Catching Up With The Multi-Talented Billy Magnussen

InDepth InterView: Billy Magnussen Talks Reserved For Rondee UK Gigs, INTO THE WOODS Movie, VANYA, 50 SHADES & More.

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Billy Magnussen brilliantly played the dim Spike in a Tony-nominated turn on Broadway earlier this year. He played Signourney Weaver’s love interest. Some gals have all the luck! | Image: broadwayworld.com

Good in-depth interview by Pat Cerasaro on Broadway World with Billy Magnussen. He’s one of my favorite interview subjects of late because he comes across as completely genuine — and more than a little bit quirky.

He’s shooting the new Into The Woods movie right now and he’s hot off his Tony-nominated turn in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s exceptional play and one of the funniest afternoons I’ve ever spent at the theatre.

Magnussen is certainly easy on the eyes — just as he was back in the day when he played Casey Hughes on As The World Turns where I first ran across him — but he’s more than just another pretty face. His band is damn good, too. Here’s a link to the iTunes pages for Reserved For Rondee.

Langford on Soaps: Best Gay TV Characters

Langford on Soaps: Has “My Husband’s Lover” Jumped the Shark? – thebacklot.com, Page 6.

Scroll down the linked page about halfway to get to Anthony’s top ten list. Sometimes when I read his opinions of soaps, it’s like we’re watching two entirely different shows. A wide divergence of opinion — it’s what civilized discourse is all about, Congress. This time out, however, it’s something else entirely.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis' Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver's death was central to the plot of the show's finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

I like his list. I think I would have replaced #s 10, 9, and 5, but other than that, I think he’s onto something.

Like Anthony, I think Reid Oliver and Brendan Brady were, in many ways, some of the most important gay representations we’ve had on television. And, I, too, have a soft spot for John Paul McQueen, Aaron Livesy and Luke Snyder!

The 50 Greatest Gay TV Characters

The 50 Greatest Gay TV Characters.

Courtesy of The Backlot. I did participate in this poll and I’m pleased to see that a few of my recommendations made it in.

I’m particularly pleased about the page linked above, featuring #s 9, 8 and 7 — the delicious fantasy soap opera trio of Sonny Kiriakis, Will Horton and Luke Snyder! Just think about it for a minute!

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Freddie Smith as Sonny Kiriakis

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Van Hansis as Luke Snyder

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Chandler Massey as Will Horton

I also appreciated the inclusion of Justin Bartha’s David Sawyer (The New Normal) at #35, the exceptional Luke McFarlane as the equally exceptional Scotty Wandell (Brothers and Sisters) and two of my favorites from across the pond: #23 Kieron Richardson’s Ste Hay and #12 Emmett J. Scanlan’s Brendan Brady from the UK sudser Hollyoaks.

With few exceptions — #s 1 and 2 while deserving of inclusion, don’t deserve the top spots — I think this is a great list. At least there’s SOME representation out there. We can always use more, but at least it’s not the desert it was in the olden days!

Cady McClain, the Decline of American TV Soaps, and Other Stuff

Here’s a link to a great article by All My Children’s Cady McClain about the decline of soap operas on American television. Alert readers will know that this is a topic that I broach with some frequency because, in all incarnations of my life, I have been and continue to be a storyteller. And one of the best ways to connect with your audience and tell important stories is using the serial format.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day. Read Cady’s piece. She’s bang on; absolutely bang on.

As for the haters that are drawn to comment on her piece (which she tweeted about), I offer up this great piece on the subject courtesy of Mashable. I originally posted it a few months back.

Finally, below I am reposting a piece I did for Salon back in 2010 when As The World Turns was going off the air. It touches on some similar themes and also Cady and I quote from one of the same sources, Robert Allen, who wrote the terrific book, Speaking of Soap Operas, back in the 80s! All great minds…..?

P.S. In re-reading the piece below, it occurs to me that I’ve used the Schemering quote in more recent pieces. I should research more deeply. Still — it’s a great quote!

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LOSING OUR STORIES
On Friday, September 17, 2010, the soap opera As The World Turns goes off the air after a run of 54 years. A significant event? Yes, I think it is.

“We are a narrative species,” wrote Roger Rosenblatt in Time a decade ago. “We exist by storytelling — by relating our situations — and the test of our evolution may lie in getting the story right.”

