You’ve performed Ann on Broadway and all over the nation. Has the current political climate over the years changed how the show has been received or even performed?
When I reprised the play in Austin in 2016, where it was filmed in live performance, the audience was far more vocal in their response to those moments which revealed a progressive, inclusive point of view, than they had been on Broadway three years before. At Lincoln Center, the ebullient character of Ann took center stage and was found terrifically engaging and entertaining and true to the real person. A mere three years later, the audience’s ears pricked up to the vital themes of fair play at the center of her career as a leader. And just recently this fall, there was a production of Ann that played Austin and Dallas which prompted passionate fans to comment how I must have updated the script!
But no— of course I hadn’t. It’s just that the times have made Ann’s audience more emotionally attuned to the righteous themes she cared about. The idea of having a leader who tells the truth and who fights the worthy battles makes audiences cheer with admiration and yearning.
Why is this story so important to tell right now?
I see people all over social media these days saying things like “where is Ann Richards, we need her now!!!” We so long for honesty in our leaders. Modern life is so very complex and fraught… if we have no integrity in government, we are really cooked.
I guess one message Ann carries is… “leaders do come.” I have tapes of some spitball sessions between Ann and her speech writer, Suzanne Coleman. Suzanne could be very morose about what was happening in the country, and typically whined and complained about “horrible”” politicians. Ann was far more upbeat, just by nature. Looking at republican candidates, Suzanne would moan“—but who have WE got…?” and Ann would say, “Quit whining… there’s a COUPLA guys. Mark Werner is good, Obama is capable of it…” She always felt the world was rolling forward, no matter the passing moods— and said, “there will be somebody…!”
Why is live theater a great vessel for a story like Ann Richards’?
When I first felt this unexpected passion to do something creative about Ann Richards, I assumed it would be like a “movie of the week,” maybe covering the second half of her career, from when she quit drinking to her election as Governor ten years later. I plunged into researching, and thought I’d take the project to someone like George Clooney or Norman Lear–guys who loved the Governor, and who would maybe produce. One day I was driving to work, and pulled over the moment the realization came to me… “Oh no, no, no…it’s not on TV! It has to be a play! We need to see her live, her living engagement with characters and the audience. Ann was the most alive person on earth. We need to see her in action.
Ann Richards is known for her one-liners. Do you have a personal favorite?
She was generally funny all the day long, humor was the social gear workings of which she was past mistress. As I wrote the play, even I was somehow magically blessed with a special insight to come up with a bunch of fabulous one-liners and jokes in her style for the play (which is not in Ann’s own words at all—why I had to get to know her incredibly well before putting pen to paper.) The point is, she was always funny, smart and very quick witted, nimble on her feet. During her campaign, she had to constantly try to avoid questions about the death penalty, because it was deeply the law of the land in Texas, and would not change any time soon. As governor, it was a frozen reality she would have to deal with. Some reporters following her down a hall, tried to force a comment, saying ‘What would you do if it was brought up in the leg