I have a special guest on my blog today – Mara Purl, actress, screenwriter, journalist, and author. Because many of you are not only readers but writers, I thought it would be fascinating to find out about her latest endeavor and to get a chance to peek into Mara’s career. So, let me tell you a little bit about her before we start our chat. Here are some of the highlights:
Mara Purl is the award-winning author of The Milford-Haven Novels, which, collectively, have won fifteen literary awards. Mara’s novels are based on her successful radio drama Milford-Haven, U.S.A., the first environmental radio soap opera, and the only American radio soap ever licensed and broadcast by the BBC, where the show reached an audience of 4.5 million listeners throughout the U.K.
Along with producing sixty episodes of her BBC show, Mara also produces and performs audio books. She won the silver Benjamin Franklin and the gold USA Book News Audio Fiction awards for performing the first two of her own novels. And most recently, she was awarded the San Francisco Book Festival Gold Audio Fiction award for her performance of Spa Deadly and X’s by Louise Gaylord.
Purl is also the co-author, with Erin Gray, of Act Right: a Manual for the On-Camera Actor. It’s also an award-winner, and the authors are working on its second revised edition. Mara’s screen-writing includes The Meridian Factor, cowritten with Verne Nobles, 150 radio plays, scripts for Guiding Light, and a television adaptation of Milford-Haven cowritten with Katherine Shirek Doughtie.
As a journalist, Mara’s writing credits include two cover stories for Rolling Stone, staff writing with the Financial Times (of London), and an Associated Press assignment to cover the Apollo Soyuz mission, where she was the youngest reporter ever to win the NASA pool position in Mission Control. She is a member of the Authors Guild and of the Writers Guild West.
As an actress, Mara’s regular role on the TV soap opera Days Of Our Lives opened the door for her to create her own soap. Mara was awarded the 2003 Peak Award for performing her one-woman play (co-written with Sydney Swire) Mary Shelley – In Her Own Words.
Kathy: Welcome, Mara. Wow, what an interesting and impressive career. As a soap opera fan in the ’80s when I worked swing shift, I’m very excited about your soap opera career. Can you tell us how you got started writing and acting in soap operas?
Mara: Both the writing and the acting started very early. At about 3, I thought the hearth in front of the fireplace was a stage, so I did a show every night for my parents. I thought everyone did! I started actually writing stories down on pages over the next couple of years, and I remember doing illustrations and getting help from Mom “binding” my first book (with red yarn) when I was about 5. I actually believe if we look back to what we loved to do somewhere between the ages of 7 and 10, we’ll likely find a core passion in life.
Specifically, two things led to the job on “Days Of Our Lives.” The first was that I was cast at age 9 in an ongoing TV drama in Tokyo, where I grew up. So I was very familiar with memorizing lines and working on camera. The second was that much later, when I was working as an actress in L.A., my manager sent me in to meet the casting director of “Days” on what’s called a “General Interview.”
At the time I knew nothing about soaps, and actually thought soap opera was an inferior form of entertainment. Wrong! I was impressed with the very wise, posh casting director, for starters. The interview went well and by the time I was walking back into my apartment the phone was ringing with a job offer. I took it in about ten seconds. From day one, it was an intriguing job. I worked with great people, and learned a whole new form of story telling.
Kathy: What was it like working on a soap opera? It all sounds so exciting to people not in the business.
Mara: It was a privilege, a blast, and a lot of work! I absolutely loved it. In fact, I learned so much from doing the soap that my best friend Erin Gray and I wrote a book together called Act Right: A Manual for the On-Camera Actor. Our book became a best-seller in the acting-book world. It’s full of hilarious stories, as well as good solid information. We tattled on ourselves, on all the stupid mistakes we made while learning the ropes.
So here’s a day-in-the-life of a “Days” actor.
4:00 am wake-up call. Work out, get centered, review today’s script, drive to the studio.
6:00 be on the set ready to begin work. First run-through of the day begins promptly, and for this run-through actors wear no make-up, no costume, and we carry our scripts. This is the only rehearsal that’s just for the actors. The director gives us our blocking (that is, tells us where we’ll be moving in each scene.) We make notes in our scripts, but mostly we instantly memorize these movements as there isn’t much time for review. For me personally, I often watched the scenes I wasn’t actually in, so as to get a sense of the whole day’s story and tone.
9:00 Camera Blocking run-through. This time, we can still carry our scripts if we need them. We actors run through the script while the director and the DP (Director of Photography) work out where the cameras will be moving.
2:00 Dress Rehearsal. Actors are due on set with their make-up and costumes on. That means that some between the end of Camera Blocking and Dress Rehearsal, we’ve found time to visit the make-up chair and consulted with the wardrobe team in case we have any questions. The make-up chairs get full! So it’s important to talk to the make-up artists and schedule a time to get “done.”
4:00 Taping. This time, the cameras roll and there is NO stopping, NO going back. Unlike working in a feature film, where there can be multiple “takes” of a scene, a soap opera is taped just exactly as if it were being broadcast “live.”
We generally finished at 6:00 or 7:00 pm, so it was about a 12-hour work day. Then you have to go home, study the script for the following day, and get lots of sleep! Dark circles can’t always be covered by make-up.
Kathy: I’m exhausted – lol! So, how did the idea for a radio drama begin?
Mara: Again, there were two instigating factors. One was working on “Days,” because I got intrigued with the long form of story telling. In a film, things are wrapped up in two hours or so. It’s a valid form, but a very tight structure. In soaps, the structure is ongoing, and though it’s much more difficult to sustain, it allows for a complexity and for revealing a series of choices and consequences.
The other inspiration for my own soap was an invitation from a lovely gentleman who owned a radio station. I spent a summer performing in a two-character play in the town of Cambria, California. This man and his wife came backstage to compliment me and my co-star, and he said, “If you ever want to do something for radio, let me know!”
A few months later I called and asked whether he’d be interested in broadcasting a radio soap opera, and he loved the idea. So I began writing scripts and sending them to him. Eventually I found my cast (many from other soaps), found a studio home, and began producing episodes. That’s how my show “Milford-Haven” was born. And after it was a success in a few American markets, it was picked up by the BBC, where it went on to find 4.5 million liste
ners throughout the U.K.
Kathy: What inspired you to turn the radio drama into novels?
Mara: While the show was on the air in London, listeners began calling in asking whether there were books that told an expanded version of the Milford-Haven story. Secretly, I’d always wanted to write novels, and felt this was my destiny. So when these questions began to arise I felt excited and ready to give it a try.
Kathy: Wonderful! I understand that What the Heart Knows is the first of 12 in the Milford-Haven series and will be published about every 8 months. Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Mara: That I truly welcome them to Milford-Haven and hope this is the beginning of a long, fulfilling journey together!
Thanks so much, Mara, for stopping by on your busy blog tour. I wish you much success with the Milford-Haven series!
READ my review of What the Heart Knows for the August meeting of “The Book Review Clubhttp://flipflopsandfabs.blogspot.com/2011/08/book-review-club-what-heart-knows.html.”
DOWNLOAD a sneak preview of the prequel, When Hummers Dream.
CONTINUE on Mara’s Blog Tour.