CFA grads make their mark on As The World Turns

No television show does ambition, desire, trouble, misunderstanding, sexiness, or temptation better than one with an abundance of Carnegie Mellon grads involved in it.

As the World Turns, the daytime soap about daily life in a small town in the Midwest, turns 50 on April 2. It has outlasted any similar television program of the time, and millions of viewers have visited the lives of the good — and bad — people of Oakdale for generations. The drama has won 42 Daytime Emmy Awards, garnering 12 nominations in 2006 alone. It has a long past to commemorate and an impressive history to acknowledge.

“One of [the program’s] biggest strengths is its history,” said Chris Goutman, executive producer of As the World Turns. “We have a mandate to be true to that.”

The Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts celebrates its legacy this year. Almost a century’s worth of graduates has touched the arts around the world. Goutman graduated from the School of Drama with a masters degree in 1976. He went on from Carnegie Mellon to work with many projects as a writer, director, producer, and actor before he started with the soap opera in 1999. As the World Turns runs about 250 shows every year, and Goutman said he has called upon all his training in making sure that the show’s course is “true and steady.”

For its 50th anniversary, As the World Turns will air episodes that parody the era it came from. The special episodes, which will feature actors from the soap itself, will air on Friday and next Monday. They will use the style of television programs from the ’50s and ’60s, like I Love Lucy. In the episodes, seven divas riding in a bus will get lost, and the bus will crash as they get in what Goutman calls a “delicious predicament.”

For more, check out the fun episodes. The adventures of the divas will visit aspects of the program’s past and show how far it’s come.

“It’s a light-hearted look at where we came from ... and hip, irreverent fun,” Goutman said.

Tamara Tunie, who plays As the World Turns character Jessica Griffin, will star in the I Love Lucy segment of the anniversary episode. Tunie grew up in Homestead and graduated from the School of Drama with a bachelor’s degree in 1981.

“It was one of the best times of my life,” said Tunie. “CMU prepared me for what I was embarking on ... a well-rounded career.”

Tunie joined As the World Turns in 1987. After 18 years, with some brief hiatuses from the show, Tunie enjoys the constant presence of the soap job. “It’s been a great kind of touchstone — I know it’s there,” she said. Tunie also has a role in the television drama Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and she balances her time with other productions that she works in, including three new projects in which she is producer or director. About every other year, Tunie loves to take part in Shakespeare productions. She also has a husband and an active home life.

“I’ve always been a multi-tasker. I believe in saying yes [to new projects].... If you think it’s possible, you can do it,” said Tunie. “There are more hours in the day than we think there are.”

Rising actors have a lot to worry about, and Tunie advises constant persistence and enjoyment of the soul food of acting. Tunie’s career has taken her many places, and her roles have left impressions on thousands of living rooms. Celebrating actresses like her is a major part of the anniversaries of As the World Turns and CFA. But more than that, the celebrations also anticipate the futures of artists who have long and fruitful careers waiting to happen.

One such artist, Van Hansis, graduated from the School of Drama in 2004. He signed with an agency after the school’s showcase — an event where senior actors travel and perform in Los Angeles and New York. He started on As the World Turns in December 2005 as a replacement actor for the character Luke Snyder.

As the World Turns often has its characters involved in hot topics of society. For instance, Hansis’ character is getting into a homosexual relationship, much to the displeasure of Luke’s father. Luke, as a possible part of the soap’s next big couple, must grapple with the prejudices of society and find out what he should do.

Hansis himself has been lauded by Out magazine, and his fledgling career has earned fan mail and a popular online blog. Hansis is really enjoying working with a show that has such a large amount of history behind it.

“As far as soaps go, this one is all about family and connections,” said Hansis. “To a lot of young people, it’s like the comfort food of TV.... I think it’s easy to get sucked into the show.”

Hansis credits Carnegie Mellon with many lessons that have benefited his career. He says he applies what he learned during his time as an undergrad every day. “CMU has very high standards. If you’re not pulling your own weight, the professors make it known,” he said. “There’s a mentality of staying at the top of your game and a drive for excellence.”

Hansis said that the School of Drama has an excellent reputation in the acting industry, citing sold-out performances for the school’s most recent New York showcase. Hansis said that one of his proudest achievements is graduating from Carnegie Mellon. To current actors here, Hansis said, “You’re sitting on a gold mine right now. I didn’t realize how much there was to take advantage of.... Just realize that you’re making a great career move.”

The Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and As the World Turns prove that there is no business like show business. As the television program and CFA celebrate huge milestones, they prove the power of their legacies and the passion of their art.