Soap operas have had a good run.
While the hula hoop, tailfins on cars, poodle skirts and other icons of the 50’s have long since faded from the American scene, the daytime TV dramas have endured. Decade after decade, they have drawn new generations of fans into the worlds they create, where all the people are pretty, all the situations are convoluted, and all the action takes place indoors.
Now, though, in a seismic television shift, soap operas seem primed to go the way of the dinosaur. “The Guiding Light” went dark last fall, and “As the World Turns” will turn off this September. With ratings down year after year, and no new daytime dramas in over a decade, can any soap be secure?
Against this uncertain backdrop, the world of soap operas came to Marco Island. This weekend marked the 12th annual SoapFest Charity Weekend, giving fans a chance to rub elbows with 17 of their favorite soap stars. Cast members from “All My Children,” “As the World Turns,” “One Life to Live,” and “The Young and the Restless” made the trip.
Leading the group once again, and acting as emcee and auctioneer, Walt Willey from “All My Children” showed a sense of humor about where soaps fit into the greater scheme of life.
“It’s so nice of you to come and share our little bit of minor celebrity,” he said. “On a scale of one to ten, we’re a solid two — right after ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey.’” With more than half the actors on hand coming from the cancelled “As the World Turns,” the future of the genre was a major topic of discussion.
Referring to the fan mags which chronicle the labyrinthine plot twists of the shows, Willey mentioned “Soaps in Depth — not soaps in death, that comes a few years later.” For the uninitiated, there are separate magazines for CBS and ABC soaps; just pay attention at the supermarket checkout line.
“We watched ‘The Guiding Light’ for 40 years,” said Connie Scholl, who traveled from Atlanta for Soapfest. “It’s kind of scary now — they replace our shows with these ridiculous game shows nobody watches.” Her sister, Susan Scholl, said the two now concentrate on “One Life to Live.”
Speculation was rampant on how “As the World Turns” would end, which of the characters would get a happy ending, but none of the cast members was spilling the beans. Of course, the biggest impact of the cancellations is on the actors who will be out of a job.
“As the World Turns” actress Alexandra Chando, participating in a panel discussion Saturday evening at Bistro de Soleil, confessed to getting emotional. “I was sitting in the green room the other day, and I just burst into tears,” she said. “Yes, I’m sad the show is ending. This becomes like a family.”
But the focus at Soapfest was on having a good time, and raising money for good causes. Willey, who has a son with Asperger’s syndrome, is passionate about autism, and the Eden Florida center for children and adults with autism is one of Soapfest’s major beneficiaries. He took the opportunity to do a little outreach, urging the crowd to support occupational therapy and a gluten-free diet to counter the disease.
“We’re so ready to put drugs into our children, and insurance will cover it, but (occupational therapy) — forget it,” he lamented. Florida is one of only three states in which insurance does cover occupational therapy for autism, Willey said.
In all, said Soapfest founder and organizer Pat Berry, the live auction raised more than $20,000. In addition to Eden Florida, the Art League of Marco Island and other charitable causes will benefit.
After the auction ended, the party moved over to CJ’s on the Bay, where the actors served as celebrity bartenders.
Sunday, the partygoers met again for a “Cruisin’ Boozin’ & Schmoozin’” event on the Marco Island Princess, another chance to get to mingle with the real people the fans usually only get to see inside the television screen. “This is my favorite fan event. I especially like the cruise,” said Charlie Funk, who attends “five or six a year,” and flew down from New York to be here. “Unfortunately, I think 10 years from now, there won’t be any soaps. It really stinks,” Funk said.
Soapfest concluded Sunday evening with a reading of “Specter” by Don Nigro, performed by “As the World Turns” stars Schulenberg and Tom Pelphrey at the Marco Players Theater.