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General Hospital cast members attend last year's event.EXPAND
General Hospital cast members attend last year's event.
Courtesy of Linda Rohe

General Hospital Event Brings the Fantasy to Life in Tempe on Saturday

Many of you hold fond memories of watching General Hospital after school or happening upon it while you were turning on the television in the afternoon. It’s the longest running TV soap opera in production, with more than 14,000 episodes since its debut on April 1, 1963.  Even generations later, people know the characters Luke and Laura.

Dino Ibelli and Linda Rohe bring the show to life in the form of events across the country known as General Hospital Fantasy Weekends. The event stops in Tempe on Saturday, March 30.

The idea began more than 25 years ago when Rohe booked stars Kelly Ripa and John Callahan at Ibelli’s venue for an event

“They had such a good time that Kelly started giving my phone number to everyone that was in the business,” Rohe explains. “I started having a bunch of actors calling me looking for work and looking for events.”

Ibelli says he saw how fans reacted and thought, “This might be something.”

The two started having events with soap operas in the New Jersey area, and then they decided to take the show on the road. The goal was to have an event similar to ABC Super Soap Weekend in Florida, which ran from 1996 to 2008 in conjunction with Disney. Now, they book more than 20 cities per year.

Rohe says they have a strong social media following, including Twitter and Facebook, and they started getting fans asking them to come to Arizona. They had their first event in Tempe last year, and it was successful enough that they’re coming back. According to Rohe, platinum tickets, which include a meet-and-greet and photo ops, are almost sold out for this year.

Rohe used to watch the show in the '80s, and Ibelli says he used to watch it when he was about 7 years old because he would come home from school and his mother would have it on.

“Soap operas are the only genre that’s in your house every day and you actually feel like you’re growing with the character,” Ibelli declares.

William deVry, who plays Julian Jerome, the youngest son of a crime lord, started participating with the event six years ago.

Before joining the cast, he only watched the show occasionally, but was aware of its reputation. He finds it to be rougher than prime-time shows.

“You watch the CBS shows and those are very, I find, clean and sparkly in a way,” deVry notes, “while I find General Hospital’s always been a little bit more gritty.”

He compares doing daytime television to doing a one-act play every day, and says that people got into this business to do what they love.

“It really brings out your acting senses and your awareness and your passion for what you’re doing,” deVry says.

He thinks the Fantasy Weekends are a great grassroots way to generate buzz and to receive feedback from the fans. He explains that the fans get to spend a lot of time with the actors once they get to the front of the line; they strike up a conversation and take pictures with the actors.

“I think that’s important for any show on the air,” deVry says. “To keep a connection with the fans on a personal level, I think is important for the continuation and health of the show."

The only thing he laments is that writers don’t join the actors on the trips.

“What would be great is if we had some writers with us once in a while,” he says. “Because I think there is sort of feedback from the show which the actors don’t have much control over.”

Like Ibelli, he finds importance in the fact that the show has been on long enough for everyone from a grandma to granddaughter to have watched it.

“So many generations have watched the show, so they can pass that down,” deVry says. There are “not many shows on TV that you can say that about.”

General Hospital Fantasy Weekend. 10 a.m. Saturday, March 30, at Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel, 1600 South 52nd Street, Tempe. Tickets are $89 to $245 via Eventrbrite.com.

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