Heidi Schreck's 'What the Constitution Means to Me' : Throughline The Constitution is like America's secular bible, our sacred founding document. In her play, What the Constitution Means to Me, Heidi Schreck goes through a process of discovering what the document is really about – who wrote it, who it was for, who it protected and who it didn't. Through Heidi's personal story, we learn how the Constitution and how it has been interpreted have affected not just her family but generations of Americans.
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The Shadows of the Constitution

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The Shadows of the Constitution

The Shadows of the Constitution

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RAMTIN ARABLOUEI, HOST:

Hey, everybody. Before we begin, a couple of announcements - first, thank you for listening to this show, to THROUGHLINE. It means so much to us that you're a fan of the show and that you're spreading the word, and we want to keep making it better and better. So you can help us do that by telling us what you'd like to hear and how we could improve the show by completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/throughlinesurvey.

RUND ABDELFATAH, HOST:

You'll do all of us at THROUGHLINE a huge favor by filling it out. Please go to npr.org/throughlinesurvey. It'll just take a minute. That's npr.org/throughlinesurvey. Thank you.

ARABLOUEI: We also want to make sure you know that we're hosting a very special virtual trivia night tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This time, all three rounds of trivia come from our (mis)Representative Democracy series - the episodes we made about the Electoral College, how we vote and the right to vote.

ABDELFATAH: If you haven't heard the whole series, there's a Spotify playlist where you can find all three episodes in one place. Think of it as kind of a study guide.

ARABLOUEI: To sign up for tonight, head to nprpresents.org, where you can RSVP and get all the information you need to play. Remember; kickoff starts at 8 p.m. Eastern. We hope we see all of you then. Now on with today's episode.

ABDELFATAH: And one last thing, a quick warning on what you're about to hear - this episode contains adult language and has several references to sexual violence and abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Close your eyes. Imagine everything you are doing right now floats away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All the things that stress you out, like money or being on time or the fight you had with your partner - imagine all that is gone and you are in a completely empty room, sitting on a chair. Directly in front of you, maybe 10 feet away, is a singular dark orb, floating.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It is small, completely devoid of light.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But from behind that orb, a faint, flickering light begins to emerge. Slowly, bit by bit, the light surrounds the dark like a mini-eclipse happening just for you in that room.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: A space of partial illumination, as in an eclipse, between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Look closely at the space between complete darkness and full light. See the shadowy gradients between something and nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: A surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in the lesser degree.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That zone of partial illumination is like the space between us.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBIENT WHISPERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It is a penumbra.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And for some of us, it may feel like freedom, where many things are possible. And for others, it can feel like an unstable, rumbling and shaking Earth.

(CROSSTALK)

ARABLOUEI: About a year ago, in the before times, the THROUGHLINE team gathered in Washington, D.C., to go on a field trip to see a play.

ABDELFATAH: But this wasn't just any play. This was a one-woman play that I'd seen on Broadway months earlier that completely blew me away. I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I kept talking about it. And eventually, I hounded every member of our team, arranged schedules and secured tickets just so we could all see it together. It was one of those things.

ARABLOUEI: The play was called "What The Constitution Means To Me". None of us had heard of it. And honestly, most of us just went because Rund is very persuasive.

ABDELFATAH: I mean, you're happy you saw it now, right?

ARABLOUEI: You know it's true. (Laughter) You know what I'm talking about.

ABDELFATAH: I'm not going to argue with that.

ARABLOUEI: (Laughter) Anyway, we all took trains, cars, buses, whatever to get to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to see the play. So we get there. The lights all go down. And within a few minutes, we enter the penumbra.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

HEIDI SCHRECK: Thank you. Thank you all so much for coming out tonight. I'm Heidi. Welcome.

ABDELFATAH: So we watched the play. And as it ends and the lights come back on and we file out of the theater, everyone is floored. Everyone seemed to love it. And we all just stood in the massive lobby of the Kennedy Center and just talked. Talk is probably not even the right word. It was more like we shared, and it was like a therapy session kind of shared. The play had hit a nerve. It confronted the history of how the Constitution had served to both protect and completely abandon people. So we were thrown into that same space. We went around and around in circles, talking about how we could think about making THROUGHLINE differently, how the show could illuminate some of the darkness and murkiness of our history.

ARABLOUEI: So in this episode, we want to bring you into that moment. We want to try to transfer that feeling we all had that night to you. We're going to explore something we've been feeling recently about our country - the space between what we think we're about and what we're actually doing.

