Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me Exposes the Flaws of Originalism

Heidi Schreck had doubts when director Marielle Heller (A beautiful day in the neighborhood) approached her to film her Broadway play What the Constitution means to me. The autobiographical production, which ran on Broadway from March to August 2019, draws on the writer and actress’ experiences to show how the Constitution shaped her youth in Wenatchee, Washington. It also reconciles the many flaws in the document.

“There’s something a little painful about seeing a version frozen in time,” Schreck confesses. “It was really a live event. We kept the debates fresh every night based on what was going on in our country, and you can’t do it now.”

What the Constitution means to me, a 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist in theater and Tony nominated for Best Play, examines the Fourteenth Amendment and its effects on generations of women in Schreck’s family. On stage, we learn that the American Legion speaking competitions helped Schreck pay for his college education, and the experience gave him the freedom to make decisions about his body without permission from older white men. Now in her 40s, Schreck is concerned about how the Constitution deprives people of color, immigrants and other underrepresented groups of their basic human rights. At the end of each performance, Schreck and a real New York high school student (Rosdely Ciprian or Thursday Williams, depending on the night) debated whether or not the Constitution should be abolished, and a member of the audience had the final verdict. Schreck thinks it should be amended, not abolished, but it’s fun to take sides.

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“A neutral constitution is a great idea as long as everything is already fair – but not everything,” says Schreck. “I began to think more and more about what it would mean to have a constitution that contained positive rights which, in fact, attempted to right some of the wrongs that were present in the founding of this country.

The filmed version of Heller doesn’t just feel like stellar entertainment. It sounds like a cathartic “finally” at a time when the legitimacy of the Constitution and the future of theater itself are much to be debated. Before the film, this story about the importance of the Constitution to everyone couldn’t be seen by everyone – in the 2018-2019 season, the average cost per ticket for a Broadway play was $ 116.12. Streaming What the Constitution means to me marks a first for Amazon; despite their professional motivations, it is a daring initiative to make theater more financially accessible to the masses, following in the footsteps of Hamilton, which sped up to Disney + in July and broke app download records.

This will be the first time many viewers will see the show – or any Broadway show, for that matter. Anyone with an internet connection and a screen can watch the play at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York City for $ 8.99. “I grew up watching an old VHS of a live performance by Sweeney todd that I just watched over and over again, “Schreck says.” For me film and video were my access to Broadway growing up, and I really fell in love with theater watching those things. I’m happy that people who may live far from New York or who don’t go to the theater regularly can see my play. “

Schreck has spent the last decade working What the Constitution means to me. In addition to writing and appearing in other plays, she has worked on television as a writer on Nurse Jackie, Billion, and I like cock. The idea for the play’s debate segments emerged through her television work: She wanted to create something that changed every night, based on what the audience and the judge had decided and what happened to the United States that day. This could only be done in the theater.

what the constitution means to me

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Which sets Constitution apart from that, there is the process of “unlearning” false information and of challenging and redirecting what the audience considers to be true during and after each performance. Schreck recounts how the ratio of nine men to one woman in Washington state affected the women in his family who came from Sweden and Germany.

“It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that it was a false fact that completely erased the native women who lived in Washington state,” she says. “The play really started me on a unlearning process.”

What the Constitution means to me


A job like Constitution is definitely worth celebrating, but Schreck is adamant that other plays and starring women are getting the attention and money they deserve. The fact that Constitution recovered its $ 2.5 million investment in July 2019 set a theatrical precedent. Women are not risks. Original works are not risks. People of color are not risks. That’s why she uses her platform with Amazon and her privilege as a white woman to amplify other voices and speak out against institutional racism and other injustices in the performing arts. “I started to think about my own position as a white person,” she says. “Growing up thinking of myself like a lot of white people do, I thought neutral was the default, and I realized how damaging that was.”

She’s hoping for a change, however – she’s witnessing it in the work of industry leaders like Stephanie Ybarra of the Central Baltimore Scene and Maria Goyanes from Woolly mammoth in Washington DC “The ingrained standards of how theater is done will change,” she says of the account that’s going on in the industry and its programming during the pandemic. “Nonprofit theaters are leading the way in how we can make theater anti-racist and how to make theater fairer and fairer, and better pay people.”

A woman telling her story and demanding to be heard is a powerful and political act. While Schreck’s journey with the Constitution began as a way to deal with generational trauma, she turned her talent for storytelling into a powerful message that inspires others to tell theirs. She insists that bringing the show to the screen is not about distinctions, but “the value we all have in taking care of each other and trying to inspire and galvanize each other. the others, especially during this period. ” She adds, “We need each other, we need to support each other and we need to give each other hope. We can do it.”

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