For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary.
In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate showpiece, “The Crucible of the Constitution” and frames it in a contemporary context. Along the way, she visits some of the darkest corners of her family history.
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“I went through enormous emotional turmoil and confusion and grief,” she said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “Once I started talking about some of the scarier things in the play … I truly did not want to be alone onstage.”
The first time she performed it, back in a 2017 staging produced by Clubbed Thumb, she got so overwhelmed that she walked off stage halfway through the show. (She returned a few minutes later to finish it.)
In a subsequent staging at New York Theatre Workshop last fall (and then in an extension at the Greenwich House Theater), “What the Constitution Means to Me” became a buzzy hit, in part because it spoke so directly to our current political climate.
“The day of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings was one of the most intense performances we had,” she recalled. “I had watched the hearings all day, which maybe was a bad idea because by the end of the day I was exhausted and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I want to go to the theater and do this right now. I’m afraid I’m going to trigger everyone else.’ But when I got there, it felt suddenly necessary. I felt excited, actually, to dive into this piece about the thousands of years of history behind the Brett Kavanaugh moment.” Soon, she said, she found herself thinking: “Oh, this is so much better than sitting at home scrolling through my Twitter in despair!”
The show’s Off Broadway run has ended, but New York audiences still have a chance to get political with Schreck. “What the Constitution Means to Me” moves to Broadway later this spring, starting performances at the Helen Hayes Theater in March.
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