Dramatic ‘Duluth’ will bring big money, secrets and betrayal to a screen near you
A new improvisational soap opera, scheduled to go live on May 23 on YouTube, is set in a fictional version of Duluth.
In the hands of improvisational actors scattered throughout the world — but connected, of course, by Zoom — a variation on this city houses loyal locals, hoarders of secrets, and people looking for a new life as the owners of a bakery.
If it sounds ripe for drama, that’s the plan.
“Duluth” is an improvised soap opera, an idea born in the deep of the pandemic, featuring no one who is literally from Duluth. The hour-long episodic program (think “Dallas” with a snowplow operator in a key role) is scheduled to premiere at 2 p.m. May 23 on YouTube.
Its creators are shooting for at least 24 episodes.
Pete Mousseaux of St. Paul had just finished a different improv streaming project in October when a friend asked what was next for him. Mousseaux wasn’t looking for a new gig. He had plans to recharge, he said, but found himself dishing an idea anyway: a soap opera.
“I think it would be so fun to have the ups and downs, one minute you’re high as a kite, the next you’re crashed to earth,” Mousseaux recalled. “This person said, ‘What’s the premise?’”
To which Mousseaux responded: “All I’ve got is Duluth.”
The cast is pulled from the United Kingdom, Florida, Canada, New York and beyond. It’s purposefully diverse in both ethnicity and sexuality — a shot at replacing the misogyny of the nighttime dramas of yesteryear with meaningful storylines, according to a note on its Facebook page.
The improvisation of “Duluth” deviates from, for instance, the comedy sports genre, where funny humans bat funny responses back and forth in a way that is competitive.
“Duluth,” Mousseaux said, is not a parody.
“We wanted to do something that was a drama, and dramatic,” he said. “The comedy is fun, and that’s nice. We’d like to take it to a different level. Improv that makes you cry.”
“Duluth,” as envisioned by Mousseaux and friends, has at its helm Shea Warren, a cutthroat mayor with her eyes on the White House. Olympia Brooks is another power player, a fiercely loyal real estate broker and knower of all.
Elizabeth A. Grayson III is an award-winning journalist, a transplant from Minneapolis who bought the failing local newspaper, Duluth Zenith. Yumi Vitale is an investigative journalist with a personal project: to find their birth parents.
Also in the mix: a former architect bent on building a family and opening a bakery with their partner; a native Duluthian with a café and a secret; various people navigating the local nautical community; Cecille Barrymore, who as a kid survived a kidnapping attempt that has left her anxious and very wealthy.
Actors will be set against green screens with Duluth backdrops, including the Skywalk, a coffee shop and docks. Zoom feeds, according to Mousseaux, are directed through software made primarily for video gamers who cast livestreams on YouTube.
Editing will be done on the fly, and the only constraint, according to director Jo McGinley, a longtime improv player and teacher based in Pasadena, Calif., is the show’s time limit.
Behind the scenes, actors can communicate via WhatApp about doing a scene together. There are also musicians providing a score.
“If it’s going well, you’ll think it’s scripted,” McGinley said.
In lieu of conventional rehearsals, an impossibility in an improvised show, the cast behind “Duluth” has staged run-throughs to build character familiarity and an ease with throwing down a poignant statement, question, threat: the style’s signature scene-ending cliffhanger.
McGinley said they're ready: “If we had opened today, we would be fine.”
How to watch
What: “Duluth,” the improvised soap opera
When: Starts 2 p.m. May 23
Follow along: facebook.com/duluthimprov