When you are a theatre kid, you will likely audition MANY, MANY times for MANY, MANY roles before you are actually cast in a theatre or film production, so you better enjoy the audition process itself – if you don’t, this likely is not the business for you. One of the cool things about auditioning is you get to read scripts – and sometimes the scripts you get to read are scripts that most people have not read or seen performed yet, they are fresh and new, they make you think, and they make you realize that acting is so much more than pretending for applause. I am currently rehearsing a play like that called Linger, and cannot wait for it to open in July . . . but that is not what I’m writing about today. I am writing about another play that will make you think, and for which I was fortunate enough to be invited to audition. It is called What the Constitution Means to Me, and it is being produced at New York Theatre Workshop this fall. It is written by Heidi Schreck and directed by Oliver Butler. The play is somewhat autobiographical and the playwright, Heidi Schreck, plays herself. As it happens, when Ms. Schreck was in high school, she participated in competitions held all over the country by the American Legion where she delivered speeches about the Constitution in order to win prize money to pay for college. She has used her speech as the premise for the play, which gives a very personal view of the Constitution’s meaning in Ms. Schreck’s life, and raises the question of whether our Founding Father’s got it right. At the end of the play, Ms. Schreck and a young teenage student engage in a real debate over whether the Constitution should be scrapped in favor of a yet to be written document that will truly instill upon our land equality for all and not just for old, white men.
I auditioned to be the girl who gets to debate Ms. Schreck each night. Regardless of who gets the role, the process of the audition was a great experience and it made me think about what the Constitution means to me, whether it has served me and my generation or let us down, and whether we should keep it.
HOW THE CONSTITUTION IS PERSONAL TO ME
After reading Ms. Schreck’s script and thinking about how she reflected on the personal ways the Constitution had served (or not served) the women in her family, I spent some time doing similar reflection on how I think the Constitution is specific to me. So far, I have identified two specific ways, although I am sure there are many more. First, my family is kind of different in that my Dad stays home and my Mom works. They will tell you that in the years BC – meaning “before children” – they were both litigators but then came kids and it was either a full-time nanny or somebody had to stop working. If you ever meet my parents, it will be clear to you that they did what was right for their personalities. But if it was not for the "magical mystical" Ninth Amendment with perhaps a little help from the 14th, my Mom may not be able to have the job she has. Not that things are perfect for women in the work force. Long before I could understand what the words meant, my Mom would say to me I needed to plan to marry well and get a good prenup OR plan to work twice as hard and prove I am twice as smart to have the privilege of getting paid only 80.5 percent of what a man would get paid for the same job. To know my Mom is to know that she only meant the second half of that sentence. The first half is her attempt at sarcasm or a joke, but the rest of it she means including the “privilege” part. Yes, the 80.5% part is frustrating, but she means the privilege part because she reminds me that we need only to look two generations back to find examples of women in our family who never had coed university education as an option, much less law school. AND, the good news is I am pretty sure that when she first started telling me these things, the percentage of what women earned in comparison to men was in the high seventies – so there has been progress. And have you heard? Along with the #Metoo movement there is talk of revisiting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment – it could happen.
The second way our Constitution has affected me is this, sometimes – especially since the Parkland school shooting – I am afraid to go to school. And while I know gun violence in schools is more than just a gun issue – it is a mental health issue, a bullying issue, a socio-economic disparity issue, and probably a hundred other issues I have not thought about – it remains a fact that people use the Second Amendment as an excuse not to have common sense gun legislation. We are living in a time when the Second Amendment is used by some as an excuse NOT to have laws strengthening background checks and putting in place age restrictions that keep guns out of the hands of civilians who are under the age of 21. This makes no sense to me, and I do not think it would make sense to the Founding Fathers. The Second Amendment does NOT only say "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed;" it is prefaced by the phrase "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State." This is a subject matter that could be written about at much greater length than what will serve the purpose of this post, which is really to write about how this audition experience made me think, so moving on to how I might argue in a debate with Ms. Schreck . . .
As a child of two litigators, I have learned to argue both sides of most things, even if I only truly and passionately believe one side. So, leading up to the audition, and since the audition itself, I have thought about how I would argue for or against keeping our Constitution. My initial thoughts:
Scrap the Constitution? Why would one do that? I’m not just a political science, blogger type. I’m a theatre kid so I can explain this in theatre terms. When Lin Manuel Miranda set out to write Hamilton, did he scrap history? Did he say down with the Constitution? No, but he also did not cast his musical with historical accuracy and instead created a phenomenal musical celebrating our country’s diversity. In 1789, our Constitution did not truly recognize the rights of people of color or of women, but that is the beautiful thing about the Constitution, it is adaptable. Is it perfect? No. Does it sometimes take longer than we would like to have it address the rights of the minority? Yes. And yet it does. No doubt, when our founding Fathers were in the room where it happened, they did not know they were writing a document to serve women and people of color but they did.
Scrap the Constitution? Sometimes it is best to get rid of rules that are not fair. Think about the smash hit Mean Girls. It is all about a society ruled by the Queen Bees. There are all these dumb rules, like wear pink on Wednesday, pretend like you are stupid so a guy will like you, and so on and so on. As the show goes on, it becomes apparent that these rules are only working out well for Regina George and her besties . . . . So, Janis (having lived as an outsider since middle school, when Regina announced she could not invite Janis to her pool party because Janis was a lesbian) convinces everyone those rules should be scrapped – no more fake apologies, no more pretending to be someone you aren’t. The result: the world becomes a more inclusive place. That is what we need – a Constitution that protects everyone – not just old white men. We need rules that work for the diverse place America is. No more following a Constitution written only for the Regina George’s of the world. Yes, let’s write a new one.**
**caveat: yes, I can make the “scrap it” argument – and it was the right thing for Mean Girls – BUT in that scenario, Barrett Weed (aka Janis) was writing the new rules. I am confident that Barrett Weed would write a Constitution that made us all equal no matter where on the rainbow we fall. HOWEVER, If we actually scrap our Constitution, who gets to write the new one?? Unfortunately, our Congress and Senate is disproportionately made up of old, white men – So, until we all get it together and VOTE, VOTE AND VOTE to change that, I prefer to take my chances with a Supreme Court where a third of the votes belong to women than to leave it to the current Congress to rewrite what some of the greatest political minds in history designed.
Here is an example of what can happen if you vote:
I really want to be 18 and a full time resident of New York's 14th Congressional District so I can vote for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but maybe I will be 18 by the time she runs for President. I think Ms. Ocasio-Cortez would love What the Constitution Means to Me.
And you thought that auditioning meant just memorizing some lines and delivering them . . . . . .