ABDELFATAH: I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei.

ABDELFATAH: And you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR. We enter the penumbra when we come back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIM: Hi. This is Kim (ph) from Chicago, and you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3, BYLINE: Part 1 - Crucible.

SCHRECK: I don't even know where to begin except to say that the Constitution has profoundly shaped my life. I feel like it's a document that has protected me and completely failed me and so many other people in this country.

ABDELFATAH: This is Heidi Schreck.

SCHRECK: I am an actor, writer, performer, creator. And the name of my play is "What The Constitution Means To Me".

ABDELFATAH: Heidi wrote and stars in the play. It's a personal story, a true story. And it was a big hit on Broadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: A few years ago, I was thinking about the Constitution for various reasons.

(LAUGHTER)

ABDELFATAH: OK, so a few basics about the play - the show is about Heidi's experience participating in a debate club about the Constitution when she was a teenager. For most of the play, Heidi is on stage by herself, telling her story. She goes back and forth between the current Heidi, a woman in her late 40s, and the 15-year-old version of herself back in 1989. The set is a recreation of the American Legion hall where one of the debates took place. She stands alone on stage. And behind her is a wall covered with the faces of hundreds of men, framed photographs of judges and war veterans. It's a scene right out of her memories.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: When I was 15 years old, I would travel the country, giving speeches about the United States Constitution for prize money. This was a scheme invented by my mom, a debate coach, to help me pay for college. I would travel to big cities like Denver, Fresno. I would win a whole bunch of money, bring it back to put in my little safety deposit box for later. I was actually able to pay for my entire college education this way.

(APPLAUSE)

SCHRECK: Thank you. Thank you so much. It was 30 years ago, and it was a state school, but thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: I wore, like, a blue power suit. And I had very permed hair - very large permed hair and a lot of makeup. And...

ABDELFATAH: It was the '80s.

SCHRECK: It was the '80s (laughter). It was totally the '80s.

ABDELFATAH: By the way, this scene in the play is set in her hometown - Wenatchee, Wash.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Two hundred and two years ago, a group of magicians got together on a sweltering summer day in Philadelphia, and they wanted to kill each other. But instead...

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: They sat down together, and they performed a collective act of ethical visualization, or as I like to call it, a spell.

And basically, I would get up, and you had to give an eight- to 10-minute speech on the Constitution. It was mostly in praise of this document and how miraculous it was and what a work of genius. And I very much believed that at the time, and I will say, to some extent, continue to believe it. Like, obviously, there is genius in it. This was, like, very general. The most important thing was that you picked, like, a juicy metaphor, something that would really resonate. And so I came up with "The Crucible". That was my metaphor because I really liked witches and Arthur Miller and theater (laughter).

ABDELFATAH: "The Crucible" is a play by the famous American writer Arthur Miller. It's a partially fictional story about the Salem Witch Trials in colonial New England.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: How does this relate to the crucible of the Constitution?

My mom approved of this metaphor. I remember. She was like, you know, it's a melting pot. It's a thing you do magic in, right? You put a bunch of elements in there, and you mix them together, and they transform into something else. So we decided that it was properly exciting.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Well, you see, a crucible is a boiling pot. That is one definition. But a crucible - it's also a severe test, a test of patience or belief. Our Constitution can be thought of as a boiling pot in which we are thrown together in sizzling and steamy conflict to find out what it is we truly believe.

So I spent eight to 10 minutes just praising this document.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: That is why it's such a radical document.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABDELFATAH: Fifteen-year-old Heidi was, in her own words, a zealot. She believed the Constitution was the greatest political document ever written, and she was damn good at talking about it. But right then, as a teenager, she started to learn things about herself and the world that would change her view.

SCHRECK: I would say the biggest thing that happened was that I learned some things about my family history. I learned them as a teenager, I guess, but I didn't quite connect it to the Constitution at the time. I didn't know how to make those connections.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Ever since I've been making this, I've been wondering about my Great-Great-Grandma Theresa. She died of melancholia. That was her official diagnosis - melancholia, age 36, Western State Mental Hospital. I also grew up believing that all the women in my family on my mom's side inherited chemical depression from Theresa and her melancholia. We all take various forms of medication for it. They are working.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: We also all have the same way of crying - this, like, very loud, melodramatic way of crying that I like to call Greek tragedy crying. And it sounds kind of like this. (Vocalizing).

