as mannequins who proceeded to accost poor Murray as he tried to keep a straight face while acting with a fan. "These mannequins are getting frisky," he joked.
By now, hopefully you've come to the conclusion that attending a leg of the Soap Mania on Tour is a great way for a soap fan to spend the day. (Check out more photos from my coverage, here!) The actor list changes depending on the city you're closest to, but actors by definition are never boring - at least in my experience thus far. I'll leave you with a perfect example of that. Austin's various outbursts were frequently heard from all points of the room. From the following exchange, I could only assume that a fan had admitted to him that she doesn't see his soap because she works during the day. "Get a Tivo! Get a DVR! Get into the 21st Century!" Then, as we broke for lunch, he yelled to her, "You'd better come back after lunch and get my autograph or I'll kick your butt. I don't care if you're a girl!"
- Julie Clark Robinson