Soap operas provide a laundry list of material

By Andy Williams

Soap operas are an easy target for ridicule. Originally envisioned as a subtle way to advertise household products to housewives through the radio, the format evolved into what it is today — an overly-dramatic, ridiculously shallow attempt to fill daytime programming. It’s no wonder that the Calgary’s own Dirty Laundry improv group have decided to revisit their roots with their upcoming season, the titled The Grapes of Wrathburn. Dirty Laundry tackled the serialized drama filled world of soaps in their first production 11 years ago.

Though this season is long — running weekly from September 20 to December 20 and February 7 to May 16 — the cast and crew dive in with as little planning and thought as possible.

“At the beginning of the season, really the only thing the actors know is the characters they are playing,” says director Aaron Coates. “They’ve had a chance to invent these characters and we interview them and stuff like that to help them figure out what they are doing. They know their characters and they know how they are related to other people… but beyond that, they show up on the night and I call the scenes as I see fit.”

It’s not just the actors that improvise. Coates admits that he doesn’t know how the scenes will turn out, he just ends them when he thinks they’ve run their course and then the stage managers dim the lights. Unsurprisingly, musician Cam Ascroft improvises the music.

The group has a wealth of experience and have tackled everything in their 10 year run from a superhero season to last year’s “The Amazing Rinse,” a parody of reality TV show The Amazing Race.

Coates feels that this year’s season is particularly topical, relating it to the acclaimed Sci-Fi gem Battlestar Galactica.

“When you really look at it, [Battlestar Galactica] is really soap operaish in a lot of ways. People are falling in and out of love and all that kind of stuff,” says Coates. “They have space fights and all that kind of shit, but it is ultimately a soap opera at the end of the day.”

“A lot of the episodic television that everyone is quite enamored by these days . . . all of those shows do have a lot of elements of soap opera,” he continues. “They are quite long seasons and they have those different kinds of arcs.”

Coates doesn’t want the fact that it is a serialized season to scare away any potential viewers wary of making a significant commitment to the series.

“The brilliant part of doing the show we do is that you can come and attend one episode, it’s complete in itself. There’s always something that begins and ends in that episode,” Coates says. “But for the people that come to more episodes, or for the people that attend every episode, they get that exact thing where they are rooting for that couple that they’ve been wanting to get together the entire season.”

Don’t be confused though. It’s not a drama production.

“It really is pure comedy. At the end of the day, we’re not doing a serious soap opera, we’re taking the piss out of soap operas,” Coates concludes.

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