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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


INTERVIEW WITH PETRONIA PALEY (QUINN)


AWT: When you began playing Quinn on AW in 1981, she was a rather unusual character for daytime (to be honest, she's still a bit of an unusual character for daytime): A capable, intelligent, professional African-American woman. How did the role come about? Do you remember your audition?

PP: I remember my Another World audition and my good karma vividly. Initially, my first contact with the producer, Paul Rauch, was when I auditioned for another contract role which I didn’t get. That role went to a white actor and it was short lived. But when the Gods of Daytime decided that Steve Frame would have a secretary, I was offered the part. Just like that: no grueling audition, no callbacks, no sleepless nights and endless days of waiting to hear my fate. The acting gods had chosen me. I was awarded a role I loved and a job that lasted for several years and I never had to audition!

AWT: How much did you bring to the role as it went on? How did Quinn evolve from when you began playing her to when your run ended?

PP: I’ve been told that the writers are influenced and informed by what they receive from the actors, so in the development of Quinn, I only can say that they must have liked what they saw. I wanted to give one hundred percent, to do and be my best. I remember my first day at the studio. My scene was to be taped at the end of the day. I was so determined not to be late or not there when called, not to get anything wrong that I sat there for hours waiting. It wasn’t until one of the crew came over and explained that they wouldn’t get to me until very late in the afternoon, that I relented and went to my dressing room. I’d had a contract role on a soap (before) -- briefly, they’d euphemistically 'let me go' -- and subsequently, this time, I was determined not to squander an opportunity. Over the years, I learned how I needed to work. I saw that some actors could learn lines quickly, easily and at the last minute. I could not. I found what worked for me. I became a student of yoga after losing the other job, because I needed to learn how to relax and breathe properly. It was important for me to always be on top of my game, so learning how to do that became enormously important.

AWT: In the early 1980s, AW attracted some phenomenal African-American talent. In addition to you, there was Michelle Shay, Joe Morton, Howard Rollins, Reggie Rock Blythwood, and Morgan Freeman, among others. How in the "world" did Bay City get so lucky?

PP: At some point, the decision was made to expand my character, which meant giving Quinn Harding a love interest. The wonderful Bob Christian was hired. Because soap opera thrives on youth and the eternal love triangle, I was given an adopted daughter, Thomasina, who in turn had a boyfriend who just happened to be Bob’s character’s son. The plot thickened when the lovely Michelle Shay was brought on as his wife. From there, the characters and story grew. Howard Rollins, fresh off the success of the movie, Ragtime, was brought on as my brother. Jackee was hired as Thomasina’s funny and irascible aunt. Eventually, I had a construction company and Morgan Freeman was brought on as a business partner who later married the available Henrietta after Bob’s character was killed. Over the ensuing years, there were other love interests in Joe Morton, John Carter, and James Pickens. It came as a shock when I was told that Quinn would be killed, but all good things must come to an end.

AWT:
What was it like working with such a phenomenal company?

PP:
It was wonderful working with all (the other actors). Most of them had strong theater backgrounds. They knew how to create characters that were not stereotypes, but believable and truthful. We enjoyed each other’s company and often socialized together. Working in daytime can put you in a kind of bubble, so many actors in general and African-American ones in particular, lack opportunities. So when you are working, you belong to this special little world of not only being a working actor, but working in television and all that that entails. It can be a rather heady and seductive experience, but we were grounded in doing the work and living the lives we wanted to have.

AWT: Do you see Quinn as a character of her time?

PP: Quinn started out as Steve Frames’ secretary, then she became his partner and when he was written off, she became Rachel’s partner and friend. It was a time when women were working more and more in the corporate and business worlds, they were opting for careers and not just being moms and housewives, and I suppose the show wanted to reflect that in Bay City. Quinn never married and perhaps that too was a response to women choosing to delay marriage and child bearing for a career. It was a time when women thought they could have it all, when the glass ceiling seemed as unbelievable as Cinderella’s glass slippers.

AWT: What are your favorite memories of life in Bay City? Do you have a scene or a storyline that particularly stands out for you?

PP: The storyline most prominent in my mind was the one beginning with Bob Christian. He was very special. Immediately we bonded and became friends, yet the memory is bittersweet. It was a time of extremes -- great highs and the requisite woes -- because unknown to all, Bob was dying. He actually only lived a few months after being killed off the show. I remember my shock when he came to my dressing room and told me his character’s fate. For months, he’d been suffering from some mysterious undiagnosed condition and daily we talked about it. It was only at my prompting that he went to a doctor I recommended, and was finally told that he had an incurable 'cancer.' But before and during, there was the exhilaration of my first on-camera love affair, of being interviewed for magazines, of having fans, of being recognized, of working a lot, and enjoying it. But the death of the character and the man was a surreal experience of life imitating art. When Bob’s character was shot, Quinn suffered and cried. When Bob died, I suffered and wept. The friendship I hoped to have a lifetime lasted just over a year. I gave the eulogy at Bob’s character’s funeral and I spoke at Bob’s memorial service.

