A Day in the Life of Ryan's Hope
Soap Opera Digest, November 15, 1988
by Stella Bednarz
Article Provided By Wanda
What does it take to produce one episode of Ryan’s Hope? The audience only sees the polished, finished product. Before it reaches the air, however, heart and hard work are put into the segment as it passes through several stages. A lot of give and take occurs between cast, crew, and production. For this report, producer Felicia Minei Behr permitted Soap Opera Digest a rare treat - the chance to attend the dry rehearsal and observe action on the set.
8:00 AM - Dry Rehearsal
At dry rehearsal, the director and his actors work out the scenes. Blocking is given and line changes are incorporated into the script. At Ryan’s Hope, this takes place in a a spacious rehearsal room with simple tables and chairs arranged to approximate the furniture on the set. Breakfast foods and beverages are available for munching. There is an upright piano to one side, and full-length mirrors are on two walls, making it feel like a dance studio. For the calorie-conscious, there’s even a scale.
"My baby, how’s my baby?" a panicky Nancy Don Lewis asks the doctor and nurse. The character, played by Maria Pitillo, is in the throes of miscarriage. Script in hand, the actress is stretched out across two folding chairs that simulate an examining table. Petite and fragile-looking, she’s wearing tight black stretch pants, a grey T-shirt, and white Reeboks - boring stuff compared to Nancy Don’s flamboyant on-camera wardrobe. Director Henry Kaplan carefully watches the action, along with Associate Director Laura Rakowitz and Catherine Soper, script supervisor.
A big dramatic man, Kaplan peppers his speech with foreign phrases such as “Finito!” or “Quelle page?” He interrupts the actors to explain what he wants to see in the scene. Sometimes Kaplan shows them how to move - such as how to walk and suffer. The actors mark down movement cues in their scripts. Pitillo seems less than thrilled with Nancy Don’s melodramatic dialogue. Kaplan retorts, “Maria, honey, if you can’t act it, say the words.” Yasmine Bleeth (Ryan Hyde) strolls in. “I had a miscarriage myself on the show. Don’t wear makeup,” she drolly advises Maria.
As the loudspeaker summons the next set of performers, Kaplan catches his breath. A veteran, his directorial credits include Broadway (he directed Sandy Dennis and Gene Hackman in Any Wednesday), and a twleve-year stint on All My Children. Bare-legged and mini-skirted, Yasmine Bleeth and Felicity LaFortune (Leigh Kirkland) run through their scene, sometimes asking if the dialogue can be changed. Kaplan tries to accomodate them, if possible. He alternately paces, listens, and checks his script. Assistant Director Laura and her stopwatch compute the scenes’ running time.
The atmosphere becomes intense and very serious when Michael Levin (Jack) and Rosemary Prinz (Sister Mary Joel) rehearse. It’s a pivotal confirmation - Jack Fenelli discovers that Sister Mary Joel, the nun who raised him in the orphanage, is really his mother. Though it’s early, the actors are committed and in character. “No more lies!” Jack thunders. In a pained voice, Sister Mary Joel tearfully responds, “I can’t bear this.”
During a break, Michael - still charged up by the scene - vigorously shakes the OJ and pours himself a glass; Rosemary reaches for a tissue.
When the rehearsal resumes, Levin bristles at the dialogue and hurls the script across the room. On the sidelines, Roscoe Born (Joe Novak) watches, permits himself a small smile, then continues munching on fruit salad. His scene with Prinz is less dramatic, and a little levity surfaces. “Let me take you someplace safe,” he tells the agitated nun. Prinz raises her eyes and quips, “I’ve heard that before.”
10:00 AM - Blocking; 12:00 Run-Through
On the set, it’s time for camera blocking, and the dialogue sounds familiar. "How’s my baby?" Nancy Don moans. Maria is propped up on a real examining table. In her free time, the patient makes faces. Nearby, the crew hangs artwork in the doctor’s waiting room. “Hold the hammering,” Director Henry Kaplan yells; no one can hear the actors. After the scene, banging resumes, and other crew members move in to paint the walls.
Rosemary Prinz waits her turn and remembers when she was Penny on As The World Turns, in the days when the show was done live. “Terror was the name of the game,” she admits. The actress has an amazing amount of energy, considering her work schedule. By day, she’s on Ryan's Hope; by night she’s in the off-Broadway production of Steel Magnolias. Rosemary politely excuses herself - it’s time for Jack and Sister Mary Joel, round two.
The scene is Silvio’s hospital room. Levin still works with ardent forceful energy; Prinz’s voice barely rises above a whisper as she transmits her character’s quiet pain. Afterward, Levin and his director hold a “spirited” discussion on the edge of the set. Everyone pretends not to notice.
Genial John Sanderford (Frank Ryan) saunters by, casually chic in baggy shorts, slouch socks, sneakers and an RH jacket. "Tension?" he asks with mock surprise - and a big grin. Next, a familiar, throaty voice kids, "You should have been here yesterday." It’s the affable, but shy Roscoe Born. “We really are a very happy group," Stage Manager Tamara Grady adds, then announces that the show will be taped in the order it was blocked.
On another set, Silvio Conti, played by Cesare Danova, has been kidnapped and stashed in George Anthony’s hideout. Cesare pretends to be bound and gagged and makes appropriate noises. It’ll be the real thing later on, at dress rehearsal. Now, how and where Ryan approaches him are what’s important, so a route for her is determined. Later, Cesare is friendly, charming - and very covered up. The actor confesses he learned how to dress the hard way. Since the weather in New York had been hot and humid, he first arrived for work in lightweight attire - and nearly froze.
The camera blocking is over. At most shows, it would be time for lunch, but not at Ryan's Hope. They have an additional rehearsal, called a run-through. It’s the same sort of rehearsal as blocking, only faster and smoother, taking approximately half an hour. After a lunch break, the actors receive notes concerning their performances and return to the set for dress rehearsal and taping.
The scenes taped on this day air over a period of two days. Nancy Don - light on the makeup - suffers and laments on cue.
Michael Levin and Rosemary Prinz turn in moving, poignant performances displaying range and depth. Tight close-ups provide intimacy and magnify the turbulent emotions, being conveyed. Jack finally asks, “Are you my mother? Sister Mary Joel slowly turns to face him and answers, “Yes, I am Angelina. I am your mother.”
Strangely, seeing how the show is assembled doesn’t lessen its dramatic impact. Just the opposite.
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