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: I lost so many boyfriends that way.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: There are no records of what Theresa's daily life was like, but it seems like it must have been so hard because it certainly was for other women. Actually, these are some headlines I found. This was her hometown newspaper. These headlines all happened in one week - "Napavine Man Shoots Wife In Back," "Husband Stomps Wife's Face With Spiked Logging Boots," "Jealous Husband Ties Woman To Bed For Three Days" and this one - "Bea Phelps (ph) Ran Into Her Daughter's Apartment To Find Her Son-In-Law In The Act Of Shooting Her Fleeing Daughter". Get out of here, he said. Everything here belongs to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ABDELFATAH: And then there was Heidi's Grandma Betty, Theresa's granddaughter. She was this tall, muscular woman with wild black hair.

SCHRECK: She was this incredible woman, like, a logger and (laughter) - who raised, you know, six kids while working full-time pushing logs down the river.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: That is where you stand - on a bunch of logs in a raging river. And then you take this giant stick, and all day long, you just push the logs down the river till they - actually, I don't know what happens to the logs.

(LAUGHTER)

ABDELFATAH: Heidi's Grandma Bette lost her first husband to a tragic logging accident. He was crushed by a massive evergreen tree. She remarried pretty quickly, and pretty quickly, her new husband started beating her and her kids.

ARABLOUEI: When Heidi's aunt turned 16, her stepdad raped her. She got pregnant and had the baby, and then he raped her again. Finally, after Grandma Bette did nothing about the abuse, Heidi's mom is the one who called the cops. She was 14.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: My mom lived in a house like this. So did my Grandma Bette and probably my Great-Great-Grandma Theresa, though I don't have any evidence for that except for maybe the fact that she died of melancholia at age 36.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABDELFATAH: Heidi learned about this legacy of abuse in her family when she was 15, right around the time she started doing the debates about the Constitution. But it took her years - like, 20-plus years - to really start to understand how it all fit together.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRANDON: This is Brandon (ph) from Virginia Beach, Va. You are listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Part 2 - Penumbra.

SCHRECK: I think as I got older, I started to think more deeply about the ways the laws in this country had failed to protect my mom and how hard that had made her life.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: So what I'm trying to understand right now is what does it mean if this constitution will not protect us from the violence of men? And I don't want to vilify men. I don't. I love men. I really do. I fucking love you.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: I'm the daughter of a father.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: I actually think I only began to connect that part of my family history to the Constitution while making the play. I think I started making the play thinking I would make kind of a lighthearted comedy - you know what I mean? - or maybe, like, you know, one of those, like, great movies about, like, girl debaters that's sort of uplifting (laughter) and really fun, funny.

ARABLOUEI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

ABDELFATAH: That was the original idea - take the prompt of the actual contest she used to do as a teenager, which was to draw a personal connection between her own life and the Constitution, but do that with the wisdom and hindsight that only adult Heidi could bring to the table, because when she was 15, drawing those personal connections sounded like...

SCHRECK: You know, I protested my school's ban on girls wearing shorts, and that's me expressing my First Amendment right, or - you know (laughter)? They were fairly - not that that's trivial, but, you know, I didn't go very deep.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Here's another example. When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend named Reba McEntire.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: She was not related to the singer. Just because our Constitution does not proclaim the having of imaginary friends as one of my rights does not mean I can be thrown in jail for being friends with Reba McEntire. Isn't that amazing?

ARABLOUEI: ...You know, stuff like that.

SCHRECK: So I thought, like, what if I really take it seriously? And when I decided to do that, I was like, OK, what's personal to me? Like, what has happened in my life that relates to the Constitution? That immediately took me to birth control. That took me to Roe v. Wade. That took me to the 14th Amendment and the Ninth Amendment. And then it took me to domestic violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHRECK: So when - I was like, these are all things that have affected my life. Why don't I dig into what the Constitution has to say about them, what the Supreme Court has had to say about them? I would say making the play kind of forced a reckoning.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Maybe because of my own family history of this kind of violence, I just - I needed to make sense of it. So I talked to several constitutional scholars, and this is what I learned.

ARABLOUEI: Heidi learned a few things. And part of that learning process was unlearning. She grew up thinking and defending the idea that the Constitution was meant to protect us, the citizens. But then she learned that's not exactly true.

