From a living room in West Bath, a soap opera unfolds for download

Produced by local actors and downloaded worldwide, ‘Restless Shores’ might be the only podcast of its kind.

BY RAY ROUTHIERSTAFF WRITER

Michael Rowe, reading the part of Magnus Carlisle during a recording of “Restless Shores.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

WEST BATH — On Tuesday nights, Thom Hinton sits in his living room and listens to people fight over control of a billion-dollar pharmaceutical company, discuss their extra-marital affairs or suffer death threats. He listens closely to every word they say, but just as closely to what they don’t say.

“One of the actors will tap the microphone shield with the tablet they are reading from. It records as though someone had struck a large gong,” said Hinton, sound engineer and director for the soap opera podcast “Restless Shores.” “Sometimes an exceptionally loud truck will drive by and one or more of the microphones will pick that up.”

“Restless Shores” is a soap opera produced in podcast form and has been recorded weekly for the past year or so in the West Bath living room of Hinton and his wife, Marsha. For recording sessions, a dozen or more local actors cram into the Hintons’ home to record their lines, sitting elbow to elbow in the living room and kitchen. Ambient noise from trucks or someone turning the page on a pad of paper are hazards. So are the tongue-twisters that pop up in the melodramatic dialogue from time to time. At an early December recording, the actor playing scheming Dr. Magnus Carlisle, Michael Rowe of Waldoboro, needed a re-take or two to nail the line “Schizophrenia with paranoia, combined with a persecutory delusional disorder.” Who wouldn’t?

Thom Hinton, director and sound engineer of “Restless Shores,” laughs after listening to actors read their lines. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Though it’s produced in a West Bath home by local actors, “Restless Shores” has been downloaded in some 40 countries around the world and just about every state. It is likely the only original soap opera being created and distributed as a podcast, said Traci DeForge, a podcast consultant and strategist based in Florida. Of the 750,000 podcasts available from Apple, DeForge said the only other soap opera she found during a recent search was “The Archers,” a British radio show also available on podcast.

DOES SOAP STILL SELL?

Soap operas began on radio in the 1930s and were so named because soap companies were early sponsors. The radio dramas attracted people at home all day, including housewives, craving melodrama and escape. They transitioned to TV in the 1950s, and for decades, all the major networks filled their daytime schedules with them. But they’ve fallen off in number in recent years, as people can seek their escapism whenever they want thanks to the internet and streaming.

While some podcasts are dramatic fiction, none besides “The Archers” and “Restless Shores” use the name soap opera, maybe because it’s seen as old-fashioned and a large portion of younger listeners likely aren’t familiar with the term. But Marsha Hinton, Thom’s wife and the creator of “Restless Shores,” sees being a soap opera as an asset.

“I wanted to make something that would be popular and profitable, and melodrama and soap operas have been around a long time,” said Marsha Hinton, 63. “The decision to do it was based more on business than creative reasons.”

“Restless Shores” has been available weekly since January and has been downloaded some 12,000 times. So far, the podcast has no advertisers so the 18 or so actors are paid from producer Marsha Hinton’s own pocket. Among those salaries, distribution of the podcast, licensing and fees, she said each episode costs between $250 and $300. Hinton works in manufacturing and runs the company that produces “Restless Shores,” New Meadows Media. Her husband, the podcast’s director, is a 66-year-old Navy veteran and hospital administrator. The couple, originally from Indiana, have three grown children. Marsha Hinton said she knew she’d probably have to fund the podcast for a while before she could get advertising.

Reading over their lines for a “Restless Shores” recording session in West Bath are, from left: Katrina Loef, Sally Kent, Nathan Austin and Denise Shannon. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Compared to the best-known podcasts, which have millions of downloads, 12,000 might not seem like much. But DeForge, the podcast consultant, said the number is made more powerful by the fact that everyone who downloads it is choosing to listen to the program, which is appealing to advertisers. Radio advertising, by comparison, is hit or miss because people can just change the station when a commercial comes on. The episodes are 15-minutes long and a new one is available each Friday.

