I wrote this story several years ago, about a young student at the University of Arkansas who created his own soap opera, which ran on the public access station in Fayetteville. I give it to you today not only as a tribute to Raymond’s hard work and imagination, but also as - here it comes - because it shows what can be done by talented folks if they just set their mind to it.
And hey, folks in Fayetteville, there is a beautiful television studio right off the square. The phone number is 444-3433.
And, if the current city administration is less snobbish when it comes to the public access contract this year, perhaps folks from surrounding communities will once again be welcome, to show the world what they can do.
Bring Down the Moon
UA student creates soap opera for television/YouTube
Fayetteville has long been seen as the creative center of Northwest Arkansas, with many writers and artists making their homes here. Images of this town are seen around the world. But now lovers of soap operas can see a Fayetteville-based soap opera on public access television and YouTube.
Bring Down the Moon, an ongoing story about two young couples, can be seen on Community Access Television and can also be viewed on YouTube by going to: http://www.youtube.com/SoapGeek.
Additional showings can be seen at: http://www.myspace.com/bringdownthemoon.
A native of Stamps, Arkansas, Bring Down the Moon creator Raymond Burks has a knowledge of soap operas comparable to what others might have about Star Trek. Conversing with him, one begins to suspect that he might actually know more about soaps than many who are professionally involved with them.
In addition to writing and producing Bring Down the Moon, Burks is the station manager at KXUA, the student radio station at the University of Arkansas. He also majors in English and Creative Writing at the UA.
His love affair with the genre began with Days of our Lives, in the mid 1990s when Marlena was possessed by the Devil. This show was great for a young boy, since it didn’t have all the romance that all the other soaps seemed so fixated on. So in essence, this was his “gateway” show to the world of soaps.
So great was his infatuation with the show, in fact, that the young boy went around the house pretending to be Marlena in her possessed state.
His mother, however, didn’t take well to his knew found passion, especially imitating a demonically possessed -woman. For whatever reasons, he found himself in Vacation Bible School at the end of the summer.
It didn’t cure his increasing fascination with the world of soap operas.
“At the end of the summer I learned how to program the VCR, and taping the show while I was in my sixth grade year of school. Then it was from Days to Another World to all these other shows, and then once they got rid of Sunset Beach and kept Passions and a very substandard Days of our Lives, I was like, ‘I’m done with the whole camp thing.’”
As an example of how bad the writing on DOOL had become, he points to a plot where two characters were living in a sort of underground “Garden of Eden,” complete with fig leaves.
At this point he turned to Rachel Marlow, one of the actors in Bring Down the Moon, and told her, “You better thank your lucky stars that I’m still not obsessed with Days of Our Lives.”
She laughed at that idea.
Marlow, from Sherwood, Arkansas, plays the role of Meredith Frasier.
It was around this time that Burks had begun to watch some of the soaps on ABC. What drew him in was that the ABC soaps were more socially conscious than soaps on other networks. He especially has praise for the late spin-off from General Hospital - Port Charles.
“It was kind of like an ER for daytime kind of thing. They had awesome comedic timing one the show.” He recounts one of the funniest scenes from the show.
“There was a character who is talking to her boyfriend, and he says, ‘I thought you might want to get a little hot and bothered later tonight.’”
Her response? “You know, I’d have more fun with my bread maker. At least when I turn it on the dough rises.”
He only has disdain for ABC now, though. Currently his favorite soap is probably The Bold and the Beautiful.
Marlow says that acting in a soap opera is different from anything she has ever done before, especially since her knowledge of soap operas always came through other people, including her mother, who enjoyed the classic ABC soap Dark Shadows.
She said that after Burks showed her clips from soap operas, “It was real easy to figure out that you don’t have to overact just because it is a soap opera.”
Marlow likes her character (Meredith) a great deal. There’s times when I kind of admire her. I wish I could be as gutsy as her. She definitely takes a stand for what she believes in.”
Marlow discussed a scene in one episode that takes place at the Arkansas Union on the UA campus, where one character proposes to another in front of her. Outside, she slaps the young man across the face.
“What was that all about?” he demands.
Meredith’s reply? “I guess it was left off the wedding registry.”
Marlow says that her character is more “bold and confrontational” than she is. Currently a senior at the University of Arkansas, Marlow is pursuing majors in Journalism with an emphasis on Print AD/PR.
She studied theater at Oklahoma City University. Most recently Marlow both choreographed and performed in the 2007 Gridiron Show. Her other acting credits include "Talley's Folley," "Hedda Gabler," and "Grease," among others.
