Interview: Winnie Holzman and CHOICE at McCarter Theatre Center

Winnie Holzman and CHOICE at McCarter Theatre Center

By: Apr. 22, 2024
Interview: Winnie Holzman and CHOICE at McCarter Theatre Center
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McCarter Theatre Center has announced the eagerly anticipated production of CHOICE, the latest play from the multi-hyphenate writer, Winnie Holzman.  It will be on stage from May 8th to June 2nd with matinee and evening performances available. Holzman, a Princeton University graduate, returns to the community with a new comedy that explores a woman’s right to choose in decidedly unexpected, often hilarious, and ultimately thought-provoking ways.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Winnie Holzman about her career and CHOICE.

Holzman is the writer with renowned composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz of the musical Wicked, which recently celebrated 20 years on Broadway, and has been produced all over the world.  

While in her twenties, she was accepted into the newly formed NYU Musical Theatre Program, where she studied with such luminaries as Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. Her thesis musical, Birds of Paradise, (written with composer David Evans) was eventually produced off-Broadway, directed by Laurents.   

She later joined the writing staff of the groundbreaking TV drama thirtysomething, and went on to create another memorable TV series-- My So-Called Life, starring Claire Danes. Other TV credits include Once and Again, (reuniting with her mentors, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz) Huge (with her daughter, Savannah Dooley) and Roadies (with Cameron Crowe.) 

She’s written two plays with her husband, actor Paul DooleyPost-its: Notes on a MarriageAssisted Living. Also an actress, she appeared in Jerry Maguire and as Larry David’s wife’s therapist on Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Most recently, she completed both screenplays for the movie adaptations of Wicked. 

graduate of Princeton University, (class of ’76) as well as a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Writers Guild of America, she is delighted by and grateful for this opportunity to return to Princeton.   

When did you first realize that the performing arts were in your future? 

I read a lot as a child and I loved to write poems, but at some point—and it’s kind of impossible for me to pinpoint how it started (I think I was about 11) —I began reading plays. And I couldn’t stop! Remember those big hard cover collections of plays—I think they were called Best American Plays of – the 1940’s, say, or the 1950’s. I read some of those plays over and over—John Van Druten’s I AM A CAMERA was a favorite. (it was of course later adapted to become the musical CABARET.) Then at around age 13 I began studying acting. I just felt compelled. I think people who knew me back then—like my family—may have found it odd, how driven I was to act and be on stage—it may have even seemed out of character. But I was very devoted to the idea of becoming an actor, and as a teenager I took the Long Island Railroad  every weekend into NYC to study acting with a fascinating woman named Sonia Moore who was Russian and had worked with Stanislavski (she was at a fairly advanced age when I studied with her.) My classes there introduced me to Chekhov, whose plays became a huge influence and inspiration for me.

Were there any particular people who have been instrumental in your career? 

Yes, Arthur Laurents, who I encountered when I as accepted into the newly formed NYU Musical Theatre Program, was instrumental. He encouraged me and helped me believe in myself as a writer. Then a few years later I met Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick when I joined the writing staff of their television drama thirtysomething. The opportunity to collaborate with those two exceptional men changed my life and taught me so much.

How has being a performer complemented your writings? 

I try to think about things from the actor’s point of view. How will it be for them to speak these words; play this scene? What can I bring into the scene that will allow them to be even more expressive, and that can reveal their character even more fully? I try to put myself in the character’s shoes, and also in the actors shoes.

We know you have worked with your husband, Paul and daughter, Savannah. What have you enjoyed most about these collaborations? 

It’s felt very natural, and been a joy, to collaborate with them both. In both cases, it just evolved organically. With Savannah, we were always showing each other what we were working on, and by the time she was out of college, we’d become each others’ first reader. From there it was a natural step to write something together. It’s really enjoyable and enlivening because our styles, though are similar, are not identical… and there’s things she’ll think of that I would never have thought of-- which I really appreciate. We don’t always agree, but the conversations that grow out of any disagreements always improve and deepen whatever we’re working on, which is all one could ever ask of a writing partner.

And every time I’ve collaborated with Paul, it’s brought us closer-- in unexpected ways. We’ve been married nearly 40 years.

As an alumnus of Princeton University, how do you like being back in the community? 

I’m so grateful to be able to return to Princeton with this play—it’s honestly a dream come true.  This place holds precious memories for me—it’s where I formed friendships that have sustained me through out my adult life. So to be able to return here, working on a play that means so much to me… it’s just a gift.  

You have had so many successes in your career.  Would you like to share some of the challenges of your work? 

I think the challenge is to maintain a kind of innocence—and I don’t mean blindness, but a kind of radical innocence—so that you can access that private part of you that observes the world with a kind of passionate, childlike wonder and curiosity. Anyone who spends their life creating things knows that we need to foster and protect that mysterious part of us where the impulse to create springs from. It’s tempting to want to protect oneself from possible criticism and rejection, but in the end my experience is, that’s going to shut you down. It’s an interesting, never ending challenge to remain open and vulnerable. In my experience, there are fleeting experiences of inspiration, and grace, but for the most part, writing never gets “easy”. And that’s part of what makes it worth doing.

What inspired your play CHOICE?

It started way back around 2005 or so--  I found myself wishing that someone would write a play that explored a womans’s right to choose—it struck me that  that this deep, complex subject belonged in a play. I was imagining that it could approach the subject in unexpected, thought provoking ways. After a while, I realized that wishing that “someone” would write such a play meant I needed to write it.

How do you like working with the team at McCarter Theatre

There’s a great spirit here—it’s a dedicated, energized group of people. Sarah Rasmussen, the artistic director – and the director of CHOICE – has created such a welcoming, warm atmosphere. She’s extremely collaborative and insightful, with such a positive attitude—I feel really fortunate to have connected with her.

What would you like people to know about the show, CHOICE.

Well, I prefer people not to know too much—I personally love to experience a play without knowing too much ahead of time. It’s fun to go to the theatre and be surprised! But basically I would say that it explores the subject of a woman’s right to choose, but not in a polemical way. And it touches on other choices in our lives—like whether to end or hold on to a friendship-- the choice to let go of someone you love. It’s at times humorous, and sometimes serious—like our lives.

Tickets for CHOICE start at $25 and are now on sale at or can be purchased by calling the Patron Services Office at 609-258-2787. Groups of 10 to 20 save 10% and groups of 21 or more save 15% off tickets (zone restrictions apply.) Princeton University Students can access free tickets with Passport to the Arts using code PUTIGER. More information on PU Student Tix for events at McCarter by visiting McCarter Theatre Center is located at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ  08540.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME



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