AWT: Is there a storyline you wish you'd had a chance to play, but didn't?

PP: A storyline I would have liked to have had was one in which I had a wedding and had to wear a big beautiful wedding gown. Quinn was always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Daytime was my professional training ground. It taught me to be disciplined, focused, yet flexible, to spin on a dime. It taught me the value of preparedness and the virtue of working fast. It taught me humility, to accept what life gives and takes with equanimity. It taught me how to move forward when I wanted to stay still. It taught me that I was more than my job, that it’s easy to think you are what you do and to accept the illusion of 'celebrity' as who you are. Because of depression, I knew actors who had to seek therapy to help them (get through) life after the soap. I certainly had to deal with the loss of my job and being Quinn, but when I left, I wrote my first full-length play. Perhaps writing was my therapy. Ultimately, it gave me confidence; it pushed me out of the nest before I thought I was ready or willing to fly. And curiously it brought me closer to my father, because I knew he was proud of me.

AWT: Do you have a favorite memory from your time on the show?

PP: My favorite memory of my life in Bay City is the legacy that each of those African-American actors brought to the show and the history of daytime. I enjoy knowing that my character, Quinn, inspired the network and Procter & Gamble to make a major commitment to the development of those characters. An African-American writer was also hired; he may have been the first ever. Even though other actors of color had been on the show, they existed alone, without family; they were a community of one, but we were there front and center. Diversity and inclusion are the buzz words now, but ‘back in the day’ in Bay City, there was a community of people of color who were movers and shakers making a difference. They were there with lives and loves and troubles just like everybody else. They laughed and cried and the "world" laughed and cried with them.

AWT: Do you keep in touch with any of your former co-stars?

PP: I recently saw Michelle Shay, whom I’d not seen for several years. As often happens in shows, you form close bonds that you think will last, but then you go on to another project and the same commitment and devotion happens. Life moves forward and we go with the flow. From time to time I’ve seen Morgan. Some of those actors were either from or retuned to California and sadly I have not seen nor kept in touch. Perhaps now with Facebook and other social network sites, I can reconnect. I think I’d like that.

AWT: After AW, you appeared on GL as Vivian. How was Vivian different from Quinn? What do you remember of your time in Springfield?

PP: Quinn Harding and Vivian Grant were opposites. Vivian was married to a doctor whom she manipulated and dominated and had two children she needed to control. She had neither career nor the desire to have one. She was the "good doctor’s" bossy and bitchy wife and that’s how she liked it. She was bad and I loved her. I still miss her.

AWT: You've done a great deal of theater since leaving daytime. What have been some of your favorite projects? How has your background in soaps influenced your current endeavors?

PP: I’ve been challenged and blessed with many projects since leaving AW and Daytime. I’ve evolved and developed many skills and talents that had I stayed there, may have remained dormant and undeveloped. There was a period of doing classical theater which I love. I started teaching acting and have founded I the Actor, which is my brand of acting workshops. I’ve directed both classical and contemporary plays. My latest, Daughter, recently closed at Ensemble Studio Theatre and later this month I’ll begin rehearsal on Ascension, which is being presented in Winston Salem, NC at The Black Arts Theatre Festival in August. I began writing plays, but the writing on my one-woman multi-media play, On the Way to Timbuktu, which was nominated for five awards and won one, is a stand-out. I encourage my students to empower themselves by creating their own shows or directing and producing their movies. So I too had to follow my own advice. I want it to tour the country and the world. Whether teaching, directing, or writing, my best project is when I feel I can be of service to others. I’ve become much better at sharing. When I was younger, I believed that you had to focus on one thing; the adage, "Jack of all trades master of none," was my mantra, but I no longer believe that. I believe that one has an obligation to explore and develop all aspects of the self, and it’s only in the knowing that we find acceptance and tolerance and meaning.

AWT: How would you answer the question: Where is Petronia Paley now?

PP: I stand on the precipice poised to soar: I am on the path becoming....

AWT: Is there anything you'd like to say to the many AW fans who still remember you fondly and continue to follow your career?

PP: I’d like to send my love to the AW fans. I thank you for the love you showed a young and unsure actor at the beginning of my career. You had much to do with Quinn’s longevity and success, for without your love, affection and appreciation, the character would not have survived. I am thankful that I was able to entertain you and to be a friend and a comfort. I wish you all peace, happiness, health and the strength to pursue your dreams.

1 Comments:

Blogger David said...

Petronia Paley was class through and through. And I don't think any other daytime show has ever developed or had a better ensemble of African-American actors than the group of Paley, Freeman, Christian, Morton, Shay and the late Howard Rollins. They were an awesome and talented group of actors.

July 8, 2009 at 9:36 AM  

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