MARCO ISLAND — Either you are a follower of daytime dramas, or you’re not. If you’re not, then the actors and actresses assembled on Marco Island over the weekend for the 11th Annual Soapfest are simply attractive young people with good skin, white teeth and friendly dispositions.
If you are, then Soapfest transports you to a world where you have never actually been, and yet know intimately the intricate web of relationships, and all the dark secrets. Soapfest is an event for the serious hardcore fans.
Even the actors seem to get caught up in the blurring of reality. Asked for their names during the gala charity events held Saturday night at Bistro Soleil and Almost Famous Mel’s, several responded with the character they play on TV.
The sold-out crowd ponied up thousands of dollars for memorabilia, autographed scripts, and the chance to tour the sets of their favorite soaps, accompanied by the same stars who traveled to Marco to make Soapfest a success. All the proceeds will go to children’s charities, with the spotlight on Eden Florida’s newly-opened Eimerman Center, providing educational and outreach services for children with autism. Funds will also go to the Marco Island Center for the Arts’ summer art program.
The festivities continued Sunday with a “Cruisin,’ Boozin’, and Schmoozin’” boat ride on the Marco Island Princess. The New York-based actors got another chance to work on their tans, and the fans got another chance to strike up a conversation with the real people behind the personalities they follow on the small screen.
Austin Peck of “As the World Turns” found a level spot on the filled-to-capacity vessel to display his artistic talent, illustrating as well as signing T-shirts that were sold as fundraisers.
Anthony Sweeney of Hamilton, Ontario came down for the event, and paid $3,000 for a studio tour that was given away during the auction at Bistro Soleil. He also bought several paintings made jointly by the actors and some of the autistic children who will benefit from Soapfest contributions, and drove the bidding up on others.
“The main thing is, this is all for the kids,” he said. The worst thing, he added, is that U.S. charitable contributions are not deductible against Canadian taxes. The one soap opera he follows, he said, is “As the World Turns”.
Lisa Shtypowany traveled from New Britain, Pennsylvania, meeting up with friends from Delaware and Bradenton, just to attend Soapfest.
“I won a luncheon with Alex Cole!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been watching ‘As the World Turns’ for 26 years.” Cole plays Hunter on the show.
“We get together and go to four or five soap things a year,” said Charlie Funk of Bradenton. “I’ve been going to these since 1991. I’ve gone to New York, New Jersey and South Carolina. Our group of friends met at a soap convention.”
The stars hugged their autistic/artistic partners as they auctioned off their works, answered questions about how they got into showbiz, and gave out bits of insider knowledge about the items being auctioned off.
“I lost my virginity in this shirt — on the show, that is,” said Billy Magnussen of “As the World Turns”, as a T-shirt once seen on screen was put on the block. The shirt went for $200.
“ATWT” — soaps are known by their acronyms — had the biggest contingent of stars, with eight cast members attending. “AMC” was next with four, including master of ceremonies and longtime Soapfest participant Walt Willey.
Willey clearly has a future as an auctioneer if the acting thing doesn’t work out. He kept up a stream of patter and jokes, working the crowd and keeping them laughing, while squeezing the maximum out of each auction item.
The cause is personal for Willey. “My 13-year-old son Chance has Asperger’s Syndrome (children who have autistic behavior but no problems with language) and my soap opera daughter Lilly has autism,” he explained. He plays the role of Jackson Montgomery on “AMC.”
While many looming problems face our country, including economic meltdown, two bloody wars, and a swine flu epidemic, for the attendees at Soapfest, these take a backseat to the true burning issue of the day — “Guiding Light” is being cancelled.
“I’ve watched that show since fifth grade. I’ve never watched another soap, and never will,” said Laura Mosby of Tampa.
“We’re just devastated. All of my daughters were weaned on ‘The Guiding Light’ — I’ve been watching it for 38 years,” said Helen Lydon of St. Pete. One of her daughters, Regina Soderberg, came with her to Soapfest. They got to rub elbows with three stars of the show, slated to go dark in September, plus one, Beth Ehlers, who recently moved to “AMC.”
“One Life to Live” had two stars to mingle, rounding out the celebrities on hand.