I have always found true profundity in that quote and I have gone back to it hundreds of times because all of us relate to students, to colleagues, to friends, acquaintances and strangers, by telling our stories. And I often wonder if a generation gap is not widening because our outlets for teaching young people how to develop, expand and express their own stories have severely diminished in recent decades.

By way of example, we seem to be reaching the bitter end of serialized storytelling, something which can be dated back more than 500 years to Persian storytellers. Serial fiction became wildly popular in the 19th century with Charles Dickens, most famously, and other authors who published stories in magazines by installment. In the U.S., serialized stories began to be broadcast daily on radio in the 1930s. Derisively called soap operas, as most were sponsored by household products manufacturers and featured overly dramatic plots, they fast became the chief escapist fare for an audience of millions; most of whom were women.

If not the originator of the idea, certainly the most prolific purveyor of soap opera was Irna Phillips, an iron-willed, opinionated genius who acted-out her stories for a secretary to transcribe in lieu of literally putting pen to paper.

Character First
When Phillips created As The World Turns in 1956, it fast became the number one drama in America and stayed at that top spot for more than two decades. In writing about the program, Robert LaGuardia called Phillips “ahead of her time. … Irna saw daytime drama in terms of time and character, rather than story. She understood something that only loyal soap fans truly know: that people want to become involved with the lives of other people. … Story to Irna was simply a vehicle; it was from the moment-to-moment emotions of her characters, expressed to each other in quiet scenes, that viewers derived true vicarious pleasure.”

Soap operas exploded thanks to the advent of television and at the height of their reach some 30 years ago, daytime dramas reached a staggering 50 million viewers a week and raked in more than $700 million in profit annually. The size of the soap audience, argued essayist Robert C. Allen, made the programs “a significant cultural phenomenon.”

In the often laconic pacing of daily serials, audiences get to know characters on a level more intimate than in episodic storytelling and their emotional investment in those characters intensifies. The late Christopher Schemering, a journalist devoted to daytime drama, once noted that “as characterizations grow and the narrative stretches out over months and years and becomes more complex and ambiguous, one’s involvement deepens, forcing one to come to terms with the quirks of human nature, the darker sides of fundamentally good people. And thus there is the possibility of the viewer experiencing something new or complex or feeling some way he has never felt before.”

Theatre practitioners often say that the purpose of the art form is to illuminate the human condition and, arguably, soap opera’s true calling may be exactly the same.

Old-Fashioned Relevance
While many soaps have been derided over the years for outlandish plots, poor writing and occasional injections of science fiction or utter madness, As The World Turns remained relevant, said Schemering, because it told “powerful stories slowly and surely. The show was old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.” LaGuardia called it the “most historically important soap opera in modern times.”

In its early years, the show introduced what is believed to be the first illegitimate child on television and though the show was never considered cutting-edge like the early days of All My Children — where a young Erica Kane had television’s first legal abortion — the show did not shirk from the exploration of social issues. Over the years, alcoholism, cancer, adoption, racism, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other issues have been mined for stories.

Margo’s Rape
In the early 1990s on As The World Turns, the rape of police detective Margo Hughes was allowed to play out in real time. The character, who had to wait six months before she could take a test to determine if she had contracted HIV/AIDS from her rapist, was allowed to explore her own emotions, those of her husband, family and colleagues, and the impact her rape had on everyone in her life in a way that mirrored what happens in the real world. Nearly 20 years after this story first aired, actress Ellen Dolan says that it remains a touchstone for long-time viewers.

Luke’s Coming Out
The show has also, in recent years, been lauded for its long-term treatment of Luke Snyder’s homosexuality and its sensitive portrayal of young gay men. When the teenager came out to friends and family, he was met with both acceptance and derision, often from surprising or unexpected sources, but the character was allowed to hold to his own truth and the story showed the long-term positive effects of that truth-telling on members of the community.

And while soaps can be innovative and forward thinking, they can also be prudish. When the character of Luke fell in love with Noah Mayer, a young man with a completely different, harsher and occasionally frightening coming out story, the two finally shared daytime’s first gay male kiss — nearly a decade into the 21st century.

