AS THE WORLD TURNS’ Van Hansis (Luke) took part in a special reading of Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project’s play The Laramie Project in New York on Dec. 1. Here, he opened up to Weekly about the project and how Luke Snyder is helping carry forward the legacy of Matthew Shepard, whose 1998 murder in Laramie, Wyo., became a symbol in America’s fight against hate crimes.
“I’m shocked that I was asked to be a part of it,” admits Hansis. “It’s incredibly humbling. One of our publicists, Alan (Locher), called me one day and said, ‘Would you like to do a reading of The Laramie Project with Moises Kaufman?’ I was like, ‘Uh, hell yeah, I would!’
Hansis is happy to explain his enthusiasm. “Kaufman, the director, and his theater company, the Tectonic Theater Project, went to Laramie after Matthew was murdered and interviewed hundreds of people. From those interviews, they formed a play. Everything that’s said onstage is something that was said to them or something that was said on the news.”
“This play is now the second most-produced play in America and it’s one the most-produced plays in high schools now,” cheers Hansis. “It’s a testament to how art can change the world.”
Those in New York that week had the chance to see an all-star lineup alongside Hansis at the Town Hall Theater in Times Square, including singer/songwriter Cyndi Lauper, UGLY BETTY’s Judith Light (ex-Karen, OLTL), WEEDS’ Mary Louise Parker and DAWSON’S CREEK’s Joshua Jackson (ex-Pacey). “The whole event is being hosted by Tipper Gore,” noted Hansis. “I’m really excited to meet Mary Louise Parker, because I think she’s fantastic, and WEEDS has been my favorite show,” he grins.
But star power and critical acclaim are not at the heart of The Laramie Project. “Matthew Shepard’s story is one of the stories that changed the ’90s as a decade and changed the world,” reminds Hansis. “It would’ve been his 30th birthday on Dec. 1. It’s a poignant day and it’s all to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which his parents set up to promote tolerance and acceptance, especially with the gay, lesbian and transgender community.”
“One thing that Judy Shepard (Matthew’s mother) told me when I met with her was that there have been hundreds upon hundreds of other hate crimes since Matthew Shepard and they never get national recognition. Without recognition, there’s not going to be change.”
Hansis does his own part to promote recognition by playing daytime’s only gay male core character. “I really feel that Luke’s storyline has been groundbreaking in daytime television,” he shares. “From the response I’ve gotten, Luke has become a very loved character on the show despite his sexuality, which a lot of people might have problems with. They’ve gone forward in telling the first part of his ‘coming out’ story, and that has really opened up a lot of people’s eyes. I hope they’ll continue to show Luke as a full, rounded person.”
And the significance of that is unmistakable. “A very important part of The Laramie Project, and ATWT does this as well, is that it shows a community. In everybody’s community, there are gay people. It’s a fact,” states Hansis. “You can’t turn your back or try to hide from something just because you don’t like it. People need to find a way to embrace each other and find out that, as different as people are, everyone in essence is the same.”
Hansis looked forward to joining the likes of Stockard Channing (THE WEST WING) onstage. “I can’t wait to do it,” he laughed. I’m going to be so nervous, but I’ll play it cool. Soaps are a great teaching mechanism for when you get something handed to you and you’ve got to do it as quickly as possible. Maybe I’ll have a leg up on all these non-soap actors!”
For more information on the Matthew Shepard Foundation, visit www.MatthewShepard.org/TheLaramieProject.