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Broadway Q&A: Tony Nominee Heidi Schreck of 'What The Constitution Means To Me'

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

How ‘What The Constitution Means To Me’ transformed Heidi Schreck

A two-time Tony Award nominee, Heidi Schreck wrote and stars in her riveting play What the Constitution Means to Me. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, the new play, currently playing at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, transports us to when Schreck was fifteen and competing in constitutional debates to earn college tuition money. Using this backdrop, she traces the relationship between four generations of women in her own family and the founding document that dictated their rights and citizenship. Directed by Oliver Butler, What The Constitution Means to Me is both hilarious and heartbreaking. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently came to see the show, and received a standing ovation. 

Heidi Schreck wrote and stars in ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Heidi Schreck wrote and stars in ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

What went through your mind when you set out to write What the Constitution Means To Me?
Heidi Schreck: I started it ten years ago. Originally, I thought it would be interesting to revisit my teenage years. To revisit this time in my life that was so formative and huge for me as a young woman. I thought it would be interesting to make a play about being a teenage girl and about our country. I didn’t really understand where it would fall. I was not expecting it to take the path it took – in terms of how deep, dark and complicated it was.

How has this experience changed you?
HS: It has changed me. It has transformed my relationship with my own mother. She and I have always been close. But we have a much deeper relationship, and a much more honest relationship, than we had when I first started working on this. Frankly, I always feel weird saying this. But, I inherited trauma from this violence in my family. I feel like I have worked through it because of the show.

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
HS: The first Broadway show I ever saw was A Chorus Line in 1987. I was a sophomore in high school. I loved it! I just realized I was 15 at the time. It’s funny, because I just took my niece to see The Lion King. And when Nala came out, she went crazy. She said, "There’s a girl up there. There’s a girl up there.” And then she turned to me and said, “You work in show business, right?” And I said, “Yes.” And she asked, "How do I get to be the girl to be on stage?”

Is there advice you wish you could give your younger self?
HS: I would tell my younger self not to panic and think she's old and washed up at age 22. I found my power at age 47. I think for a lot of women, we bloom later in life. There are a lot of obstacles in our way. So I would tell her to keep resisting.

When you when you were a kid, did you watch the Tony Awards?
HS: I was a huge theater fan. I went to the Oregon Shakespeare festival every year with my mom. And I remember when they won a Tony Award one year. I thought it was the most exciting thing ever.  So the Tonys were on my radar from the time I was a little girl.

When the show ends each night, how do you come down from the performance?
HS: We have a built-in transition at the end of the show.The young debater and I sit on the stage, and ask each other personal questions, and try to open up and get to know one another as human beings. And that provides a transition out of the heavier parts of the show.

Has your family seen the show?
HS: My mom has come several times and loves it. My mom is a high school drama teacher. She is very moved by the fact that I'm telling her story. But she also sometimes gives me notes just as a drama teacher. For example, “You can go a little faster in that section.” Or, “Maybe you need another joke here to lighten this moment?” She likes to give me dramaturgical advice.

And do you take it?
HS: I actually do take her advice, because she is really smart and has directed plays for 50 years. So I do.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in July 2019.  

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