Soap Opera Writer and Soap Opera Actor Discuss the Challenge-Opportunity-Bias Connected with Soaps

Would you rather listen to Ellen Dolan than read about her?
Hear Full Interview: Ellen Dolan with Susan Dansby

Ellen Dolan Credit: Bleacher & Everard/PGPActor Ellen Dolan discusses some of the biases held against soap opera talent. With her interviewer (a soap opera writer), she ponders how little is known about the process and the level of professionalism demanded in soaps.

Susan Dansby: When I talk to young actors who hesitate to sign a two-year contract, I say, ‘Well, wait a minute. Let’s just think about this.’

If you were in repertory theater, you would be a spear carrier. And then you would have three lines. And then, maybe you would get a supporting role. And maybe, way out there in the distance, there would be a lead role for you. Whereas, if you were on a soap, you get to play falling in love, you get to play falling off a cliff, you get to play all of these different things. Every day, they’re coming at you. You can do a year of rep inside of three months.

Ellen Dolan: And it’s not even the high, holy drama. Because you’re not going to always have big story. There are days when you just have to walk into a room and put the kettle on, unfortunately. And how do you make that interesting? How do you make it fun for yourself and the audience that day? What do you do that’s different? You know, anybody can just walk in and be pretty, and say the words. But what do you do that makes it a bright, particular moment?

Susan Dansby: That makes this day different from every other day.

Ellen Dolan: In that sense, it is highly disappointing that daytime is biting the dust. Because – not only the amount of jobs that it offers a community. And I’m talking like even the neighborhoods that sell the coffee. It provides such a wonderful jumping point for so many people.

Susan Dansby: Having grown up in daytime, I can definitely attest to that.

I actually had a meeting with a sitcom producer who had his doubts about [my directing]. The first thing he said was, “I don’t know if you can do sitcom, since you come from soap. Do you have a sense of humor?” And I said, “Have you ever seen a soap? Of course, I have a sense of humor! You wouldn’t last five minutes without having a sense of humor.”

And the second thing he said was, “I’d like for you to observe our directors for a little bit.” And I said, “Excuse me, I’ve worked in soaps for six years. I’ve observed 1300 hours of network television being made. What would you like for me to learn?”

Ellen Dolan: Three-camera sitcom?

Susan Dansby: Yeah. And of course he didn’t give me the job, because – would I have given me the job? But the fact remains, there’s no way you could learn as much as quickly because it’s so demanding.

Ellen Dolan: Just in what you’re saying, there’s a huge bias out there about daytime formula, and personage. It is. It’s totally biased. And can I tell you? There are a lot of people who have major credits that I’ve seen walk in that door and not be able to do it. Because we’re fast, we’re complete, and we do it every day.

We put out an hour show every day. And, the quality may suffer because of that. But the work ethic? And if you gave us a week to do what we do? There’s no comparison. There is absolutely no comparison.

It’s fun. It’s fun. It’s a fun, fun game. I always remember Peter Simon [Ed Bauer, Guiding Light] saying, “helluva way for a grown man to make a living.”

About Susan Dansby

Susan Dansby has received four Emmy® Awards and two Writers Guild Awards for her work on the soap opera, AS THE WORLD TURNS. She is the author of HOW DID YOU GET THAT JOB? MY DREAM JOBS AND HOW THEY CAME TRUE.
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