Ellen Dolan is reinventing herself. Known for playing Margo Hughes on CBS soap opera As the World Turns from 1989 until its final episode in 2010, the Springs-based actress has found a new calling—writing. Her first play, Ball of Redemption, will have a staged reading at Guild Hall on Thursday, May 30.
“I’m writing, so that’s a whole new way of creating, and I love it,” Dolan says. “I always sort of dabbled in it, and it was never very good. My only training was reading a multitude of scripts.”
After As the World Turns ended, Dolan and her family moved to Boulder, CO, where she admits she struggled to find fulfillment. “When I was living out in Boulder for a couple of years, there was nothing to do, because trust me, I’m not going to do dinner theater—it’s not going to happen,” she says with a laugh. “I started to write a pilot and got the pilot done and 10 episodes out in breakdowns and I’m having my partner proofread as we speak. I’ve got that done and have a film loosely based on my father that I’m just finishing up and I’ve got the play reading at Guild Hall,” she explains.
“It’s all a pu pu platter of things to present to an agent,” Dolan says, noting that moving to Springs has brought about a creative renaissance in her. “I was always sequestered away in my beautiful little utopia of going into a studio and working every day, which was heaven. I’m redefining myself and, oh my God, it’s such a beautiful place to redefine yourself.”
And redefining herself was important. Dolan got her start on Guiding Light from 1982–1986, then briefly moved to Los Angeles before returning to New York to star on As the World Turns, which became her home for more than 20 years. But times changed; when As the World Turns was canceled, Dolan knew that things were different.
“I’m 63 years old. I don’t think there’s any interest coming my way, and there’s nothing in New York anymore. It’s all out in Los Angeles. Daytime is really different now—it’s very quick scenes, fast-paced, and we really had the luxury, all through the ’80s and ’90s, of developing character and scenes and rehearsing with the directors and sort of maturating this wonderful storytelling device we had,” she explains. “That just doesn’t exist anymore and there’s not much call for characters like me. So I’m okay with that. I got to do it for so long and I loved my cast mates and the crew, and had the perfect life. I got to have a baby while I was working in New York City. What more can you ask for?”
Dolan acknowledges that soap operas have a bit of a stigma in show business. “I find in the few times I’ve gotten to go out and pitch, if you mention the two words ‘soap opera,’ people skew, they see it a different way, they suddenly give comments like ‘oh, melodrama.’ It’s always pejorative, they always cut it down and I’m going to tell you, some of the smartest, fastest, brightest writers, directors and actors have come out of daytime.”
After working on Ball of Redemption for years, Dolan is excited to see it come to life at Guild Hall. The play is about three siblings who reunite under interesting circumstances and explores some complex themes. “My quick, pithy little pitch is that it’s about quantum physics, which I know nothing about!” Dolan says. “It started with my question years ago of, ‘What ever happened to the three children of Fátima after the Blessed Virgin Mary stopped showing up?’ How do you top that? Where do you go from there? How do you live day to day after something so extraordinary happens, if you believe it happened or not?”
She notes that while the play explores some heady themes, it’s not a “religious” or moralistic story, but rather about how three people can interpret the same event three very different ways.
Dolan is excited and nervous to present Ball of Redemption. “At some point you have to put your baby up there,” she says. “It’s a play in progress. Will anyone understand it? Will you be entertained? It’s a whole new world out there. It’s like an actor auditioning for the biggest role of their life.”
See Ball of Redemption at Guild Hall on Thursday, May 30. For tickets, visit guildhall.org.