WEST BATH — Huddled in a small West Bath living room, half a dozen local actors and actresses gathered to record the latest episodes of the self-styled soap opera podcast, “Restless Shores.”
With director Thom Hinton watching quietly from the corner, the cast begins a read-through. As they read off of printed out scripts, phones and tablets, the cast digs into the campy script with relish. There’s no ironic detachment when two of the cast members start reciting dialogue about a mysterious vibrating bracelet, and there’s not so much as a wry smile when Nathan Austin, reading as his character Uriah Roupp, proves that a priceless vase is nothing but a forgery using skills picked up as a child while on digs with his father, an archaeologist. There’s an earnestness to their performance that belies the occasionally corny dialogue and plot developments.
With a few brief notes from Hinton, the cast begins recording the episode in the homemade recording studio that takes up the other half of the small living room.
In the 10-minute episode, listeners will learn more about the mysterious stranger in town, the inner workings of Roupp Pharmaceutical and the many characters and relationships in the fictional town of Gamote Point.
“We’ve got all the tropes in there. We’ve got the scheming, seductive administrative assistant. We’ve got the iron-fisted head of the family. We’ve got the clueless grandson of the Roupp’s and the Machiavellian wife of the head of the company and the stranger in town — we’ve got all those things,” said “Restless Shores” creator Marsha Hinton.
“Restless Shores” is the first podcast the West Bath freelancer and novelist has ever made, though it’s not their first time in the recording booth.
She and her husband first got experience with audio storytelling when they recorded an audiobook of Hinton’s self-published novel, “Zombie Moose of West Bath, Maine.” That gave the couple their first idea that they could pull a podcast off.
Hinton wasn’t a fan of soap operas herself, but she saw an opportunity to build a niche audience in the already crowded world of podcasting.
“It was not something that I was particularly passionate about one way or the other, really,” said Hinton.
But soap operas have always been popular, she noted, and in podcasting she saw a unique opportunity. There were no other soap operas being done in podcast form, at least none that she could find. In a world where podcasts have been made for every other genre, from serial dramas to true crime stories to investigative journalism and political talk shows, where are the soap opera-style podcasts?
“I just think no one has thought of it,” she said.
Moreover, the free-flowing soap opera genre, filled as it is with unexpected twists, melodramatic characters and tangled relationships, gave her the opportunity to get creative and spool out plot lines over dozens of episodes.
“There was a lot of creative freedom involved in soap operas. You’re not restricted in what you do or the storylines that develop. They don’t even have to be completely realistic,” said Hinton. “If you look at some of the soap operas of the past, some of the storylines that they had, it’s everything from the supernatural to science fiction.”
And unlike television, podcasting has fairly low startup costs. Hinton and her husband, Thom, were able to set up the living room recording studio where they can record all the episodes.
After developing the first few scripts, Hinton has stepped back from the creative end of the project and is working to develop the business side of the unlikely enterprise. While Hinton said she enjoyed developing the characters and strange plot twists surrounding Roupp Pharmaceuticals, she made it clear that this wasn’t a passion project.
“My bottom line goal … is I want to make money so I can use it for other projects,” said Hinton.
As with any production, money is key. Without it they can’t pay the actors, buy new equipment or run the show. Hinton is working to find advertisers for the show to make it profitable and self-sustaining. While she’s promised the cast a six-month run, if the project takes off financially, she could see Restless Shores continuing indefinitely. But that’s only if they find the money.
“I told them that if I could not get advertising funding, we’d have a lot of fun for six months and then we’re going to kill the show,” said Hinton.
But with optimism abounding, Hinton set about making Restless Shores a reality.
Auburn-based writer Greg Tulonen was brought on to punch up the scripts and take over as head writer for the series, and Hinton’s husband Thom took on the responsibilities of director and producer. They sent out casting calls through their production company, New Meadows Media, and got nearly 100 applications.
The Hintons settled on about half a dozen local actors and actresses for their production, and without delay began recording the first episodes in May.
For the cast, the West Bath-based podcast offers a rare opportunity to get into voice acting in Midcoast Maine. For many of them, this is their first paid acting gig.
“I’ve always wanted to do voice acting,” said Shirley Savage, a semi-retired freelancer who plays Regina Miranda on the podcast.
She took online voice acting closes through Voice Coaching, but opportunities for that kind of work in the Midcoast were few and far between. Savage was able to do a few PSAs for Bath Community Television, but nothing else was really available for a burgeoning voice actress. Then, as she prepared to retire from her freelancing work, she saw the casting call for “Restless Shores.”
“This is my first paying gig, and I’m so excited to have it,” said Savage.
22-year-old Austin wanted to do voice acting since he was in middle school, but ultimately decided
“I literally pushed the idea out of my head. I was like, there’s no way. There will never arise an opportunity in Maine, so I was like, I’ll go into cybersecurity,” he said.
For others, “Restless Shores” is a chance to branch out with acting.
“I consider this to be the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten,” said Zachary Hoogkamp, who voices the domineering head of Roupp Pharmaceuticals Milton Roupp. “I’ve always, always, always had an obsession with voice acting.”
Hoogkamp works for Bob’s Discount Furniture in Scarborough, but on the weekends he works as a professional wrestler. While it was a surprise to his castmates, Hoogkamp noted that it was an opportunity to perform and engage his inner actor. To be able to explore voice acting in West Bath was something he just didn’t see happening.
“It’s been a saving grace for me, because this is one of the dreams that I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
New episodes of Restless Shores are released weekly and can be found on iTunes and other podcast apps.
BY NATHAN STROUT
Times Record Staff