A gripping story such as Margo’s rape showed millions of women how one woman, married with children, reacted to such an unspeakable act and how it impacted her life. Luke and Noah’s story was written with intense courage and deep feeling and showed how one town accepted and embraced people who may have been different. Both stories allowed viewers, some of whom may not have had other avenues in which to explore them, new and potentially empowering ways to confront difference and prejudice and violence in their own lives.

A Real American Drama
Nearly 50 years ago, playwright William Inge said that while people may sneer at soap operas, they have “a basis for a truer, more meaningful drama. … I feel that in soap opera we have the roots for a native American drama.” Inge may have been right, but he could not have foretold the societal shifts that have occurred over the last three decades that has pushed the soap opera onto a cultural endangered species list.

Soap opera viewership is down a staggering 30 million weekly viewers since the mid-1980s and the number of dramas on the air has shrunk by more than half as well. The news from the Nielsen ratings continue to show a continuing sharp decline across all daytime dramatic programs in women viewers 18-49, the bread and butter demographic for soaps. In an era when working outside of the home is the norm rather than the exception for both genders, when DVR’s have released viewing from time constraints and online video has even freed it from TV sets, the soap audience has dwindled and is increasingly split between older viewers and teenagers; neither is a group that excites daytime’s traditional advertisers.

“There are two universal human needs or motives,” a colleague of mine wrote recently, “the need to know and the need to belong.”

That’s as important, I believe, as Rosenblatt’s assertion that “[w]e exist by storytelling.”

If Rosenblatt is correct, what becomes of a society that loses its stories? What happens to people who forget who they are or where they came from or who their ancestors were or how they deal with fellow citizens in a crisis? How do we write our history if we have no stories to tell? If there is a primal need for knowledge and belonging — and I fervently believe that there is — how can we satisfy that need if no one tells us our own story? How do we move forward if we cannot add to the narrative? How do we entertain each other without a collective act of imagining? How do we continue to educate future generations if we have no stories to bind us together?

You may be thinking this is all well and good, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a soap opera; it’s just a television show. Does it really matter? I think it does. And I think that any story that can be told without a break for more than 50 years, such as As The World Turns, deserves to be celebrated and its passing deserves to be mourned.

There are still people who need experiential outlets and serial drama may be an important and overlooked one to help people deal with their personal issues and to teach them to tell their own stories in a meaningful way.

What happens to those folks when we can no longer “tune in tomorrow?”

Durang’s Best Chekovian ‘Spike’

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Shalita Grant, Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce, Genevieve Angelson (on rug), Sigourney Weaver and Billy Magnussen star on Broadway in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The play is directed by Nicholas Martin. Photographer: Carol Rosegg/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

Lucky me. I was in New York last week and had a chance to see Christopher Durang’s brilliant Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Golden Theatre.

When we arrived and settled into our seats, the usher turned to us and said, “You’re going to laugh.”

“Good,” I said, “I could use a laugh.”

“Oh, you’re gonna laugh,” she said, “whether you need it or not!”

And I did.

Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce, the divine Shalita Grant and the hilarious Billy Magnussen all received Tony Award nominations for their performances today. They were all richly deserved — hell, I thought someone should have delivered a Tony to Ms. Grant after the performance I saw, she was so good — but I am puzzled by the Tonys snub (and it’s completely a snub) of Sigourney Weaver who, as Masha, delivers what may be my all time favorite line in the history of theatre in this play.

I just posted a bit about Jake Silbermann who is in a Tony nominated show on Broadway right now as well. Billy Magnussen — Spike — was one of Silbermann’s co-stars on As The World Turns. Let no one tell you great actors don’t come from soaps.

If you have a chance, see VSMS!

By the way: Here’s Billy Magnussen’s reaction courtesy of Theatre Mania. Priceless.

Billy Magnussen, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike:

“Ahhhh, my dog is eating this thing. I have two dogs. I have a French bulldog named Kiki Something Awesome Ninja Meatball. The other one is a long-haired miniature dachshund named Tank. I was in bed when I found out I was nominated for a Tony. I don’t have a publicist. I found out when my mom called this morning. I was sleeping. You know when your phone rings and you just keep yelling at your phone because you just want to sleep? That’s what I was doing. I didn’t know they were calling about that. After the fifth time, I was like, ‘fiiiiine…she has something to talk to me about.’ Crazy, right? I’m going to go to the gym right now. I have to run every day, because I gain weight fast.”

