Wendy Wasserstein (1995)
My writing is so character driven. I really take time to get to know the people who are in my plays; I understand their narrowness, their wideness. I have an intimacy with their cultural backgrounds and a feeling for how that affects their lives. Not all these characters have the same background as mine, however. In The Sisters Rosensweig, all the characters are Jewish. The play is about people who have different attitudes towards Judaism. Heidi from The Heidi Chronicles, on the other hand, is not Jewish.
In so many ways, one’s cultural background contributes to how one sees the world. How you were raised, the kinds of people you have been exposed to, all that has an effect on what moves you, on what concerns you have. This is also true for writing. If I were a man, for instance, I don’t think I would be so obsessed with women’s issues, though I hope I would still have sense enough to be interested in them.
I have felt strongly for some time about the idea of non-traditional casting and the need for a diversity of people to be represented in plays. The efforts of the Non-Traditional Casting Project have been important to me in reinforcing that, as has my involvement as a dramaturg for the Young Playwrights Festival. But the best way for me to address these ideas, I have decided, is to find a way to incorporate characters of color into my plays as I write them, to develop a fix on a character as early in the process as I can and have time to grow with it.
When it comes time to cast a play, I have spent so much time alone in my room with the characters that I often have very specific ideas for who I want. It doesn’t always work out the way I’ve imagined, of course. Specific actors are not available or somebody completely different clicks with a role. But those early ideas usually do set the tone for my choices in casting.
Certainly, it can be exciting to have the ideas you have been fixed on change. Sometimes plays expand depending on what actors are working in them. When I think of all the people who have played Heidi, from Joan Allen to Jamie Lee Curtis, they are all very different. Each one brought different views, different approaches to the role. At the same time, I know when casting for a new play, especially its premiere, I can be less open to actors who are different from what I’ve imagined the role to be. I want the characters to be as close as possible to how I have seen them since the play’s beginning.
As I began to populate my latest play, I wanted it to be more reflective of the world that we live in. As a result, I have included an African American woman among the characters from the beginning. This has been a really good thing for me. It has opened up my vision for the play. My choice was a response to the on-going discussion of issues of diversity. This is the first time I have written like this.
You hope that what you understand and know is not just of value to you alone. I want my plays to be open and interesting to as many people as possible. I hope that this new play, by including a diversity of characters, will go even further in reaching a diversity of people. I wouldn’t want an audience of only upper-class Jewish women to come to The Sisters Rosensweig. I wouldn’t want an audience of only feminists for The Heidi Chronicles. I wouldn’t want an audience of all Wendy Wassersteins for any of my plays. That would be terrible!
Return to: Looking Back: Contributors