2009-04-29 / Arts & Entertainment News


BY KATHY PRUTOS Special to Florida Weekly

Leave the daily drama and drudgery of your own boring life behind this weekend and get a glimpse into the serious, serial (albeit fictional) thrills of the daytime soap stars during the 11th annual SoapFest Charity Weekend on Marco Island.

The festival brings 18 heartthrobs and heartbreakers, scoundrels and schemers from four celebrated soaps to mingle with fans and raise money for local charities, including Eden Florida's Eimerman Center for children with autism.

About 1,000 fans travel from across the country and Canada to see their favorite daytime stars up close and personal. In fact, says festival director Pat Berry, only about 10 percent of ticket sales are to local residents. Although a Sunday afternoon cruise with the stars is sold out, tickets are still available for Saturday night's dinner and a celebrity bartender bash.

Returning to SoapFest as master of ceremonies is Walt Willey, a.k.a. Jackson Montgomery, Pine Valley's handsome, not-always-law-abiding, Southern gentleman attorney of "All My Children."

Beth Ehlers
Mr. Willey spoke from New York earlier this week via phone with Florida Weekly about his commitment to Soap- Fest's mission to raise funds for children and his personal dedication to helping educate people about autism.

"My 13-year-old son Chance has Asperger's Syndrome (children and adults who have autistic behavior but no problems with language), and my soap opera daughter Lilly has autism," he said. "I've seen first-hand how occupational therapy has changed not only my son's life but many other lives, too, and I'll do anything I can to help children obtain the therapeutic services that let them lead fuller lives."

Art therapy and expressive art are used frequently with autistic children. Mr. Willey will join other soap stars at a private session, "Art for Autism," on Saturday morning to paint with children who have autism. The signed artwork will be auctioned off Saturday evening to help raise additional funds.

In addition to his gift for acting as a master manipulator, Mr. Willey is a skilled painter and illustrator (he majored in sculpture at Southern Illinois University). He recently illustrated a cookbook and is passionate about painting with children. He also does a stand-up comedy act, "Wild & Willey," and was immortalized by the late Phil Hartman's parody of his "AMC" character on "Saturday Night Live."

Grant Aleksander
His first acting job was as an extra on "AMC," and he worked on "Another World" and "Ryan's Hope" before "AMC" called him back to play Jackson.

See the Light

Native New Yorker Caitlin Van Zandt (Ashlee Wolfe on CBS's "Guiding Light") returns to SoapFest for the fourth time and will bring her mom with her this year. Four of her on-screen colleagues will join her.

"How do you say no to Pat Berry?" she laughed when interviewed last week. "How do you say no to the beautiful weather, the friendly people and a great event to raise money for children?

"I see some of the same fans every year at SoapFest," she added. "They're extensions of my TV family."

As a sideline to her "GL" storyline, viewers over recent months watched as the 23-year-old actress lost 90 pounds after surgical intervention with a lap band procedure. "My fans have been totally supportive of my weight loss," she said. "I'm healthier than ever before, and I'm thrilled to talk about how surgery saved my life."

Thorston Kaye
Ms. VanZandt joined "GL" 2006 in a role that initially was meant for six episodes. Instead, her character was bumped up to recurring status, and she joined the cast fulltime in 2007.

As a child, she attended Stagedoor Manor, a theater camp in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y., for 10 years (Natalie Portman also attended the camp). She made her film debut in 2003 in "Camp," which was filmed in Loch Sheldrake. In 2006, she landed the role of Allegra Marie Sacrimoni in HBO's "The Sopranos" (she is no relation to the show's co-stars Steven and Maureen VanZandt, although it has often been reported that she is).

Next up for Ms. VanZandt? "Bartending at the Celebrity Bartender Bash is my favorite SoapFest event," she said. "It's footloose and fancy-free. I'm a very strong mixologist, so everyone better be ready." Tune in to the activities

Austin Peck
Here's the program guide to Soap- Fest Charity Weekend 2009 on Marco Island:

6 p.m. Saturday, May 2: "A Night of the Stars" at Bistro Soleil in the historic Olde Marco Inn, 100 Palm St. Guests will meet and mingle with the residents of Springfield ("GL"), Pine Valley (AMC"), Oakdale ("As The World Turns") and Llanview ("One Life to Live"). The evening includes a buffet dinner, autograph and photo opps, auction items such as actors' artwork, private studio tours in New York City and tickets to the Daytime Emmy Awards, and "lots of surprises," say festival organizers. Tickets are $100 per person ($150 for VIP seating with a star).

9 p.m. Saturday, May 2: "Off the Hook" Celebrity Bartender Bash at Almost Famous Mel's, 657 South Collier Blvd. Back by popular demand, this karaoke event showcases celebrities singing and serving to raise funds. Auction items will also be available here. Tickets are $40 per person ($25 when combined with "Night of the Stars").

Sunday afternoon, May 3: "Cruisin', Boozin' & Schmoozin' with the Stars" aboard the Marco Island Princess is sold out.

Bobbie Eakes

For tickets and more information, call 394-4559 or visit www.SoapFest.com.

About Eden Florida

>>Eden Florida, a member of New Jersey-based, nonprofit Eden Family Services, was founded in 1996 to meet the pressing need for individualized and specialized programs for children and adults with autism in Southwest Florida. The organization's McBride Family Center is in Fort Myers; its Eimerman Educational Center is in Naples, as is its Spanbauer House, the state's first community residence for adults with autism. For more information, visit www.edenservices.org or www.autismspeaks.org.

if you go

Marco Island's SoapFest Charity Weekend 2009

>> "A Night of the Stars" dining and mingling with 18 stars of TV' daytime dramas >> When: 6 p.m. Saturday, May 2 >> Where: Bistro Soleil in the Olde Marco Inn, 100 Palm St. >> Tickets: $100 and $150 

Ewa Cruz
>> "Off the Hook" Celebrity Bartender Bash >> When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 1 >> Where: Almost Famous Mel's, 657 South Collier Blvd.

>> Tickets: $40 ($25 when combined with "A Night of the Stars")

>> "Cruisin', Boozin' and Schmoozin' with the Stars" onboard the Marco Island Princess >> When: Sunday afternoon, May 2 >> Tickets: $75 SOLD OUT

>> Info: Call 394-4559 or visit www. SoapFest.com.

Caitlin VanZandt
Billy Magnussen
Trent Dawson
Susan Haskell
Jeff Branson
Crystal Hunt
Jake Silbermann
Van Hansis
Michael O'Leary
John Driscoll

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