The soap blogosphere (soaposphere?) was rocked last week by news about Chris Engen and his departure from the role of Adam on The Young and the Restless.
News, or rather rumors, flew fast and furiously about the hows and whys of Engen’s break with Genoa City. About the only thing we know for sure (at least, what’s been confirmed in print by Maria Arena Bell) is that Engen asked to leave.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into the rumors, which suggested that the root of Engen’s unhappiness was that he, as Adam, was slated to kiss another man on screen.
Engen’s MySpace post was meant to clarify what happened, but with all due respect to the author, I think his post was murky and unclear, and didn’t bring any clarity to what went down.
But this controversy did get me thinking, and wondering about how daytime casting directors approach these issues. I worked behind the scenes for about a decade with local theater, and I know our casting directors would ask performers if they had any reservations or issues playing roles where they’d be required to be nude on stage, perform in a play with gay/lesbian themes, or appear in a role that might require them to depict murder, violence or rape.
I can’t speak to the specifics of Y&R’s situation, but I would find it hard to believe that any contract performer wouldn’t have been prepared for the possible pathways that their character might take.
One of the other reasons cited for Engen’s departure was the dark quality his role had taken on. Although I am usually not a fan of darkness, I was enjoying (!) Adam’s story, especially the Usual Suspects-style on-screen reveal (penned by the talented Tom Casiello) where Adam’s misdeeds were disclosed to the audience. Ironically, it was with this turn in the story that Engen was really, finally gelling as Adam.
So Engen’s reaction also reminded me of some other dark daytime stories where performers had a hard time coping with what they had to play. I know that on Days of our Lives, Patsy Pease had to leave the show for a time because the traumatic story she was playing onscreen (as tragic heroine du jour Kimberly Brady) brought back trauma that she’d experienced offscreen.
Perhaps the most similar scenario was when Frank Beaty was playing Brent on Guiding Light. You’ll recall Beaty, and Brent, were part of a shocking story where Brent raped Lucy and then, once Lucy believed he was dead, came back to Springfield disguised as a woman, Marian Crane.
The storyline garnered attention and ratings, but the darkness of playing a homicidal rapist – in women’s clothing, no less, with all of the subtext that such a disguise might bring – led to a great deal of stress for Beaty. He took a leave of absence from the show just as the culmination of the story (Marian’s unmasking) was being revealed.
Ultimately, we may never know what went down in the battle of Engen vs. Bell/Rauch. But I found it telling that Engen mention that his “visage” was being used to tell a story he wasn’t invested in.
Soap characters can seem like such good friends, such old favorites, that it’s easy to forget that performers who bring those characters to life invest a lot of themselves in those characters – physically and emotionally. And sometimes, emotions can overwhelm and knock down even the strongest of us.