My father sent me to college because of the value of a liberal arts education

Jill Mitwell '73

For more than 20 years, Jill Mitwell '73 used her imagination and directorial skills to transport viewers to the fictional Pennsylvania town of Llanview, the setting for the long- running and often-controversial soap opera One Life to Live (OLTL).

After more than 11,000 on-air and 40 online episodes, the soap opera was cancelled in 2013, but not before earning Mitwell three Daytime Emmy Awards (2008, 2009 and 2014) and four Directors Guild of America Awards (1993, 2000, 2007 and 2013) along with countless nominations.

She recalls with fondness the support system that OLTL provided to her, "I was able to use so many parts of myself creatively, to make every moment [on screen] feel real."

That creative self-exploration started at Bucknell. "My father sent me to college because of the value of a liberal arts education," says the former English major, who also received a master's in broadcasting and film from Boston University. "What a gift."

When she was starting her career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, soap opera production was one of the few industries with an air of openness towards women, allowing them to rise through the ranks relatively quickly. Mitwell started as a receptionist at As the World Turns and worked her way up to eventually leading the directorial team.

Over more than 30 years as a director, her ability to think creatively despite small budgets and short timeframes became essential as the industry changed - from filming actors rolling through 70 pages of text a day to speeding through 140 pages per day and taping scenes out of sequence to avoid reconstructing the same set later. Managing people and having sensitivity for actors and crews ended up being just as important as her artistic and technical skills.

Mitwell feels soap operas receive unwarranted snubs in the industry. She says their unique style of storytelling resonates with viewers because characters experience every permutation of human behavior, and the scripts often tackle complicated topics like rape, incest, addiction, homosexuality and psychological issues.

"It was a heavy responsibility to present difficult issues like rape with tact and respect. That was a tremendous benefit to our culture, helping viewers work through their own life challenges."

She continues, "It's the only medium I can think of where characters evolve in real time, coping with real problems. There's a place for that kind of sophisticated storytelling in our culture." 

Posted October 2014