'I love AOC': Teenage debaters from Tony-nominated Broadway show reveal their political role models

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  • Heidi Schreck
    American writer and actress
(Photo: Getty Images)
Rosdely Ciprian, 14, and Thursday Williams, 18, star alongside Heidi Schreck in the critically-acclaimed and Tony-nominated play, "What the Constitution Means to Me." (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’ve yet to hear of the play What the Constitution Means to Me, consider yourself warned. The autobiographical show, written by and starring Heidi Schreck, is a political tour-de-force that shines a much-needed light on how the constitution has historically left out women — and, in some ways, still does.

In a matter of months, it’s gone from selling off-Broadway to a Tony-nomination, attracting the attention of celebrities and politicians alike. The play itself follows a teenage version of Schreck as she travels the country winning American Legion-sponsored debate competitions to pay for college, while looking at the constitution through the lens of the women whom it has failed to protect.

While Schreck, who is also nominated both for best actress and best play at Sunday’s Tony Awards, will undoubtedly receive an increasing amount of press, perhaps equal attention is due to the captivating teen breakout stars who join her in the final scene. Rosdely Ciprian, 14, and Thursday Williams, 18, are both actual debaters at New York high schools and tried out for the parts on a whim.

Both are passionate, dynamic, and still adjusting to the spotlight, but in a conversation with Yahoo Lifestyle, they prove that debating comes naturally. Ahead of the Tony Awards, Yahoo Lifestyle talked to the young stars about the 2020 election, the “disgusting” nature of parents paying to get their kids into college, and the person they’d most like to see in the audience.

Yahoo Lifestyle: The night I saw the show, Thursday, you did a great job, but ended up losing the debate. Is that tough to get used to?

Thursday Williams: It depends. At the beginning I used to get disappointed, but then as the show progressed I realized people have different backgrounds and stories. Most of the time they come in with their mind already made up.

Yahoo Lifestyle: So you take turns playing the role of Heidi’s opponent in the show, and you take on the role of either defending the U.S. constitution or arguing to throw it out. How scripted are these debates, and how much are they personalized?

Rosdely Ciprian: The debates are scripted, but me and Thursday have time to research our arguments and add our arguments. We don't have the same debate speeches. I think we each add something that adds our personal zest. In the intro I talk about my story, sometimes I make a Harry Potter reference.

Yahoo Lifestyle: So, since you’re both active on debate teams, I assume you knew a lot about the constitution before you came. But what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned?

TW: I didn't know that Benjamin Franklin took air [balloon] rides and I didn't know that George Washington died of a cold! When it came to the constitution and amendments, I was more familiar with those.

RC: I learned a lot from Heidi’s speech, especially about the 14th Amendment.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Awesome. You’re both incredibly dynamic on stage and seem really confident. Who are the role models that helped you get there?

RC: My role models are women in general, actresses like Gina Rodriguez and Michelle Obama and the women that participated in the #MeToo movement...The fact that women have taken a stance over their rights and have continued to be revolutionary over time? Those are my role models.

TW: Everybody knows this, but one of my biggest role models is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I went to see a screening of her documentary at this really fancy place and they gave us pencils and it says “Notorious RBG,” and I never go on stage without it. Other than her, I love AOC [Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]. She shows a lot of passion and leadership, and I aspire to be like her someday. Also, Heidi! Who is very strong, very creative.

Rosdely Ciprian, Heidi Schreck, Thursday Williams and Mike Iveson during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call of  "What The Constitution Means To Me" at the Hayes Theatre on March 31, 2019 in New York City.
Rosdely Ciprian, Heidi Schreck, Thursday Williams and Mike Iveson during the Broadway Opening Night Performance Curtain Call of "What The Constitution Means To Me" on March 31, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

Yahoo Lifestyle: Speaking of politics, the 2020 election will be the first one, Thursday, that you get to vote in —

TW: [Screams] I will! I'm so excited I'm going to be at the polling place at 5 a.m. —that's because I'm going to work as a poll worker. But still.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Exciting! I wondered, because of the political nature of this show and the message it sends, do you think it could influence the election?

RC: Since it's in New York, I think it will probably stay the same because New York is democratic and full of liberals. If it did change the outcome of an election, that'd be big because that means we've changed minds, changed lives, changed the way the country worked. But... I don’t know.

TW: I love Rosdely, but I beg to differ.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Seems like we’ve got a debate on our hands.

TW: Well, I think that the show has received a lot of press, especially given the fact that we're in the New Yorker, we're in the New York Times, and I feel like people all around the world read these magazines, so they're becoming aware of what this show is. We had people from Washington D.C. — from all over the world — coming to see it. We've had political leaders, who are reading about it. So I think it can have a major effect on this upcoming election. I think this play was released at the right time — it's happening at the right time.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Rosdely, do you have a rebuttal?

RC: I mean, I do believe that now it's making an impact and all that, but I don't know about voting, because, although we are a play and we are mighty, people are being influenced by so many other things — media, television, a whole bunch of other people — so I don't know, it might.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Great, I can see both sides. So aside from politics, what issue I thought you both might have feelings about is the Operation Varsity Blues, where investigators have revealed that some parents bribed elite colleges to give their children a spot. How do you feel about that?

TW: It's despicable, no, that's not the word — it's disgusting. There are kids in school who are working extremely hard. There are kids like myself who don't have the resources or the money, who have to deal with adversity, not only with their own school but their community. It’s disgusting.

RC: I agree with Thursday 100 percent on this because there are students that are barely making it, but then they deserve to be in these colleges and the fact that these people are paying to get into something they didn't deserve, I don't believe that it's right. Is money all that matters? I thought it was about the students.

TW: I don't think a kid should lose a shot at something if they worked for it just because another kid is more fortunate than them. This goes back to the whole educational achievement gap. Poor people are already put at a disadvantage because a lack of resources and lack of things we need to move forward and then to pile it on, we have people who are using their money to get even further ahead. It's a lot. It's too much.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Great point. So now that the play is getting so much attention, what do you hope that people take away from watching it?

RC: I hope they step out of their own personal bubbles and acknowledge that America isn't necessarily the country you thought it was. You have the responsibility to understand the truth about it — and that's what this play does, it opens the truth. I hope it helps them become a person who is more aware, instead of someone who blindly follows what somebody else thinks.

TW: I also want people to know and understand that we have grown as a country. We came from a history of oppression. America, she hasn't been pretty. Even though she's a little closer to her beauty, she's far from it. There is still madness that's happening in this country. So I hope people get a better understanding of the document and the way it’s been created to fit the ideals of rich, white men. As much as the play informs people, it's a call to action. My favorite part of this entire show is when congresspeople and lawyers come. Because even though progress is moving slow, they're the real change makers. When they come it's like: Here goes another shot to change the political mindset of these people.

Yahoo Lifestyle: So is there one person you dream of seeing at the show?

RC: It would definitely be Michelle Obama. Oh, and Oprah. And some people from the TV shows I watch on Netflix, like Vampire Diaries. [Laughs]

Yahoo Lifestyle: Alright final question might be the toughest. Who’s a better debater?

[Both laugh]

RC: It depends on the topic and how prepared we are!

TW: If it's more about the constitution, because I've been doing that —

RC: Yep, it would be Thursday. But when it comes to creativity —

TW: She's very good at making metaphors.

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