What She Looks Like: Stephanie Hayes, Actor/Theatre Artist

I had front row seats to Stephanie’s performances as a colleague in grad school. They were raw, brave, and unapologetically honest. Stephanie characteristically brings these same qualities to articulating the relationship of mother and actor/theatre artist in this moving interview. Much of what she encounters is echoed in an earlier post by other mothers who also encountered the obstacles mothers face when creating at a professional level. Stephanie’s personal testimony generously offers a transparency to the inner thoughts and outer struggles of a woman who has the audacity to expand herself. She also highlights the importance and validity of mothers wanting time after birth to bond and regather, embracing a distance from the hustle of the business. This time of human connection and reflection can be enormously beneficial for personhood and art – the profession we pursue should respect and validate this time, allowing for an artist to feel no apology in taking it.

At the time she submitted this interview, she had questions about her theatrical involvement. While she remains open to that evolution, she now has a production in the works with Elevator Repair Service in Washington, DC called The Select. You should also watch for her translation and adaptation of Strindberg’s The Creditors currently in the works. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of what we hear from the devoted mother and artist Stephanie Hayes. Read below for her insights on the magic her daughter brings to the work and some changes we need in order for better work to be made. Enjoy!


Stephanie Hayes, Actor/Theatre Artist

Name: Stephanie Hayes

Profession: Actor/Theatre Artist

Status: Mother to Zada – a 14-month old red-head

What surprised you about having a child and working your performing arts life?
Having a baby cracked my life open in the most intense way imaginable. It put in to question my whole identity as woman, artist and human being. It has made everything more. More joy, more fear, more confidence, more uncertainty. More more more. The biological urge to make a baby descended on me quite suddenly and I had always said that I would only do it if my body asked for it. And it did. That’s how the Gods trick you in to it; they make the urge stronger than your ability to think through how it’s all going to work. I felt very hopeful during my pregnancy, cocky even. I felt invincible. I took it on the way I would an acting role: I researched, meditated, exercised and got myself a coach: a doula. My pregnancy was rather audition-less; I don’t think people know what to do with pregnant actors. I mean, I understand that longer theater commitments are tricky, but guest roles on TV should be possible, no? In any case, I took an office job so I could save money for my “maternity leave”. I was glad for the brief financial stability. I worked up until the moment I went in to labor and birthed my daughter in a pool at home in Brooklyn. It was a most animal event, the birth. I can’t believe they haven’t written more about birth in the history books; it’s enormity is comparable to a revolution. The inevitability, the pain, the loss of time and place. I was a nurturing warrior and the first few months of motherhood were wonderful for me. I surrounded myself with mothers, aunties and wise women who knew what I would need to keep PPD at bay. My spouse was a champ. He took my job so that we could keep the income in the family while I was mothering. All was tough, good and new.

However, when the time came to burst out of the blissful mothering cocoon I’d been in, I was shocked to find that I had no desire to perform. No desire to audition, to get a job or even be creative. It made me question who I was as an artist and also as a mother. What’s left of me now if all the things I thought I loved so much are not appealing anymore? What kind of example would I be to my daughter if I didn’t know my passions? There is a reason some countries give you a year’s maternity leave – so you can foster a healthy bond with your child which in turn will create healthy citizens, but also so that you can take the time you need to return to yourself after the outer-space odyssey that is birth. It takes time. It’s been a long process to find the desire to throw myself back in the game, and I still don’t know that theater is where I should be. When you are being observed everyday, witnessed by the most adoring audience member, it’s hard to find the need to get on the stage. My creative impulses are now more in the vein of writing, making theater and teaching. I know that not all acting mothers feel this way – I certainly didn’t think I would. That’s the scary thing about birth, you don’t know who you’ll be the other side of it.

What excites you about having a child and working your performing arts life?
I know I’m a better actor now. I know I’m more daring, more courageous and less worried about what other people think. I am less concerned with my appearance or aging. I birthed a human being out of my body. I nourished that being with my breasts. I walked through the dessert to bring her here and even though I am less my former self, I am more human, more physically connected to that indescribable and universal thing that some people call God. As someone who makes my own work, I am excited about bringing my daughter to rehearsals, exposing her to the magic of theater making and I dream of putting her in my shows. I hope the theater will be one of the places where she learns about humanity and compassion. But you won’t find me hoping that she becomes an actor. I won’t stop her, but I would never encourage it.

What challenges you about motherhood and your performing artist life?
As someone who comes from Sweden, where you get 1.5 years paid maternity leave, I struggle with the lack of support that mothers get in this country. It’s brutal. And it’s particularly hard for performing mothers. I was just offered a wonderful opportunity to work with a director I admire. He was very supportive of my “situation” and arranged appropriate accommodations and childcare, but then we found out that the theater itself does not allow artists to bring their children. So, I was not able to take the job. On the other hand, when Zada was 4 months, I shot an indie-film and the director made sure to pay for on-site child care and I nursed her between takes. So, of course there are people out there who get it, but it’s scary that there is no system in place, that I just have to pray and hope that the people I want to work with are going to accommodate me. I hate having to feel bad about mentioning that I have a baby, worried that it will be a deal breaker. I should not have to feel shame about being a mother, when it is a point of great pride and honor. I feel in my soul that becoming a mother has made me more focused and a better artist, and yet I feel like I’m being punished for having had the audacity to give birth. People should WANT to work with mothers. They have done something brave and magnificent. They are forced to be heroines on a daily basis – we should want them in our rehearsal rooms. And we should do what we can to accommodate them.

What you think people should know: 
Baby sitters in New York make more money than actors, unless you’re on TV or Broadway. I’ve had to say no to a number of jobs because I can’t afford to take them. As long as you are breastfeeding, the baby is dependent on your body, so inevitably it’s harder to leave town, travel or stay away for long hours. I’m not auditioning at the moment. I’m taking a course in creative writing and slowly building my own show. So, yes – my “career” has perhaps taken a bit of a beating. But as many parents would say, I would change nothing. It’s such a bizarre paradox, because yes everything gets harder, tighter, busier – but I would do it all over again if it meant I could have that same little redhead in my life. I mean come on, she’s the best clown I’ve ever met and she makes me stop and look at birds and squirrels.

Production Photo: Stephanie Hayes in Illusions at the Baryshnikov Art Center

Some Absolute Favorite Quotes:

“That’s the scary thing about birth, you don’t know who you’ll be on the other side of it.”

– Stephanie Hayes, Actor/Theatre Artist

 

“Of course there are people out there who get it, but it’s scary that there is no system in place, that I just have to pray and hope that the people I want to work with are going to accommodate me. I hate having to feel bad about mentioning that I have a baby, worried that it will be a deal breaker. I should not have to feel shame about being a mother, when it is a point of great pride and honor.”

– Stephanie Hayes, Actor/Theatre Artist

 

“I feel in my soul that becoming a mother has made me more focused and a better artist, and yet I feel like I’m being punished for having had the audacity to give birth.”

– Stephanie Hayes, Actor/Theatre Artist

 

“I can’t believe they haven’t written more about birth in the history books; it’s enormity is comparable to a revolution.”

– Stephanie Hayes, Actor/Theatre Artist

 


Honesty and expansion are two great qualities of an artist. When the business creates obstacles against these qualities, there is a problem with the structure of the business – not the artist. I hope you all feel empowered to take the time you need and create the work you love. In the meantime, we’ll continue writing so that the business makes room for the art and not the other way around. Go get ’em.

More profiles coming soon!

If you are or you know a performing artist professional and mom who wants to share thoughts, answer these questions and shoot them to me at this contact form!

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