And Other Childcare Solutions To Which I Have Not (Yet) Resorted
Part 1 of
Room for Motherhood in the Theatre Arts
In this three part series, I will be introducing obstacles facing motherhood in the arts and identify what I’ve gathered from over 30 testimonies, statements, and solutions from theatre artists and companies around the country in terms of how motherhood can not only be accommodated but work as an asset for the theatre community at large.
One item was so prevalent, it deserved its own piece – the issue of childcare. When we need it, who provides it, and what it costs us.
At this moment artists are fighting for a living wage for off-broadway contracts (#fairwageonstage). An incredibly important fight, but that fight is happening because the pay is already insufficient to support a single individual, much less someone who had the audacity to expand their life into a family. In short, childcare costs rarely – if ever – fit in the theatre artist’s budget because most often the budget barely pays the rent. Not much is left over after “tuna cans, crackers, umbrella” even if you sacrifice the umbrella purchase.
Even with a combined income, and 2 jobs myself, paying for sitters just to audition was and is a costly endeavor. I also travel out of the city, so my sitters watch our sweet biscuit on-site or take her for a beautiful stroll. To figure time to hand off baby, discuss any instructions, buffer for the sitter’s train to run late, prep time for the audition, wait time in the green room, few minutes buffer after my time not to feel rushed in the room, we’re looking at booking 1.5 hrs to 2, depending on the office’s likelihood of running overtime – with a base rate of $15/hr in NYC, that’s $30 per audition #mommath #mombudget #paytoplay. Talk about being selective about the work you can do – or even go for. Many off-broadway shows aren’t feasible for me – not only because the paycheck itself wouldn’t even cover childcare for rehearsal and performances, but because the money already starts stacking against me just in submitting for the job.
Social media is a common go-to for me when the sitter is needed LAST MINUTE, which often happens in the world of auditions – a typical urgent, next-day post and update from me usually looks something like this:
After about a year of posting, I learned that some older friends were mortified thinking Facebook functioned like craigslist, and I was picking up any stranger off the internet who replied OBO-style instead of a closed network of trusted individuals. After hearing rumors that a grandmother was about to move down to make sure no strangers off the street were watching her great-grand-baby or sister’s friends jaw-dropped and shuddered reading my request, I posted a disclaimer:
I’ve used every method to acquire sitters in order to make my audition appointments – family help, buying friends thank you lunches, hiring friends who are sitters, hiring new sitters, and even taking the baby into the audition with me when it all fell through (audition went great by the way) – about every method except the one mentioned in the title.
Before motherhood, I earned my primary income from being a part-time nanny and babysitter since the age of 15. By my third year post-grad school while in NY, working as a nanny and babysitter for working moms and dads or couples out on dates or errands was my full-time income provider. It was the most consistent income I made in the city – and I worked off-hours. I kept 9-5 free 4 days a week for auditions, and my evenings and weekends were packed full with well-paid hours of care.
My first job as a sitter on urbansitter.com came through someone I had worked with on a show, actually – and someone who would become a hero of sorts. A tony-nominated actress and single mother hired me to watch her middle-school aged son after school and in the evenings when she went from rehearsal to tech to performance schedule. Seeing her accomplish this feat made a huge impression on me. She was an amazing mother doing what it took to invest in her amazing gift and provide for her child. As one of our “What She Looks Like” artists Jill Harrison says, “it takes a village” – I was an asset to her, but she led the way doing what it took to afford it all.
My 4th year of work after grad school, I switched my profile on UrbanSitter from “available sitter” to “parent” and began to search myself for individuals like me with background checks, CPR certification, and a real care for kids. All this work goes on top of learning sides, planning travel, packing for myself and my kid for the day, emotional preparation, and getting the day jobs done that allow me to barely afford it – and that’s just to audition.
Each time an appointment comes in, not only do I check in with my passion and if I love the work, I check in with my budget and schedule and then factor in what childcare would then look like if I actually booked the job before saying “yes” to going in. All that work and investment for a 5-10 minute audition (2-3 minute for television) multiplies exponentially when it needs to be in place for a 3 month rehearsal + performance run at a 40hr minimum week. My recent theatre booking fortunately worked out to where family could visit and provide the childcare and support I needed to do the job. This option is not always available to me, however, and sometimes never available for great artists who deserve to be working but cannot because of the expense. An off-broadway contract can be as low as $566 per week. An experienced nanny starts at $500-700 per week (not including overtime for tech hours). The lower range may not get you someone with the references or experiences that make you comfortable, but hey – it will mean that you’re making a whopping $66 profit per week. Put that money toward your metro card alone, and you have $147 left for the MONTH. With off-broadway contracts, no housing is provided, so rent is on you. Your only option for buying groceries then is to sleep on the subway, and the lights keep your baby awake, so it doesn’t come recommended.
A second job on top of successfully booking a theatre job is what most actors have to resort to when working off-broadway in order to have somewhere to sleep and food to eat. Add an extra person to that, and you will either never see them or not provide for them. The cost, then, of working on some of the greatest theater that may benefit from artists who are mothers and their gifts is too high for these artists to participate. We are limiting our talent pool and excluding great artists when there is no support provided for the family artist. I’ve been able to continue to pursue my career and find booking success, but not without sacrifices, selectivity, and noticing these obstacles I tirelessly work around are also holding quite a few great people back from their deserved trajectory, marginalizing mothers who are artists, and sending the message that the theatre has no place for them. Everything I love and believe about the theatre is in direct opposition to holding people back, marginalizing groups of people, and saying “you don’t belong.”
So my question is:
How can the theater community provide support so that artists in the midst of motherhood don’t have to opt out simply because the childcare resources aren’t there?
Increasing pay for single individuals alone is already a struggle for many off-broadway and storefront companies, but that doesn’t mean families need to wait to expect initiatives for change or to hear a “yes” in regard to family-supportive measures. Numerous theatre moms wrote to me expressing gratitude when a theatre company provided support and accommodation in the form of housing, scheduling, or simply space to pump. These simpler steps to be supportive make a world of difference. My next piece highlights ways theatre companies have alienated their motherhood talent base and how their refusal to acknowledge or help the artist’s situation contradicts the “culture of yes” the craft claims to promote.