SLO REP takes on emotions and deep thinking in What the Constitution Means To Me

Photo by Samantha Herrera
SEATING: The San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre’s intimate space is perfect for What the Constitution Means to Me, according to Managing Artistic Director Kevin Harris, because the performances are meant to be interactive.

With the nation smack-dab in the middle of an election year following some historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre (SLO REP) picked an opportune moment to put on What the Constitution Means To Me. 

Hilarious and emotional, yet serious and interactive, What the Constitution Means To Me follows playwright Heidi Schreck’s journey as a 15-years-old girl who toured the U.S. debating the Constitution so she could earn her college tuition while weighing the complexities of being a U.S. citizen and woman in the 21st century. 

“She just kind of wanted to explore why she was so obsessed with the Constitution at 15 years old, and it kind of shows how when you age and you go through life and you see things in a different perspective, how it relates to your life, in different ways and figuring out what the Constitution really means for different people in this country,” said Suzy Newman, who plays Schreck. “It sounds like a really dry subject, but it’s actually really funny.” 

click to enlarge SLO REP takes on emotions and deep thinking in What the Constitution Means To Me
Image courtesy of SLO REP
LIMITED ACCESS: Heidi Schreck has only given a limited number of theaters the rights to put on her play, What the Constitution Means to Me, and SLO REP is one of them.

Playing at SLO REP from March 29 through April 14, this play is about storytelling, Newman said. Being able to connect to Schreck through this role is special to her, she added. 

“I love the language and direct address to the audience the entire time,” Newman said. “I get to stand up there and talk to them and tell them stories and relate to them and react to them, and it’s just so fun. There’s also something about speaking her words and having that connection that just feels very personal.” 

Schreck was brought up with feminist ideologies by a mother who taught her about her rights as an American citizen and how to protect herself, Newman said. She learned what the Constitution could do for her and what it couldn’t do for her as a woman who was left out of the original document signed in 1787. 

“It’s certainly not like a male-bashing or male-hating play,” SLO REP Managing Artistic Director Kevin Harris said. “It’s really about the questions and taking the effort to be empathetic toward someone who might not be your sex or might not be your race or sexual orientation and figure out how the Constitution does or does not protect them on a day-to-day basis.” 

In the second half of the play, Newman debates her 15-year-old self, played by SLO High School senior Jamie Collins. The two go back and forth in an amusing, quick-witted debate over abolishing the Constitution and creating a new one or sticking to what we have. 

click to enlarge SLO REP takes on emotions and deep thinking in What the Constitution Means To Me
Photo courtesy of Kevin Harris
LEAD ROLE: Suzy Newman will play Heidi Schreck in What the Constitution Means To Me, which follows her journey from being a teenager to weighing the complexities of being a U.S. citizen and a woman in the 21st century.

“That really is the ultimate question, and you can take both sides of that as they both have very good points to them,” Harris said. “This is a document that really defines our lives and defines everything that we do every single day.” 

Following the debate comes an interactive segment where the audience gets to vote on which debater can take home the cake. 

“We’re going to figure out who’s going to take which side of the debate, and we’ll change it every night, and then the audience will vote and hopefully we’ll get some lively discussion out of it,” Harris said. “One person from the audience will be the representative for the whole audience.” 

Harris said they decided to do it that way because oftentimes in voting, it’s not necessarily equal representation—often, one person gets to speak for everybody. 

Accompanying Newman and Collins onstage is Mike Mesker, who will play The Legionnaire. 

The legionnaire, or head of the debate, is an important moral figure for Schreck as he would travel around the country with her as she questioned what the Constitution meant to her. 

“He was a very sweet man, very supportive of Heidi, but he was obviously from a different generation as well,” Harris said. “He fought in World War II and as this 15-year-old, Heidi looks back on him, even though he was very supportive and a huge influence in her life, she sees how things have changed in the last 50 years.” 

With Schreck giving limited theaters the rights to put on the play, Harris said he’s extremely honored that SLO REP was chosen to be one of them. 

“This play is so important to Heidi that she wants to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. She wants to make sure that you know the tone of the piece and the overall message of the piece is going to be handled appropriately and delicately,” he said. 

While SLO REP is in the process of moving to a new space in downtown SLO in 2027, Harris said it’s very important for the cast to showcase What the Constitution Means To Me in their current building, because it’s a smaller space and allows for a more intimate moment with the audience. 

“You can really have a conversation with the audience, and it also used to be a library, so we’re where knowledge resides and it’s a building that was built in order to ask these questions,” he said. “We’re super happy that we can present something that hopefully gets people asking some questions.”

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera from the Sun’s sister paper, New Times, at [email protected].

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