Sherie Rene Scott on prison, Hillary Clinton’s blackness and writing for her friends
After Everyday Rapture and Piece of Meat, Broadway’s strawberry diva mines some new life experiences for a new play about jails of all kinds
By David Cote|
One of Broadway’s most beloved stars, Sherie Rene Scott, has gone biographical lately. She lampooned her Mennonite upbringing in Everyday Rapture and rejected vegetarianism in the cabaret memoir Piece of Meat. Now, after Scott’s friend and cowriter Dick Scanlan invited her to volunteer upstate at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in 2011, she presents Whorl Inside a Loop, dramatizing her time helping convicts rehabilitate and heal through monologues.
How scary was it visiting prison? Well, I was aware I wouldn’t be in gen pop, as they say, general population. I was in classrooms with guys who’d worked really, really hard to earn the right to be there: six years clean and sober, taking responsibility for their crimes, there to work on themselves. Dick and I like to joke: I feel more worried turning my back on someone at the Tony Awards than I did in prison.
How will this play make us rethink punishment and incarceration? The only goal was to write something about these two worlds colliding—the absurdity and beauty of it. Even though the piece takes place in prison, it’s about prisons of all kinds: sex and race, work and relationships.
You and Dick write a lot about the need to find and share your story. I do believe we have to tell our story, as a country, honestly. The nonacceptance of the truth of our American story is not allowing us to move on. We have to accept that the deck has been stacked. Please. I mean, look at who’s running for President. Unfuckingbelievable. That’s my personal belief. It’s not theatrically interesting unless it’s Hillary Clinton saying it. We do have Hillary Clinton played by a black man, which we all know is her inner being. [Laughs] As far as I’m concerned, Hillary’s the only one in touch with her blackness. [Laughs] I think that’s why Chris Myers does such a great job playing her. Dick and I subvert any kind of facts to get to the essence of the truth. We create facts about my life that aren’t factually true.
So the Clinton connection is made up? I did actually meet Hillary Clinton in a hair salon in 2013. I was introduced to her by someone who was working in prison and had seen me on Broadway. So we talked about prison, and rehabilitation and arts programs.
I heard you banned phones in rehearsals? Yeah, we instituted prison rules. You had to surrender your wallet, keys, cell phone—nothing in your pocket—when we work in the room. You have to leave the room to check your messages or tweets. It made us focus on the work and each other—a real connection that’s hard to find.
Fans of Broadway divas are probably wondering: Who’s writing the next big musical for you? Or for Kristin, Kelli and LaChanze? Honestly, I’ve been writing this play since 2013 and getting divorced, so being a single mom is taking up a lot of my life. I’m trying to write stuff for people. I love all those women you mentioned. Maybe I should write a musical for my friends.
You mentioned divorce. But from reading the script, I see that you didn’t want to depict it in Whorl? The character in the show is not me, she’s called the Volunteer. She could be played by anyone who has a career in the arts. But I think it’s pretty clear, watching the play, the Volunteer and her husband are not headed for a real, honest conversation. And unfortunately, that wasn’t an option in my relationship—honest conversation. I’m only interested in putting in material that other people can identity with. That way the personal becomes universal. Maybe all that other stuff is for my next play—or musical!