“Their download numbers show they have a sustainable record of loyal engagement,” DeForge said about “Restless Shores.” “That’s a big benefit for advertisers.”

EVIL TWINS AND MURDER

Marsha Hinton says she was not a huge fan of soap operas growing up in the small town of Swayzee, Indiana, though she enjoyed the horror soap “Dark Shadows” as well as “General Hospital” during the days when it was a cultural phenomenon. Over the years, she’s done a lot of business writing, including comprehensive plans. She’s also written several novels, including “Zombie Moose of West Bath, Maine.”

When she decided to write a soap opera podcast, she wanted a storyline that took full advantage of the creative license expected of soap operas, with evil twins and people coming back from the dead, that sort of thing.

She settled on a story about a family-run pharmaceutical company in a small coastal city controlled by Milton Roupp, who runs the business with an iron fist and is obsessed with having a blood heir take over the company. But his son wanted to be an archeologist, so he cut him off from the family money. Now, he’s blackmailed his grandson into working at the company. Various plot points include a murder, cloning, an evil twin and Russian gangsters.

Marsha Hinton advertised for voice actors for the podcast and got 100 or more inquiries from around the country. But she wanted the podcast to be recorded with actors playing off each other, like an old radio drama. So the actors have to be in the same room – most of the time – reading their lines back and forth to each other.

The cast she hired from Maine has a range of backgrounds and occupations, including a college professor, college student, executive assistant and retirees. Their performing backgrounds include community and professional theater, films, voice acting work, commercials, stand-up comedy and wrestling.

The scheming old patriarch of the family, Milton Roupp, is played by 25-year-old Zach Hoogkamp, of Richmond, whose day job is replacement parts associate for online retailer Wayfair. He did some live radio drama while at the New England School of Communications in Bangor and has also acted on stage and in short films, has done stand-up comedy and wrestled professionally around New England.

To make himself sound like an evil old, rich guy, Hoogkamp tries to channel Mr. Potter from the holiday film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” another evil old, rich guy. He says voice acting is challenging. Even though the actors record their lines together, they don’t usually see each other. They read their lines into a microphone on a stand, which is behind a sound-deafening screen. Often, they are standing back to back.

“You have to react to the vocal cues of the other actor, without seeing them,” said Hoogkamp. “On stage, you can react physically to something, but in this you can only react with your voice. If my character is glaring at someone, or about to cry, people have to be able to know that by the way I sound.”

Actors Aaron Sanchez, left, and Stan Allen, who play the characters Miguel Rios and Running Wolf, record in West Bath. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

During a recent recording session, Hoogkamp was reading his lines and imagining his character as self-centered and arrogant, which he usually is. But for one scene, director Thom Hinton told Hoogkamp he needed Milton to “sound giddy.”

“I thought, ‘How in the world can I do that?’ ” said Hoogkamp. “It was a challenge.”

Since coming up with the story and the first few episodes, Marsha Hinton turned the writing of “Restless Shores” episodes over to Greg Tulonen, the podcast’s lead writer. Though his day job is working for a nonprofit insurance company, he’s created or written for web comics, web series and films.

Tulonen says, in his mind, a soap opera is serialized storytelling where there’s always more story to be told. As a writer, he likes the freedom to create all kinds of story lines and implausible happenings, with people developing amnesia or falling into comas, or cloning themselves.

Like Hoogkamp, he likes the challenge of telling those stories and evoking emotion with just the words and sounds of a podcast.

“It’s one thing to write that someone is the scariest person in the world for a film. The casting director goes out and finds someone who looks scary,” said Tulonen, of Auburn. “But we have to find other ways to convey that. If somebody pulls out a gun on ‘Restless Shores,’ I have to write a line that basically says, ‘he has a gun’ without being clunky.”

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