SCHRECK: It's actually not designed to protect us, right? It's designed to first outline how government will function, the coequal branches of government, the separation of powers. It's designed to, like, put a system in place that we've thought at least works well.

ARABLOUEI: Right, and in some ways does, right? In some ways does, yeah.

SCHRECK: And in some ways does, absolutely, yes. And then it's designed to protect us from encroachment by the government - right? - from allowing tyranny to take over. So it's - like the Due Process Clause, which says the government...

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: ...Cannot lock you up, take your stuff or kill you without a good reason.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: The caveat there.

ARABLOUEI: The Due Process Clause, aka Section 1, Clause 3 of the 14th Amendment - 15-year-old Heidi loves this clause. It states...

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: ...Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

ARABLOUEI: This brings us to another thing Heidi learned from the constitutional scholars. She learned about two kinds of rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Negative rights and positive rights.

ARABLOUEI: The Due Process Clause falls into the category of negative rights, rights that protect us from something, like the government, while positive rights are active rights, rights that the government or other people have to actually provide.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: They include things like the right to a fair trial, to an attorney, in some countries, the right to health care.

(LAUGHTER)

ARABLOUEI: Our Constitution, for the most part, is full of negative rights.

SCHRECK: And one of the things that I discovered when I was researching the play was I just read a lot of other countries' constitutions, and I was interested in what modern constitutions look like because ours is the oldest active constitution, right?

ABDELFATAH: I'm just going to reiterate that fact. America has the oldest active constitution on the planet.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Our Constitution is really, really old.

ABDELFATAH: That's because many other countries over time have scrapped their original documents and replaced them with modern constitutions. South Africa's done this. Germany's done this. Chile is in the process of doing this right now.

SCHRECK: And seeing the constitutions created in the 20th century and constitutions that were created in the wake of genocide, in the wake of great governmental crimes, those constitutions contain positive rights - right? - contain active protections for people, who say, like - they say, like, we will guarantee that you are a protected class of citizen so that you will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, gender, ability. They say, we will guarantee a clean planet.

Now, whether these are effective or not is up for debate. But they have active, positive rights, things that the government is supposed to do - right? - to protect you and take care of you as a citizen. And I was just really fascinated that our Constitution doesn't work that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABDELFATAH: Heidi saw how a constitution made up of mostly negative rights, our Constitution, specifically failed to protect the women in her family and thousands of others through the Supreme Court case Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

SCHRECK: Which is about whether the police are required to enforce restraining orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIN SCALIA: This is case No. 04-278 - Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

ABDELFATAH: This is the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivering the majority opinion on June 27, 2005. Despite the nature of the case, Scalia kicked things off with a joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCALIA: I thought Castle Rock was a 1920s dance, but it's also a town in Colorado.

ABDELFATAH: Then he cut to the chase.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCALIA: The facts are truly horrible. Jessica Gonzales, the respondent, sued the town of Castle Rock in federal district court, alleging that the town had violated her rights under the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause when its police...

ARABLOUEI: Jessica Gonzales had three daughters with her husband and a restraining order against him. She filed for one in 1999 after a long history of violence and abuse. A month into that restraining order, her husband kidnapped their three children. Gonzales called the Castle Rock Police Department for help. It was around 7:30 p.m.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCALIA: When officers came to her house, she showed them the restraining order and asked them to enforce it and return her children. They told her to call back if the children did not return by 10 p.m.

ARABLOUEI: She called an hour later, saying she had heard from her husband and knew where they were.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCALIA: Again, they told her to call if the children were not returned by 10 p.m.

ARABLOUEI: She called again and again until nearly 1 a.m., when she got back in her car and went to the station to file a report. An officer took the report and then went to dinner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCALIA: Finally, at 3:20 a.m., her husband showed up at the police station, shooting a semi-automatic handgun. The police shot him dead and discovered in his pickup truck the bodies of all three children, whom he had already murdered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABDELFATAH: Jessica Gonzales - who's actually now Jessica Lenahan, her maiden name - sued the town of Castle Rock for violating her rights under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment by refusing to enforce her restraining order and, therefore, failing to protect her family. Remember; the Due Process Clause is a prime example of negative rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Which is in part how they came to decide the Jessica Lenahan was not entitled to any active or positive protection from the police.

