Dan Chameroy brings campy soap opera flair to the Stratford Festival's Leer Estates
The web series premieres this week on the theatre company's digital service, Stratfest@Home
For soap opera fans, Leer Estates has it all: a devil-possessed patriarch, duelling identical twins, salacious romances and mysterious illnesses.
"There's just a lot of drama and it's intense the minute it starts," said creator and actor Dan Chameroy.
"It starts in the madness and doesn't really let up until each episode ends. And then you come back and you get thrown right back into the mayhem that is Leer Estates."
It's an absurd, off-the-wall take on the '80s and '90s daytime soap genre with all the standard tropes and melodrama one can expect.
"You have amnesia. You've been possessed by the devil. You have a twin sister that's trying to murder you. You're kidnapped. You're buried alive," he said.
And if the storyline wasn't wacky enough, Chameroy kicks it up a notch by starring as not one, but all of the show's characters.
"Soap operas just lend a wide scope of situations that a person can go through. And so when I was thinking about trying to create something a bit wacky and entertaining, that sort of form seemed to fit perfectly for what I was kind of, like, trying to aim for."
But you won't find it on the TV dial. The short-form web series is part of the Stratford Festival's new digital subscription service, Stratfest@Home.
The service includes recordings of live stage productions and films, in addition to original content like Chameroy's soap opera.
Stage lights dimmed
Leer Estates is a departure from the Stratford Festival's mostly classical and Shakespearean fare, and Chameroy says he was surprised when the company decided to take it on.
"I felt like this whole idea was a bit outside the wheelhouse, but that's why I pitched it, because I thought it's a good thing to ... push the boundaries of what one person or people expect from a place," he said.
"I thought this was an opportunity for, you know, the festival to try something a bit wacky and weird and see how it would sit with their people and hopefully draw on a whole different crowd of folks."
Before COVID-19 dimmed Stratford's stage lights, Chameroy was on deck to play Billy Flynn in its summer production of Chicago. The actor is known for his performances as Miss Trunchbull in the U.S. national tour of Matilda and Dr. Frank-n-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
With the festival moved online, Chameroy turned to other creative projects.
He first developed Leer Estates with creative partner Ron Kennell, and the pair had different plans for the web series.
"It was going to be a larger cast.... I didn't even know if I was going to be in it, frankly," he said. "The plan was I was going to direct it and it was just gonna be this thing, and it was going to be way more casual [with a] way lower budget."
As the pandemic continued, it became obvious that gathering a cast to film the series would be impossible. That's when Kennell — and Chameroy's wife — pitched the cast of one.
Though Chameroy wasn't initially sold on the idea, he came around and pitched it to the Stratford Festival, which gave him the green light.
A dream come true?
Playing multiple characters meant many costume changes for Chameroy. He says it was made easier thanks to the festival's massive costume collection.
But because of the pandemic, Chameroy and Kennell only had a limited amount of time to sort through the potential options.
"We were grabbing things off racks like The Amazing Race, and doing it with no time, and sort of going, 'I think this might fit, this might fit,'" he explained.
It was only once they got to set that they were able to put outfits together. "It was a lot of a guessing game. Thankfully, it all worked out," he added.
"Nowhere else in the world would you be able to find clothes of that quality for a film that was, you know, pasted together."
Asked whether Leer Estates fulfilled a dream of starring in a soap opera, Chameroy looked back to watching them on the small screen during his younger years.
"There was just such a style on these people. Everyone always looked so good and everyone's whisper talking and posing. I kind of found that amusing," he said.
"I don't know if I knew what I was really absorbing as I was watching this stuff, but I guess I must have wanted to do it because here I am, 450 years later, in my own soap opera."
Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Annie Bender.