"I Took a Year Off to Do a Play"
TV Day Gossip Magazine, November 1975
by Marilyn T. Ross
Article Provided By Wanda
When a woman as comely as Louise Shaffer tells you: "I took a year off to play," it conjures up visions of exciting parties and a succession of equally exciting escorts. But when a woman as career-oriented as Louise Shaffer talks about playing, she's not alluding to her social life at all. What she's talking about is the fact that she chose not to hold down a steady job - on TV or on stage - for a period of approximately twelve months, and that she chose instead to involve herself in study - study related to her craft, of course (she couldn't get that far off base). What she did during her year of play was learn to sing opera!
This was not a whim. Louise has always sung - and not merely as a hobby. In fact, during the two years between her last serial, the departed Where the Heart Is (on which she played Allison) and her current serial, The Edge of Night (on which she plays Serena Faraday), she toured as one of the two singing leads in Joseph Papp's musical version of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
"It was a bus and a truck tour that took me as far west as Tucson, as far south as St. Petersburg and up to Toronto," Louise elaborated the evening she invited me to coffee, cake, and chitchat at her West side Manhattan apartment. "It was really trouping - almost all one-night stands. I would not have missed it for anything in the world - and I'd never do it again!"
That's not the way she feels about singing, however.
"When I returned from the tour, I felt I was entitled to some relaxation - so I decided to indulge myself and study opera. In Verona I sang mild rock. But I do have a legitimate lyric-coloratura and I've always wanted to develop it. That's what I did for the next year."
"It's the most frivolous time of my life although it required real nerve to take out the time - and the money. Oh, I did an occasional TV commercial - that helped. But I didn't even try for anything else."
"I took a singing lesson every day and worked with opera coaches," Louise elaborated. "I even took a Juillard opera class and got to sing the part of Musetta in La Boheme. I sang it in a workshop production at the school. I think my mother and about two other people saw the performance, but I was delighted. I sang it more or less accurately."
"I call what I did for that year 'playing' because I'm aware I have no future in opera. I got interested in it too late. To do anything concrete I'd have to spend the next twenty years studying - learning languages and roles. I don't feel I have that kind of dedication. And I know I don't have that much time to mess around. But I don't regret my year of self-indulgence. It was an exhilarating experience and I came back to my real work refreshed."
Most of Louise's acting career has centered around TV serials. At this point, she has come full circle. Her first sudser was The Edge of Night and now she's back on it. In the 60's, she played a gull moll.
"I was the tough chick who slipped a mickey into Tony Ponzini's drink," the actress revealed. (When Ponzini recovered, he went on to play Vince Wolek, his current role on One Life to Live).
After Edge, Louise appeared on Search For Tomorrow and the short-lived Hidden Faces, but she's probably best remembered for her villainous characterization of Allison on Where The Heart Is.
Unlike some actresses who work on soaps until "something better" comes along, Louise feels daytime drama is the best there is.
"They give me a tremendous amount of pleasure. They always have," she revealed. "I have to force myself to try out for other things - and I do because I know to have a good career an actress should work in all theatrical mediums. But I find TV serials particularly satisfying."
"The situations are farfetched but realistic. Look at Charles Dickens' writing. He had some pretty farfetched situations, too. But within their framework, they were handled with style and naturalism. He dealt with personal relations - love, hate, jealousy. What's better than good old-fashioned melodrama? That's what soap opera is all about."
"For all the bizarre plot twists, the acting has a naturalistic quality. It's very emotional work - and I enjoy that. It makes you feel very close to the people you work with."
"I love cameras," said the actress. (Her expressive and lovely face is shown off to such good advantage on the home screen, it's obvious that cameras love her, too).
"There are so many technical things you don't have to worry about doing TV because the camera takes care of them. You're always in the picture and you can play a scene with another person as if you really mean it - without worrying whether or not you're being seen or heard. The stage is different. Those hundreds of people sitting out there are a force. You find yourself playing to them as much as to the other actors on stage."
"Don't misunderstand. I like stage work too - and I want to do more of it," Louise said emphatically. "But TV is more relaxing for me. Of course The Edge of Night is still done 'live' and there is that extra pressure of knowing you can't shoot a scene over again. But it's not that much different from other serials, since they rarely stop the tape once it starts rolling."
In any event, performing 'live' doesn't pose too much of a problem for Louise, whose acting career began in the theater.
Born in Woodbridge, Connecticut in (a suburb of New Haven), Louise one of four children, is the only member of her family who ever showed an interest in show business. And she showed it at an early age.
"I wanted to be an actress by the time I was three or four, but I didn't make a serious commitment until I was five."
Louise studied drama at Yale and Northwestern University, before making her acting debut in 1963 at the Gian-Carlo Menotti Festival in Spoleto, Italy. After settling in New York, she stood by for Shirley Knight in the Broadway production of I'll Always Live In The Castle, then spent a season with the Hartford Stage Company. Before touring with Two Gentlemen of Verona, Louise had a three-month run in the Broadway revival of The Women.
In addition to stage and video serial appearances, she has guested on prime-time TV series and had a role in the prestigious NET presentation of Autumn Garden (which starred Margaret Leighton, Teresa Wright and James Daly).
It was while studying drama at Yale that Louise met the man who was to become her future (and subsequently ex-) husband. She was married to actor Toby Tompkins from 1967 to 1970. Both the marriage and the divorce were amicable.
"We were both too career-conscious to ever get completely caught up in marriage," Louise confessed, "I still care about my career - in a way, I'm dedicated. But I feel a lot less driven. Now I'll take time off to do other things."
Like studying opera?
"Like studying opera. That's not all, though. I'm allowing myself more of a personal life. I'm beginning to realize that you can go just so far in a career and if you don't have good supportive relationships with people who are very special to you, you get to the point where you feel you have nothing more to give to your work."
There is a man at present who's very special to Louise but she refuses to talk about him. "I think he would be upset if I discussed our relationship for publication."
The stunning, statuesque actress contends, however, that you can't give all your love and devotion to the one big romance in your life.
"It's normal to wish for the one perfect person and to dream how ideal life would be if you could ride off into the sunset with him on his white charger," said Louise thoughtfully. "But when you wake up, you realize there are other types of love that must fill your life too - love of family and friends."
"You have to give yourself friends and give yourself to your friends. And in the end, the real relationships you have are better than one perfect one you fantasize about because they are real, and because in life you rarely get what you dream about."
"I'm basically a positive person. And I consider myself very lucky," she continued. "I love my work - and when I think of the millions of people who hate what they're doing but who spend hours of every day doing it, I feel incredibly blessed."
"At times, living alone gets lonely. But it's good for growth. Besides, I'm not really alone; there's always Agnes."
Agnes is Louise's silver poodle, a dog that loves everybody - but particularly mother, Louise.
"I have another reason to be happy I'm back on a serial," Agnes' "mom" confided. "Now I'm sure Agnes can live in the manner to which she has become accustomed. I have to work to keep her in kibble!"
For Louise the year of 'playing' has ended. But the vocalizing goes on and on.....P.S. She has very understanding neighbors!
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