ABDELFATAH: She lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: I just - I listened to this case so many times. And a thing I noticed when I hear the justices speak - the thing I noticed is that they spend very little time talking about Jessica Lenahan as a human being. They don't talk about her daughters. Instead, they spent a very long time arguing about the word shall, as in the phrase, the police shall enforce a restraining order. Scalia ultimately decided that shall did not mean must, which I actually find very confusing because Scalia was a devout Catholic.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: Some constitutional scholars have called this decision the death of the 14th Amendment for women. It basically shuts down the possibility to look to our federal government, to our Constitution for protection from physical and sexual violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABDELFATAH: Castle Rock v. Gonzales is a constitutional test, a recent one, that helped adult Heidi understand her own family history in relation to the Constitution in a way she never could have as a teenager, back when she viewed the document essentially as scripture. And the evolution of this relationship is what she and the audience move through over the course of the play, suspended between how she viewed the Constitution then and how she sees it now, which brings us back to where we started this episode.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Echoing) A penumbra.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Here I am, standing in the light. And there you are, sitting in the darkness. And this space between us, this space right here of partial illumination, this shadowy space right here - this is a penumbra. The word itself means the space between, like, the full light and the darkness, right? Or it's actually between the full light and the kind of shadow. So it's this kind of half-light, half-dark, very shadowy, murky place.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARABLOUEI: Heidi discovered and became obsessed with this word when learning about another Supreme Court case.

SCHRECK: Griswold v. Connecticut, which is the case that made birth control legal for all people in this country in 1965 - pretty late.

ARABLOUEI: In 1961, Estelle Griswold and Dr. Charles Lee Buxton were arrested for giving information about contraception and writing prescriptions for IUDs to women at a Planned Parenthood in Connecticut. They took their case to the Supreme Court. This is the case where Heidi's favorite parts of the Constitution join hands and take center stage - the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and...

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: The most magical and mysterious amendment of them all, Amendment 9. Amendment 9 says the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Basically, that talks about unenumerated rights. It says, just because a right isn't listed in the Constitution, it doesn't mean you don't have that right.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: The fact is there was no way for the framers to put down every single right we have. I mean, the right to brush your teeth - yes, you've got it. But how long do we want this document to be?

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: Think about it for a moment. Our Constitution doesn't tell you all the rights that you have because it doesn't know.

And I love that amendment because it does speak to the, like, living, breathing nature of the document. And also, it's just a very weird, mysterious thing. Like, everything else is rather concrete. And it's very confusing, this amendment.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Justice William O. Douglas, the great Supreme Court justice - when he talked about Amendment 9, he used the word penumbra.

ARABLOUEI: In Griswold v. Connecticut.

SCHRECK: I read about how that case was partially decided with the help of the 9th Amendment, as was Roe v. Wade, with this idea that, like, OK, we don't know - given the tools we have with this Constitution, we don't know how to say exactly that, like, a person is entitled to use birth control or a person is entitled to have an abortion. So we're going to locate it in this right to privacy, which is not enumerated in the Constitution, exactly. But we're going to say it's, like, a - it's there. It lives there in the shadow of the Constitution as a result of other rights that were enumerated, right? So it's, like, this very murky reasoning.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: And this is when William O. Douglas brought out his beautiful penumbra metaphor. This is when he said, one thing our Constitution surely guarantees is the right to privacy and that this allows a woman to put in an IUD.

ABDELFATAH: As long as she's married - another caveat. Anyway, at this point in the play, Heidi pulls up a clip from the Griswold case of the nine justices, all men, attempting to discuss birth control.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS I EMERSON: It's probably only true with respect to some. But some get by under the term feminine hygiene and others I just don't know about.

(LAUGHTER)

EMERSON: But they are all sold in Connecticut drugstores on one theory or another.

EARL WARREN: Is there anything on the record to indicate...

(LAUGHTER)

WARREN: ...The extent of the birth rate in Connecticut vis-a-vis the states that don't have such laws?

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: It's, like, four hours of that.

(LAUGHTER)

ABDELFATAH: It was more like two hours, but still.

SCHRECK: I really found it fascinating that - first of all, that the justices, who, at the time, were nine men, had to look to this amendment that nobody really understands and decide that they found, you know, the right to birth control or the right for a pregnant person to have autonomy over their own body, that they found that in this - in the shadows of the Constitution, I guess, in this, like, murky, murky space.

