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A Conversation With ‘My So-Called Life’ Creator Winnie Holzman

Here & Now‘s Robin Young sat down with Winnie Holzman and hundreds of fans at a screening of the show’s pilot, for a talk about writing about teens and female friendships – even between witches. Holzman also wrote the book for the stage musical “Wicked.”

Holzman is about to stage a brand new play at the Huntington Theater in Boston. It’s called “Choice” and Holzman says it’s about the right to choose to have an abortion, but she’s hoping to open up a conversation about abortion in a way that isn’t happening currently. In fact, she says while abortion is a serious topic, her play is a comedy.

Interview Highlights

On where Holzman got the idea for “My So-Called Life”
“There’s many, many drafts, but there is one thing I could say in terms of the voice and her. I was writing the pilot and I was kind of stuck and Ed said a really beautiful thing to me. I was scared, I’d never written a pilot before. And he said ‘don’t try to write the pilot, just write her diary.’ We’re always looking for that – creatively – we’re always looking for what’s going to unlock us. That’s part of our job, to find out what will unlock us. So I did start to write diary entries, and some of them are right in there.”

Did you take anything from your own high school experiences?
“Well yeah, but I also made stuff up. One of the things I did when I was first writing it, I lived in Los Angeles and there’s a high school, it was a pretty intense place and I was able to go for two days – that’s all I could take – I did some guest teaching, and that… you know that Stanislavsky thing about using sense memory, getting things that help unlock memories and emotions. The discovery I made was that, really in America, if you went to high school in our country, it doesn’t really matter where you went to high school. In a funny way, all high schools are the same. There’s a feeling, and I had forgotten what it was like to be imprisoned in a room and you couldn’t get up and leave and you had to wait for that horrible clock, and then all the trash in the hallways. There was a lot of trash, a lot of kids asleep, a lot of kids holding down another job. And I was trying to capture all of that.”

On the show being canceled after one season
“I just feel like it was perfect the way it was. I mean not immediately, I was devastated for a while. But you move on, and the perspective that I got back then was it’s really important to define for yourself what is success. Did we express ourselves in a meaningful way? And that’s what I believe.”

How would you have ended the series?
“What I would have done in the next season, I would have had Angela be involved with Jordan and it would have been a very difficult relationship – I mean think about it. And I would have had Angela and Brian, the two neighbors, look to each other for help and advice for relationships, even though in a way they were meant to be with each other.”

On her new play, “Choice”
“It’s a play about a woman who is a journalist who starts to investigate a story she’s going to write. And as she gets pulled into this story she starts to question her own life. And I wanted to write something that would touch on the question of a woman’s right to choose. People are on one side or another, and I thought to myself, I wish there could be a play that could open up the subject, letting it be okay that we talk about it in maybe a deeper way… and plus it’s funny. Be prepared for an incredibly funny play about abortion.”


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