Caroline Levien: In The Heidi Chronicles, we bump into Heidi intermittently over the course of three decades. What were the challenges in portraying a character over from the age of 16 to the age of 40?
Lauren Dillon: I guess the biggest thing for me was having to make the connection between each year that we see Heidi and figuring out what happened that influenced her life, her state of mind and social standing in those blocks of time that we don’t see on stage. She goes through some pretty significant changes and they also happen during quite iconic political movements in America so wrapping my head around all of the historical context has been a big part of this also. It’s a challenge to find the subtle changes that are necessary to show the evolving nature of a person as they grow older, while also keeping everything true to that character. Also slightly terrifying trying to remember what I was like as a 16 year-old!
Through the play, Wendy Wasserstein tracks the waves of feminism through her character’s respective journeys. We see it through the nurturing women’s rap groups of the 60’s-70’s, the open protests for equal representation, women’s collectives, and finally the 80’s: ‘beating men at their own game’ and the rise of the business woman. In light of this journey, where do you think feminism stands today?
Somehow the topic of feminism can still make for extremely volatile discussion along with misinterpretation and confusion. I see fantastic initiatives where women who live in countries that are closer to gender equality are now also fighting for the basic equal rights of women in situations where they are still oppressed, politically or socially. I see really positive steps on the global stage towards acknowledging that feminism is about gender equality on the whole and how it not only benefits women but men as well. Yet there are still those who think that Feminism is a dirty word espoused only by man-hating witches, and some of the vitriol out there, especially online, is really quite upsetting and disturbing. The battleground is not only in the public arena, it’s still very personal and I think young people now are looking for ways to take it in to their own hands. It seems feminism has accomplished much yet there is ongoing work to do to tackle the anti-feminism ignorance that still exists.
We meet Heidi through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. As an actor, what era has been the most fun to revisit?
Hhmmmm…. That’s a tricky one. They’re all so great and full of fantastic music, political changes, fashion and social movements. I think I’d have to say the 60’s and 70’s though, as these are the years where Heidi has a lot of her political/ feminist awakening and becomes a little rebellious. Plus I have to admit that watching youtube videos of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac is very satisfying ‘research’.
What have you most enjoyed about working on this production of The Heidi Chronicles?
I’ve really loved working with our awesome cast and crew. Everyone brings their own slice of magic to the room, and is also really supportive and encouraging of each other. I’m inspired by everyone each time we rehearse as I’m learning from people who’ve been doing this longer than me and also watching great choices and incredible work ethic from others. There have been a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room, and some fabulous reminiscing on the past from our Director – lots of great stories and insight. Plus our stage management team are the business!
What do you hope audience members will take away from this production of The Heidi Chronicles?
I hope that the audience will have a really enjoyable couple of hours watching a play that’s got a heap of women in it and not your typical linear structure. I hope they will have the opportunity to reflect on what’s changed in the world since this play was written – but also what hasn’t and see if that moves something in them. I also hope they have a bloody good laugh – there’s some comedy gold in there!
Lauren Dillon: The Heidi Chronicles was a Broadway hit & Pulitzer Prize winner in the late 80’s – what keeps it relevant today?
Caroline Levien: So much. In a way I wish it was less relevant if it meant that we had come a little further as a society in terms of what we ask and expect of women.
The Heidi Chronicles really tracks the various waves of feminism from the 60’s-80’s and explores a wide variety of themes including ‘sisterhood solidarity’, sexual liberation, gay rights and ‘having it all’ to name a few.
I feel like the subject of feminism is something that has been tarnished a bit and I cringe when I hear women say they don’t need it, as though it’s the new F word and can’t be uttered. On the contrary: It should be studied, celebrated and reinvented. Heidi’s journey through the play highlights the ups and downs of the movement as it changed through the eras. Was it perfect? God no. These social and civil movement rarely go smoothly because what they are doing is shaking up the status quo- there are no rulebooks for how they are supposed to run so in each era the play visits, we see how the ideas have changed: from ultra supportive Consciousness Raising Rap Groups in the 60’s all the way to the rise of the Power Women of the 80’s and the corrosion of the early notions of ‘solidarity’ in favour for emulating traditional male roles in the pursuit of success- shoulder pads anyone?
The Heidi Chronicles looks at these changing incarnations of ‘feminism’ and does so with a certain humour and intelligence that I hope resonates with audiences today, and ask them to study where the role of women’s equality sits in our current era. I imagine most people will recognise that we still have a long way to go.
What are some of your picks of songs that were released in the years Susan features in the play?
Tough one. I’m a big fan of the 60’s and 70’s music so I’d probably have to pick The Kinks. Although my favourite Janis Joplin song happens when I’m off stage so I am free to rock out. Lucky me.
What have you most enjoyed about working on The Heidi Chronicles?
The ensemble. We have some wonderful people working on this production and it’s been such a pleasure to watch and learn from the other actors and the lovely work that they bring to the floor. It’s a challenging play, charting a whole lifetime in two hours, so having a great supportive group of actors and creatives is such a blessing.
There are several scenes in the play where you get to eat/ drink – what’s your pick of the food/ beverage options?
I seem to be either constantly eating or drinking wine in this play. Tough call but it’s got to be Jill’s peanut butter and granola cookies. The breadsticks are pretty fabulous too.
Do you quietly have a favourite character from this play? Come on – spill the beans…
I love all the characters for various reasons. I love my own character, Susan, for her ballsiness and confidence which at times feels so far removed from me as a person and actor, but if I had to pick a favourite I would have to chose Heidi. Her journey speaks so clearly to me that it’s almost eerie. A woman in a world that is constantly changing in ways that she cannot control or fathom, stoic in her beliefs in a society with a very mutable moral and social compass, people coming and going and morphing in front of her, leaving her with no solid ground to stand on. Jesus it’s like an extract from my diary!
The woman in a tempest of a changing world. For me, Heidi is an ‘everywoman’.
Lauren Dillon and Caroline Levien are appearing in The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein.
Dates: 7 June – 9 July, 2016
Venue: New Theatre