ABDELFATAH: A murky space that leaves so much room for interpretation, which many argue is the very genius of our Constitution. The intentional vagaries allow for flexibility. But this very nature of the document may at times protect its citizens, but at other times, it fails them, leaving some of our basic rights hanging in the balance. And with the recent election and the new makeup of the Supreme Court, that unknown feels all the more present...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIMING)

ABDELFATAH: ...Like a ringing in our ears.

SCHRECK: We're all living in this murky space, right? We're all - it's a time when the future is very uncertain. It's a time when we are struggling with, like, who we are as a country, who we are as people, what our relationship is to one another, what our responsibilities are to one another. Everything feels very confusing right now. And I do think that it does feel like we're living in a moment where it's hard to see clearly.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: People laughed at Douglas for calling it this, but I like it. I think it's a helpful way to think about the Constitution and also maybe about our lives. I mean, here we are, stuck between what we can see and what we can't. We are trapped in a penumbra.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BRIAN PENNER: A few days ago, my wife said she was listening to a great podcast about pre-Civil War migration to Canada to escape slavery and then post-Civil War migration to Brazil to perpetuate it. And I thought, that sounds interesting. I should look for that. Then a few days later, as I was walking the dog, that episode came up on my own playlist. And as it turns out, I'd downloaded it several weeks before but didn't remember doing so. I guess I married the right woman. This is Brian Pennare (ph), and I'm calling from Portland, Ore. You are listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Part 3 - Changeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARABLOUEI: After we saw "What The Constitution Means To Me" and after that long conversation we had in the Kennedy Center, Heidi's play stayed with us for months. But it's the idea of growth, a change in perspective, that stuck with me the most. How can we evolve and grow up, in a sense, both as individuals and as a society without fully abandoning the earlier stories we once told ourselves about where we came from and the ideas we have about our place in the world? How do we settle into the penumbra?

What I took away from your play is that you have a fundamental belief in something in, like, a childlike way at 15...

SCHRECK: Yeah.

ARABLOUEI: ...That then hits up against reality. And then the struggle is, how do I mature to hold these things at once...

SCHRECK: Right.

ARABLOUEI: ...To hold that idealism and hold the reality at once?

SCHRECK: Yeah. I think that the play - it really has forced me both to confront my childhood optimism and - I would say for a while, while I was working on it, it took me to such heavy places, such dark places that I felt very hopeless a lot of the time while writing it and just wondering, like, what I had bought into and why.

ARABLOUEI: As a teenager, Heidi really believed in the Constitution, in its ideals, in its pronouncements of freedom, in its elasticity. But after a decade of writing and performing this play, something flipped. Heidi could no longer ignore all the imperfections. They were everywhere.

SCHRECK: Slavery was enshrined in the document from the beginning. Like, there's, like, an original sin there that hasn't been fully dealt with. That beginning, like, that birth, that great crime against humanity - I think that that has just had repercussions that have reverberated and continued to reverberate in this culture. And I think if you follow the tentacles of that outwards, you can see how many people just aren't protected by the document.

So I guess when I think of that phrase - like, the Constitution doesn't tell you all the rights that you have because it doesn't know - it's both, like, well, that's wonderful. The Constitution sort of acknowledges that it doesn't know right there in the 9th Amendment, right? It acknowledges that it's something that can grow and change. But it also, like - it also points to the fact that the Constitution not only left a lot of people out but, like, actively committed crimes against people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARABLOUEI: We did another interview with someone about James Baldwin...

SCHRECK: Yeah.

ARABLOUEI: ...Recently. And one of the things that stuck with me from that interview was that James Baldwin's work, in a lot of ways, started with the personal and made its way out into the systemic. And what I really noticed about the play was that very thing you just described. And in a moment in the country where we are dealing with some really big questions about our past, what do you think that approach to storytelling did for your play and does in general in trying to get us to think big and systemic things by starting in a personal place like you did?

SCHRECK: First of all, let me say I think about that James Baldwin quote all the time - that, I love America more than any other country in this world, and exactly for that reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

ARABLOUEI: Yes. Yes.

SCHRECK: I think about that all the time when I'm performing. I've also - you know, I've had people accuse me of not loving this country or hating our Constitution, wanting to abolish it, wanting to, you know, destroy everything. And it just couldn't be further from the truth. And I often - my response is often, like, I don't know why anyone who hated our country or hated the Constitution would spend over a decade making a play about it (laughter). But I do feel (laughter) - I do feel like it is a deep form of love to criticize those we love or the thing we love for its failings, and I think that is what's happening right now. And I think you can only do that when you take all this personally, when you realize that laws - they're, frankly, life or death for so many of us. And that the larger systemic problems in this country are never going to be overcome until we face them, until we stop being in denial about them, until we stop pretending that everything is good in this country.

