Hear from What the Constitution Means to Me playwright Heidi Schreck and actor Cassie Beck in a behind-the-scenes interview.
Seattle Rep: What was the process like of passing this performance from actor to actor?
Heidi Schreck, playwright: Cassie is one of my favorite actors in the world and we've known each other for years, which is why I wanted her to be the person to play out into the world (and I am so lucky she said yes!). So even though it's disorienting to watch someone "be" me, it's also an honor to have this beautiful artist interpreting my play. She shows me new things about the play every performance, and she also finds new moments of humor and truth that I didn't even realize were in there after performing it hundreds of times. Also, Cassie and I have worked together before, and we have a shorthand. She starred in a play of mine called The Consultant at Long Wharf 10 years ago with another Wenatchee playwright/actor Clare Barron. I had always loved her work but that project also taught me what a joy she was to be in rehearsal with. How smart, confident, funny, kind, and easy. And just a natural leader, which has been crucial with this tour.
SR: Cassie, how does it feel to play Heidi?
Cassie Beck, actor: I’m honored to perform this play as Heidi. Obviously it’s not my personal story, but as a woman in the U.S., it resonates deeply. I know Heidi well and was blown away by her performance of the piece in New York, so I have the unique experience of seeing her do it and then interpreting it for myself. It’s possibly the most compassionate, thoughtful, deep, and complex role of my career and I’m always fascinated by how different it can feel night to night. Mostly I'm striving to deliver as much urgency, creativity, and heart as the original, so audiences may experience a similar kind of thrill from the show. Plus, the playwrighting is so tight, the script holds up the performance.
SR: How has this experience shaped your relationship as artists?
CB: We’ve worked together before, so I knew Heidi’s writing and process style beforehand, but this is altogether different. Literally stepping into her shoes and her show! She’s been unwavering in her support of me and given me insight and also space. There’s so much trust I feel from her, and in return I take my responsibility to her story very seriously. It’s a strange time with COVID, we’ve haven’t physically been together that much, but despite that, I feel an intimacy that usually comes only with working with someone for decades.
HS: It has been a bit of a weird process, yes, because of COVID. Also, I gave birth to twin girls in 2020, so I had to miss a lot of rehearsals or join virtually. Having my brilliant original director Oliver Butler and knowing what an incredible actor Cassie is made it possible for me not to have a nervous breakdown about allowing this play to go into the world without me performing it. And I would say my trust in Cassie and my love for her has only gotten deeper over the course of this tour.
SR: This play is becoming more and more relevant. Do you anticipate any changes being made to the play in response to recent events?
CB: I feel that will be the case, do you agree Heidi? I look forward to what we discover back in the rehearsal room. Not to mention, the live debate portion of the play is always evolving.
HS: There will definitely be changes in the debate because we're always updating that. The first act of the show I don't think will change a whole lot, maybe a moment here or there. I've done a couple fundraiser readings of the show since the Dobbs decision happened, and honestly it felt like I wrote it yesterday. Because the contest my character is competing in ostensibly takes place in 1989, and because the play then dives into the 250 years of history that got us to the point we're at today, it always feels like it's in conversation with whatever is happening right now.
SR: If you could speak to your teenage self, what would you say to her?
CB: I was a pretty oblivious teenager, so, I would say, "trust your intuition and emotional life and take your interests more seriously." Of course, I’m saying this lovingly, because my teenage (and adult) self still suffer from people pleasing syndrome and criticism. Workin' on it.
HS: I would say please, please, please don't put baby oil on your skin when you go out in the sun and also "trust your voice." It took me a long time to find the courage to start writing, and to believe that my thoughts and feelings were worth sharing with others.
SR: If you could give one piece of advice to the young people in today’s audience, what would you pass on?
HS: Hmmm, I am always hesitant to give advice! Now that I'm a parent though, I feel like one of the most important things I want to teach my girls is that they and nobody else—not me, not their friends, not the culture—gets to decide who and what they want to be. That they can trust their choices and their feelings, and that I will love them no matter what.
CB: Remember, as often as you can, that we are all one and the same. Experiment with life and love, as you are meant to be here! And try to leave the world a little better than you found it, in your own unique way.
See Cassie Beck in Heidi Schreck's "hilarious, hopeful, and achingly human new play" What the Constitution Means to Me at Seattle Rep from September 30 - October 23, 2022.
About the Show
Heidi Schreck and Cassie Beck, photo by Joan Marcus.