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As The Morning Turned 

UNCC in soap spotlight

An overcast morning is a good thing for television people, especially if you're shooting outdoors. The light is soft, you only need a few Kliegs here and there, and no worrying about squinting from the people you're shooting who are going to be on TV. And so it went September 24 outside the J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNCC, as a 40-person crew from the CBS soap As the World Turns cranked out four outdoor scenes to be folded into the daytime drama the week of November 25-29. Four actors from the show were on hand for the shoot, along with some local students who were chosen in an audition that drew over 350 people last month.

This ATWT crew is working hard, taking this so-called "Catch Us If You Can" tour by bus to 10 college campuses. As soon as they wrapped at UNCC, they were off to Nashville and a similar shoot at Vanderbilt University the very next day.

Will Poston was getting a touchup from the ATWT makeup guy before the video cameras rolled (Digital-Betas for your techno types) on his big shot at the national scene. Poston, a CPCC student from Charlotte, showed up for the September audition and was awarded one of the speaking parts for today.Tall and blonde, and yes, handsome, he'll be "Sam," a student hawking 49ers foam picks before a game (not football, we hope). He's standing with Memi Goodale and Kristi Simpson, both UNCC seniors who'll be non-speaking extras. All the extras are tricked out in the entire UNCC t-shirt catalog, mostly in hunter green shorts and their own jeans.

I sneak a peek at the shoot schedule and his script. He'll be saying, "Get the spirit! Get your 49ers picks here! Get the spirit!"

Other extras will be sitting on the sidewalk, doing chalk drawings (they really do this before games?). Still others will just be walking by in the background or stopping to give "Sam" a buck for the goofy green foam things. In the meantime, the makeup guy is now touching up the four actual TV stars, Peyton List, Jessica Dunphy, Agim Kaba, and Benjamin Hendrickson.

The scene involves the three teen characters, List, Dunphy, and Kaba, who are on the run across the country, and hiding from Hendrickson, a cop. They're taking refuge on college campuses, and in this scene, they'll try hawking concessions themselves to make some cash.

"I'm a little nervous," says Poston, as the director yells for all to stand by.

At "action," the "walking extras" come down the sidewalk, the "chalk artists" look busy, and Poston walks into frame, shouting, "Get the spirit. . .your 49ers picks here!"

Seven takes later -- each tweaked for either a late cue, airplane noise, or another small element -- and this scene is done. The crew adjusts lighting only slightly, and readies for the next scene, which will involve CPCC student Erik Alden, who also won a speaking part, and will get an AFTRA check for this part -- he has a few more lines than Poston.

He'll interact on-camera with actress Jessica Dunphy. That scene goes smoothly as well, and the crew moves on to the next one.

There was a reason you didn't see any of the ATWT gang at the usual Charlotte watering holes. They never even got to see the city, due to the pace of their shoots and the fact that they roll on to the next city as soon as they wrap. "Yes, I heard that Charlotte was actually south of here," said actor Kaba.There was no star treatment, and the actors mingled with students and plopped down in chairs. Trailers are for Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. They signed autographs and posed for pictures, and it was hard to pick them out from the gathered crowd, especially since they eventually were costumed in UNCC garb.

I sat down for a couple of minutes with 18-year-old Jessica Dunphy, whose naughty character "Alison" is one side of the teen triangle of this plotline. Home-schooled during her teen years due to her acting work, a real-life college campus had been a bit foreign to her until this tour. "I don't think the college experience is really for me right now," Dunphy says, "but we're having a great time on this tour."

Free time to just hang isn't a part of the picture. "Our call for makeup and hair was 6am, then we do the scenes, have lunch, then we're on the bus to the next location the rest of the day. We mostly go to the hotel at night, and I usually get room service, "cause it's exhausting," she says.

Despite being just 18, Dunphy's already been in a couple of indie films, and will have a part later this season on The Sopranos. Like many soap actors, she has a three-year contract, which guarantees national exposure and on-the-job training for the high workload and memorization of lots of lines each day.

Does Dunphy know how many aspiring young actors would kill for her spot? Her advice is, "Don't do this unless it's something you really love. You do miss out on a lot of things," she says.

Attracting a lot of attention at this location and on the show itself, 22-year-old Agim Kaba's "Aaron" character has become quite the heartthrob-hunk type that soaps like to promote in hopes of drawing younger viewers. And yes, ladies, he's pretty, has great hair, and is very cool.

As for the new "hunk role," Kaba admits, "it feels weird. But I love my fans. I always just stop and talk to them, so they feel more like friends."

As the shoot disbands, I talk to Poston again about his big debut.

"It was fun," he says, "though I was nervous. I didn't want to do anything to get in trouble with the director." I look at his head shot, a nice black and white photo complete with resume and credits on the back, de rigueur for actors.

"I'm just looking for a break," he says. And from the looks of the commercials and local theater he's doing, you never know.

For most everyone else, it was an exciting day on campus, a way to blow off a class or two, to watch a TV show being shot at the library. And two things stood out: it's some of the best free publicity for UNCC ever, and some local folks got a little splash of the spotlight. Not bad for an overcast morning.

E-mail Shannon Reichley at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com

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