Recently she was also an extra in a horror film, Arcane.
What has Burks learned from professional soaps - especially badly written soaps?
“If a character is gonna die, they’re gonna fuckin’ die.” He laughed. “They’ve got to die. Back from the dead, cute for the first five or ten minutes. After that, so done with it.
“Long-lost siblings, relatives, twin sisters, yeah, done with it. Nothing dealing with the supernatural. A show either needs to be completely supernatural or not supernatural at all, which is kind of ironic, since is that is how I started watching soaps.”
While as of this writing there have not been any responses yet to the showing of Bring Down the Moon on YouTube, Burks says that he is part of a message board where a lot of people post their fan fiction. “I posted my soap opera because, hey, I’m really proud of this, and been working on this.
“The response has been pretty good. A lot of people really like it, as something different. They have responded really well to it.”
Burks was enthusiastic when he talked about the “love scene” in episode three, which featured the characters of “Meredith” and “David” making love. “They are on a couch,” Burks said, “going through the motions. It’s something you would see on a daytime soap, but we extended it a little longer. There is the hand down the back, hands through the hair, kissing down the neck.”
Marlow said, “I just already don’t like watching that in front of people. But we watched it at the Union last night, in the TV room.” She said by the end of the show almost everyone in the room was paying attention to the soap.
Burks said that even frat boys in the room were transfixed by the drama, especially the part when one character (“Alyson”) is punching herself in the stomach, trying to get rid of her unborn child.
Burks said, “They were like, ‘She’s killing her baby, isn’t she?’”
The role of Alyson Seagrave is played by Meghann Ashley. Alyson can best be described as Meredith’s exact opposite, a schemer who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Ashley, who is a Senior majoring in Anthropology and Spanish. In 2006 she worked at a children’s theater in New York.
In addition to writing and directing Bring Down the Moon, Raymond Burks also does all of the camera work and editing. He edits the show on I-movie, which comes on Macs. He has a lot of praise for the editing system.
He uses cameras from Community Access Television, Fayetteville’s local public access station.
Another actor, Krista Steele, plays Elizabeth Berman, the matriarch of the Berman family.
A native of Fayetteville, Steele graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Arkansas. In High School, she played the role of “Frenchy in the musical "Grease."
The part of David Berman is played by TJ Osburn, who is majoring in Theater and Communications at the University of Arkansas. President of Not-A-Penny Productions, this is his first television role.
UATV will carry repeats of Bring Down the Moon, after they run on C.A.T. Burks feels that the UA should offer television production classes for people who are interested in things besides journalism.
In the meantime, he is grateful that Fayetteville has a public access station that has facilities available to the public.
And when he leaves the UA? Burks hopes to get an internship when he leaves school, and make some connections in the soap opera world, either in New York or in Los Angeles.
And what if someone came to him and said “Raymond, this particular soap opera is in trouble. Come and save it. Do whatever you want.” Which soap opera would it be?
“That’s a tough one,” he laughed. “They all need help bad. On ABC it would be All my Children, which used to be so cutting edge, so edge of your seat. It used to be socially relevant and socially aware.
“And now everything is so superficial on that show.”
He says that he would bring the show back to being about generational conflict, and would shake up the audience’s expectations.
He would also like to shake up Guiding Light on CBS, and Days of our Lives on NBC. He can definitely see soaps making a comeback in the future.
Burks plans to enter the SoapYou contest (sponsored by ABC/Disney and Soap Net) this year. “If we enter the contest this year, we want to go in guns blazing. We’ve thought about stunts and things that we could do, but at the same time keep the show grounded and rooted in reality. We’re gonna try to amp it up as much as we can with as little money as we can, in terms of production.
“Because we are basically a no-budget show. We shoot everything on location. It’s kind of like, the actors bring their own wardrobe to the set.”
Elaborating, Burks went on to say, “It’s kind of a throwback to the old soap opera days.” He explained that until the 1980s, many actors on soaps had to bring their own clothes to the program.
Production on the first season of Bring Down the Moon may now be over, but Burks and crew plan on bringing the further adventures of these young couples to the screen - both television and computer - again early in 2008.
And if soap opera fans are very lucky, Raymond Burks may one day be creatively involved with shows that many now see as old and stale.
Let the revolution begin.
Richard S. Drake is the author of a novel, “Freedom Run,” and a history of Fayetteville, “Ozark Mosaic: Adventures in Arkansas Alternative Journalism, 1990-2002.”
Arkansas Free Press - November 2007