And I think obviously we're at a time when it's not - it's sort of not even possible to do that. But I think I certainly grew up in the '80s and as, you know, I guess a young cis white girl with - able-bodied and with a lot of privilege thinking that everything was OK, you know, that this country was inherently good and that racism was over and that (laughter) there was just a hopeful future for all of us. And I think facing the fact that that's not true is actually the only way to create a future that's good for all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: Which just makes me think maybe it's not helpful to think of the Constitution as a crucible in which we're all battling it out together, in which we go in front of a court of nine people to negotiate for our basic human rights. Maybe - maybe we could think of the Constitution as a constitution that is obligated to actively look out for all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCHRECK: I actually gave birth in April to twins.

ABDELFATAH: Aw, congratulations.

ARABLOUEI: Congrats.

SCHRECK: I have two twin daughters. Thank you (laughter).

ARABLOUEI: Wow.

SCHRECK: I have two babies now, which is a whole new world.

ARABLOUEI: Yeah.

SCHRECK: And I just think about it all the time, like, what I want to teach them and, like, what kind of world I want them to grow up in.

ABDELFATAH: Yeah.

SCHRECK: And I just, more than anything, want them to know the truth about things because I feel like that's the only way that they'll actually have a hopeful future.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME")

SCHRECK: It's like how when I was a little girl, I used to believe that I was a changeling. I mean, I still think I might be a changeling, but I'm going to go ahead and keep acting like a human being until my real family comes along to claim me.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHRECK: (As character) I would sit on the shores of Spirit Lake in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, and I would wait for my real family - the swimming fairies - to grab me by the legs and pull me under the water. And we would swim down deep, as deep as we could possibly go. And just when I thought I was about to drown, we would pop up in another lake on the other side of the world. And when I stepped onto the shores of this new land, I would finally understand who I really was. That is why I love Amendment Nine so much - because it acknowledges that who we are now might not be who we will become. It leaves a little room for the future self. And we just have to hope we don't drown in the process of figuring out what that is.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SCHRECK: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much.

(CHEERING)

SCHRECK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABDELFATAH: That's it for this week's show. I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei. And you've been listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

ABDELFATAH: This episode was produced by me.

ARABLOUEI: And me and...

JAMIE YORK, BYLINE: Jamie York.

LAWRENCE WU, BYLINE: Lawrence Wu.

LAINE KAPLAN-LEVENSON, BYLINE: Laine Kaplan-Levenson.

JULIE CAINE, BYLINE: Julie Caine.

VICTORIA WHITLEY-BERRY, BYLINE: Victoria Whitley-Berry.

PARTH SHAH, BYLINE: Parth Shah.

ARABLOUEI: Fact-checking for this episode was done by Kevin Volkl.

ABDELFATAH: Thank you to Amazon and Heidi Schreck for letting us use so much of the play. And by the way, you can now stream the play on Amazon.

ARABLOUEI: Thanks also to Oyez Project for their recording of the Supreme Court. Thank you to Eve Abrams and Desiree Bayonet for their voice-over work. And a special thanks to Beth Donovan and Anya Grundmann.

ABDELFATAH: Our music was composed by Ramtin and his band, Drop Electric, which includes...

NAVID MARVI: Navid Marvi.

SHO FUJIWARA: Sho Fujiwara.

ANYA MIZANI: Anya Mizani.

ARABLOUEI: And tonight, November 12, is the night. We're back with a very special evening of THROUGHLINE Trivia. This time, all three rounds are dedicated to our (mis)Representative Democracy series, so make sure you've heard all three episodes. And if you haven't, we've made a trusty study guide in the form of a Spotify playlist.

ABDELFATAH: So go check that out and don't forget to RSVP. Go to nprpresents.org to sign up. Game time is 8 p.m. Eastern.

ARABLOUEI: And one more plug to fill out our short anonymous survey at npr.org/throughlinesurvey. It will really help us improve our show, which is good for everyone.

ABDELFATAH: That's npr.org/throughlinesurvey.

ARABLOUEI: As always, if you have an idea or like something on the show, please write us at throughline@npr.org or find us on Twitter at @throughlinenpr.

ABDELFATAH: Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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