Comin’ in from “The Edge…”
At a loss for what to write about this week, I decided to do a Google search for Edge of Night to try and come up with some ideas, and I made an interesting find: the “Television Without Pity” (TWoP) fan forum with the following link and subject feed:
Favorite/Best Soap Opera Scenes - TWoP Forums
Ooh, another one that scarred me for life occurred on Edge of Night in 1983 or so. ... Mariann Aalda (who played Didi) actually made me burst into tears...
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(That captured my curiosity…I just had to click on the link to read on! :-)
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Oct 29, 2007 @ 6:19 pm
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Ooh, another one that scarred me for life occurred on Edge of Night in 1983 or so.
Unknown to the audience (at first) an Evil Dude had planted surveillance devices in all the offices in a high-rise office building he owned in Monticello. One of the bugged offices was Cliff and Didi's law office. Over several months, DiDi became increasingly uptight and paranoid, (somehow able to sense the 'bugs') insisting that she felt as though she was being "watched". She'd always been a sort of second-tier character, but very likeable, sensible and such. They built this tension up slowly, but it all culminated in Didi freaking out and having a nervous breakdown right there in her office. Mariann Aalda (who played Didi) actually made me burst into tears watching this scene. By that point I believe viewers had been filled in on the various buggings, subliminal messages on the cable TV and such that Louis Van Dine (Evil Dude) had instigated, but the whole breakdown episode seemed like "the average guy (or gal)" was powerless to stop the whole plot.
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Oh, this was a scene I remembered verrrrrrry well – for a number of reasons. So this week, I’m gonna let y’all in on what was going behind the scenes…
Soap writers collect royalties on the characters they create for as long as those characters remain on a show. So, whenever a bunch of characters get killed off at one time, it’s a pretty good bet that there’s-a-new-head-writer-in-town!
Lee Sheldon replaced Henry Slesar as EON’s head writer right about the time my contract was coming up for renewal. So, when Lee called a meeting to introduce himself to the cast and tell us what plans he had for our characters – and he didn’t lay out any plans for mine – I was reasonably sure that DiDi’s days in Monticello were about to be numbered.
Sure enough, my contract wasn’t renewed and a couple months later, I went to “day player” status, which meant going from a regular weekly salary and working a guaranteed number of days per week, to only getting paid for the days worked…with no guarantee. This is what usually happens when a character is about to be written off but there are still loose-ends to tie up in an actor’s storyline after his/her contract has expired.
When reduced to day player status, a lot of former contract players choose to walk away from the show. Believe me, my ego wanted to do just that…but my heart wouldn’t allow me to abandon DiDi. I also felt I owed it to the fans not to leave any “loose-ends” dangling.
Edge of Night wasn’t carried by as many ABC affiliates and seen in as many markets, and the story of “Calvin & DiDi” wasn’t as headline-grabbing as AMC’s “Angie & Jessie,” but as one of the few African-American soap opera characters at the time with a full-blown storyline, “DiDi Bannister” had come mean a lot to a lot of people…I didn’t want to let them down. In addition, as a single mom, I also needed to hold on to my job for as long as I could!
From the moment that “Cliff Nelson” (played by Ernie Townsend) and “DiDi Bannister” moved their law offices into The Isis Building, I, began heavily “layering the subtext” into my scripts.
In a workshop I once took at the Actor’s Studio, legendary Method Acting guru, Lee Strasberg said something that really “clicked” for me as an actor: “In great acting, 99% of the performance is what goes on in the audience’s imagination.”
Stimulating the audience’s imagination is done with “subtext.” In other words, it’s not just the lines that the actor has to say, it’s the motivation behind the way in which the actor says them that’s important. A well thought-out subtext engages the audience’s curiosity to make them wonder: “Hmmm….what did she mean by that?” or “Uh-oh, she’s figured it out, what’s she going to do next?!”
A diligent actor’s script is usually so filled with notes scribbled about what’s going on inside the character’s head when he’s delivering the lines, that it has led to the term “acting between the lines” as a connotation for “good” acting.
