Playwright and Obie-winning actress Heidi Schreck has been on quite a journey with “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a freewheeling monologue-with-cameos in which she analytically explores modern legal precedents affecting women’s privacy, equality and safety, along with her own personal and family history.
Following an Off-Off-Broadway premiere and back-to-back Off-Broadway runs, the piece transferred in March to Broadway, where it has become a surprise hit. After the Broadway run ends on Aug. 24, the show will embark on a national tour.
We got in touch with Schreck over email for her thoughts on the show’s accomplishments, politics and more.
As an artist, what has it been like to witness the show’s success?
It’s surreal and also very moving to me. I have been working in the theater for 25 years and this is by far the most emotionally raw and personal show I have ever created. To have audiences embrace my stories with such openheartedness has been a gift.
Is it related to the current political climate?
Sure. Back in 2015, audiences seemed to connect deeply with the stories about my own teenage girlhood. Now they seem equally invested in the questions that teenage girl version of myself is asking about the history of our country and about this document most of us in America grew up venerating, or at least thinking we were supposed venerate. Audiences seem excited to be in a room asking the big and often painful questions about how we ended up here. They also crave Communion, I think. They want to be in a room with other people where they can grieve, get angry, laugh and also actively imagine what a more humane future might look like for this country.
Does the show take on a different feel with each new venue?
No. It does change night by night, depending on what is happening in the country, though. The play takes a deep dive into the 14th Amendment, a remarkable piece of writing that either explicitly or implicitly has something to say about everything from racial equality and reproductive rights to marriage equality and the fact that undocumented immigrants have a right to due process. So, depending on what has happened that day, a specific section of the play will take on new resonance, and in some cases receive an overwhelming vocal response from the audience.
An audience member is asked at the end to vote for or against a new Constitution. Have the votes been mixed overall?
People only vote for a new Constitution around 15%. Generally, older people want to keep the one we have and younger people want a new one. Also, Canadians seem happy to vote for a new one!
Are there any Supreme Court decisions from the past year that you feel are particularly noteworthy?
Yes. A really boring sounding case called “Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.” In this case, the conservative justices overruled a 40-year-old decision about whether states could be sued in the courts of other states, not because circumstances had changed, but essentially because they disagreed with it. Many people, including the dissenting judges, worry that this could set the stage to overturn other precedents that the conservative justices disagree with, like say “Roe v. Wade.”
Of the public figures who have attended the show, which one has meant the most to you?
RUTH BADER GINSBURG!
Do attorneys react differently to the show compared with other theatergoers?
Attorneys have been crazy about the show and Con Law attorneys, professors, and scholars seem to love it most of all, which is a relief because I was very nervous at first to perform it for the experts.
Are you working on any new projects?
Yes. I am working on a top-secret new play and several television projects, including a series based on a memoir called "Priestdaddy" by the brilliant poet Patricia Lockwood.
‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ runs through Aug. 24 at the Hayes Theatre. 240 W. 44th St., constitutionbroadway.com.