Jake Silbermann: Just My Type

This is a terrific essay by Jake Silbermann. The interesting thing about it is that it gives you some insight from an actor’s point of view. Silbermann is pointing out something that is patently obvious to many of us but that seems completely revelatory to so many others; and that’s simply that “gay” and “straight” aren’t character traits.

When powerhouse performer Van Hansis (l) as Luke Snyder was matched with newcomer Jake Silbermann's Noah Mayer, the two became American daytime television's first gay supercouple and were central to the storyline of As The World Turns for the shows last several years on the air.

Jake Silbermann as Noah Mayer (r) opposite Van Hansis as Luke Snyder on As The World Turns. The two became American daytime television’s first gay supercouple and were central to the storyline of the soap for the last several years that the show was on the air.

The sad part is that so many casting agents haven’t figured this out yet. And far too many agents are still of the old, old school where they counsel their gay clients not to take “gay roles” and they counsel their straight clients not to take them either because of the “fear,” as Silbermann points out of being typecast.

Hard to believe this question is still asked because “gay” isn’t a character trait anymore than straight is.  Can you be type cast as straight?  It may be that when we meet a new character on screen or stage, we assume they are heterosexual, but we don’t know who they are to the story.  Is this the hero, best friend, love interest, antagonist, etc.? “Gay” is not a negative or a positive.  It’s not descriptive.  It’s really more of a circumstance, albeit a vital one.  The point is being gay is not character defining.

Silbermann is a fine actor. He was terrific on the soap and he’s fast becoming a go-to actor in the theatre. He’s currently in Richard Greenberg’s Assembled Parties on Broadway. I haven’t seen this piece yet, but Greenberg is a playwright who relies on smart actors. You don’t get good notices in a Greenberg piece if you’re not a smart, savvy actor.

In addition to the Kickstarter that Silbermann talks about in this essay, he also wrote and co-starred in a fine short film called Stuffer a few years back. If you only knew him from his TV work, this piece instantly showed off his broad range.

Anyhow, take a read:

Jake Silbermann: Just My Type.

Soap Resurrections Online Excite AMC’s Cady McClain

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Michael E. Knight and Cady McClain as Tad and Dixie on ABC’s “All My Children.” The show returns online next month as one of two former network serials getting another life online. McClain returns to her Emmy Award-winning role as Dixie in the reboot. No word yet on Knight’s participation. Image: originally SoapNet, via Wikimedia Commons. No copyright claimed.

If you know the actress Cady McClain, you are likely a viewer of serial drama. She rocketed to the top of the daytime drama Hot Character Hall of Fame for her portrayal of Dixie Cooney Martin on All My Children on and off from 1988 to the end of the ABC series in 2011. She is also known as the second Rosanna Cabot on As The World Turns in multiple stints for the last eight years that soap was on the air.

McClain returns to Pine Valley as, in classic soap fashion, it rises from the dead for an Internet reboot from the production company Prospect Park and their Online Network. The show will also be available on Hulu and iTunes in 30-minute episodes.

It’s a brave new world for what we used to call “daytime drama,” but dramatic programming on the networks during the day is flagging as the core audience — stay-at-home moms and other women who do not work outside the home — continues to dwindle.

I’ve written any number of times about my feelings about serial drama and how important it can be as a catalyst for societal change. I hope that by making the once venerable and still much-loved serials All My Children and One Life to Live available online, we are seeing the beginnings of a more mainstream acceptance of Web-based entertainment.

Read Cady’s cut below and feel free to click around to stories that I’ve written (or reblogged) about soaps and Web series over the last year or so.
A New Dawn for Daytime | Cady McClain.

Do you remember when your aunt or grandma or mom called you into the living room to look at her soap opera on the TV, screaming, “OH MY GOD YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS” and that moment when you frantically queried, “What’s happening? Who is that? TELL ME EVERYTHING!” Well the same thing is going to happen, only now it might be in reverse. Your niece or daughter, or grand daughter might now be the one hollering, “OMG! You’ve got to see this!” while pulling out  her laptop, tablet, or smart phone. It’s not so different: it’s still a generational connection that is going to occur, it’s just coming to you via a different mechanism.

SOAPS AND SERIAL DRAMA

WEB-BASED ENTERTAINMENT

PS — There’s likely some overlap in these two categories.