In the constant turn-around of scripts, and having to quickly learn new lines, the subtleties of subtext can easily be lost in daytime dramas…which has led to the negative connotation often attached to “soap opera” acting.
I remember doing due diligence in spending countless hours “breaking down the script” (coming up with contextual subtext for each scene along with a line-by-line subtext) during those months that DiDi was “…sensitive to something ‘amiss’ in the town of Monticello and desperately trying to warn and rescue its residents of the possible danger…”
At least that was my contextual subtext for all those scenes; the scenes were written, however, simply as “DiDi has a breakdown.” It was a formulaic “B-movie” plotline…but I played it heroically…like Sally Field in “Norma Rae!” :-)
I remember the episode referred to in the fan forum -- where DiDi was taken out of her office in a straight-jacket -- as an emotionally grueling one…topped off by the fact, that, for whatever reason, the show ran about 20 seconds short that day. The last scene was DiDi, still in a straight-jacket, lying on a gurney in the hospital psychiatric ward…crying and screaming in desperation: “Please, please…I’m not crazy….I’m not crazy.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the stage manager wildly waving her arms at me to keep going to fill the time! From somewhere deep in my subconscious, I suddenly ad-libbed: “Mama…Mama…..Help me! Please! Please!!!! Mama! MaaaaaaaMaaaaaaaaa! MaaaaaaaaaMaaaaa! MammmmmmmaaaammmmaaammaaaAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!
It was one of those gut-wrenching, tears-streaming-down-your-face, snot-running-out- your nose, moments….and when it was over, the entire cast and crew spontaneously burst into applause. And when the Daytime Emmy Awards rolled around, the cast nominated me to represent Edge in the “Best Supporting Actress” category.
In addition, I SAVED MY JOB…
Our casting director, Whitney Burnett, came to the set one day, a couple weeks after that particular episode had aired, excited to tell me that my recognizability from those “breakdown” episodes had earned me a TVQ ranking. My reaction was one of, “Oh, that’s nice.”
“You don’t understand,” she said, “ there are people who have been on this show for ten years and don’t have a TVQ!”
Waddaya know, my hard work had been rewarded! DiDi was more popular than ever…so, “the kid stayed in the picture!” And I stayed on Edge till it’s final episode, which aired December 28, 1984.
For your viewing pleasure :-) here is that final scene…
…along with the final closing credits…
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY…
The “Acting Lesson” referred to in the headline for this week’s column is not about how to be dramatic; it’s about being determined. It’s about acting (and taking action) on the fulfillment of a goal, ambition or your heart’s desire.
From about the time I was in first grade, my dad began instilling in me that because I was “a little colored girl,” I was going to have to work ten times as hard as others to achieve success. Daddy was born and raised in the South (Mississippi and Tennessee); and had he lived, he would have been 102 this year.
Daddy had observed -- and experienced -- a lot of discrimination “back in the day,” and he didn’t want me to feel victimized by it; he didn’t want it to limit me… he didn’t want it to stifle my dreams. So whenever Daddy said that to me, there was never a twinge of anger or resentment in his voice. He simply stated it as a matter of fact, so that I’d be prepared for whatever I might come up against. He said it so that I’d learn to be strong and persevere whenever the going got rough.
When I started writing this column, I shared my goals for 2008 with you and encouraged you to set your own goals, as well. Well, we’re now three and a half months into the year…more than enough time for you to have faced some challenges…get discouraged…want to give up.
So, consider this week’s column a little “pep talk” to inspire you to keep-on-keepin’-on!!!
My Dad, Joseph Dewey Berry
And to “Fanatic” daniel82, Bless you, whoever you are, for sharing the impact that scene had on you with the other members in your forum. Remembering the challenge I faced at that time – and all the effort and energy I exerted into overcoming it, it means a lot to me that you liked it…you really, really liked it!
And it was just the inspiration I needed this week…to keep-on-keepin’-on.