Motherhood in the Theatre Part 3.a – CHILDCARE
Catch up by reading Part 1, Part 2, and the photo essay Children in the Space 1.
From MAM Ireland to PIPA UK, advocates are organizing for the official implementation of protocol and support for parents in the performing arts. This blog series has been a drop in the bucket in regard to covering the challenges faced and initiatives begun that can make a significant impact in effective participation of the parent artist. Read below for a list of testimonies and five solutions from across the states and theater disciplines that provide creative, collaborative, and healthy practices implemented by organizations to support parents in the theater arts.
The following examples have been kept anonymous unless the experiences were voluntarily made public. Anonymity is intended to protect resources without over-exposing the accommodation, as resources for parents have yet to be regulated by our unions.
Former managing director of Marin Theatre Company Michael Barker pointed me toward two revolutionary initiatives created for parent-patrons and parent-contributors. Marin Theatre introduces our list of childcare initiatives with points 1 & 2. Below is the quote from the current Director of Marketing & Communications, Sara Waugh:
In the past two seasons, we’ve created multiple initiatives for working artist parents and families in the community. Last season, we partnered with UrbanSitter to provide free childcare at one matinee performance per mainstage production. As a community partner, UrbanSitter covered the cost of the babysitters 100%, which provided parents with incredible access to a day out at the theatre without the worry of needing to find affordable and reliable childcare.
Additionally, a husband and wife actor couple that we work with frequently—Arwen Anderson & Rod Gnapp—were both cast in Bay Area productions at the same time, Arwen being cast in August: Osage County here at MTC. With the childcare fund we established with the help of generous community donors, Arwen was able to bring her son with her to rehearsal (they live in the city) and the sitter could pick him up from the theatre for the day, or Rod could do the same where he was rehearsing; having the ability to book childcare closer to rehearsal made it easier for both of them to get to their child if there was an emergency, and it made their both being cast in shows simultaneously (and feasibly) possible!
1. Childcare for patrons that is on-site, provided as a collective, and free/affordable.
The theatre’s collaboration with an authorized babysitter network can be replicated in terms of mutually-beneficial local business partnerships. The additional highlight here is the theatre’s recognition that providing childcare creates opportunities not only for contributing artists but also audience members. The promotion for UrbanSitter.com, a babysitting network site, and its sitters made the opportunity valuable – not to mention made ticket purchases more available for audience members with children, a clear benefit to the theater.
This solution of on-site, collective childcare also presents itself as a real possibility for parent-artists contributing for a production as well. If a theater is able to designate space and the terms established for fees, parents may find the costs and logistics of childcare more achievable – both in terms of production and administration.
For those who doubt the possibility of creating not only a professional but also lucrative working environment by including children, put on a jacket. And make it a deliciously warm Patagonia jacket at that. The retail company gained significant press coverage for its revolutionary, parent-friendly childcare provision – which they’ve been providing since 1983.
“Having the kids right at the center of it, it affects the whole tenor of the place and how we go about about our work. I think it humanizes it.”
– Patagonia VP of Environmental Activism, mother of two. [Watch the video.]
There you have it, progressive theatre. You’re being shown up by hiking gear.*
*Really, really well-made, incredibly soft,s save-your-life-save-the-earth-last-forever-feels-amazing-looks-incredible gear. I’ll take seven.
2. Childcare for artists that is contract/production-funded.
Establishing a fund for childcare would be a dream asset for any parent-artist. The combined housing provision for a husband-wife team offers a potential for a theater to save on space resources in exchange for financial provision to the actors’ childcare stipend.
Another actor shared a separate instance that a different touring production liquidated some assets the actor passed on in order to generate a fund for childcare. The details and union rules on this would need to be better explored, but the possibilities for theaters to find childcare fund resources in their budgets can be found in unused amenities as long as the parent-actor is complicit and the result equitable with union regulation.
Theater initiatives don’t have to be costly or part of the negotiation process. Often the most revelatory solution is the simplest, as shown by Sherrice Mojgani’s submission on her experience with Moxie Theatre and their incredible community support system:
It was Moxie Theatre in San Diego, I’m a Lighting Designer. I told them I would need to bring the baby with me on tuesdays and thursdays because my husband was teaching a class, and so the Production Manager offered to send out an email to their Moxie baby holders to see if anyone was available. This way I could tech hand free but still be nearby if he needed Mom.
– Sherrice Mojgani
3. Childcare That is Community-Driven
BABY HOLDERS. HELLO. Yes, you read that correctly. Possibly the best example I’ve heard of community solution for parenthood in the theater. Both incredibly simple and highly effective, the Baby Holders solution takes on-site care to a whole new level through community involvement. Without needing implementation into contracts or petitioning administration, Baby Holders are a solution inherent to the Moxie Theater structure itself. Founded by a group of women with the intent “to create more diverse and honest images of women for our culture,” Moxie Theater fulfills its mission not only through the content they seek for their stage but also through their work culture and treatment of employees. Moxie thus ranks high on the list of truly progressive theaters unafraid of committing their time and resources to parenting as part of the theater artist’s natural evolution and career trajectory, seeing assistance and accommodation as an artistic contribution itself. I promise to post more on this revolutionarily simple solution by publishing the interview I held with Moxie staff on the origins of this initiative.
Below are testimonies from theater practitioners who worked with companies willing to accommodate them using the resources already available. Much of the allowance comes from a work culture accepting of additional care needed for caretakers and scheduling.
I always asked for a housing with a full kitchen and short distance from the theatre so that I could visit my child as often as possible. I asked for any connection to nannies/nanny service that they have used so it’s not total strangers. It doesn’t get into the contract form but it’s certainly a negotiation for housing and basic living condition while working before you sign the contract. They don’t put why I get full kitchen but the contract will say I will get a private housing with a full kitchen. I have asked a shelter in the theatre building for nursing and play place for baby to hang out so I can see my child more quickly especially when I had to nurse her every two hours. smaller theatres are better with it. Bigger theatres are hesitant when you ask things more officially especially regarding an access to the building.
– Jiyoun Change, Scenic and Lighting Designer
I was 5 weeks postpartum when I began rehearsals at The Studio Theatre in DC for Venus in Fur. They were INCREDIBLY accommodating-giving me extra housing for my mom so she could care for baby when I was at rehearsal/performance and scheduling breaks so that I could breastfeed the wee one. And the director/artistic director David Muse was imperative in orchestrating all of this and getting me cast in the first place. There were definitely some worried board members when he declared that he wanted to hire a 7 months pregnant woman, but he went to bat for me.
– Erica Sullivan, Actress
I was once housed in an apartment that had a giant walk-in closet that I turned into a baby’s room for the two weeks my husband and daughter came to stay. I didn’t ask for it, but I told the theater they would be coming to visit for 10 days. They also got me a car seat and crib to use. I was directing the show, though. I’m not sure they were as helpful to the costume designer and her child.
– Michelle Tattenbaum, Director
4. Childcare Accommodated in the Space
Many theater parents currently hire sitters or bring family members in to help with childcare while on the job. After the parents willingly use their own time and financial resources to ensure their child’s care so they can contribute to the success of a theater’s production, the greatest asset a theater can provide is adequate and welcome space for the caretakers and their charge. The second asset a theater can provide is a list of childcare resources, such as nanny services or available sitters in the area.
As mentioned in the installment covering childcare obstacles, some theater housing audaciously forbids minors. The theaters above take conscious care not only to allow but also accommodate by arranging adequate provisions that make accepting the job possible for the parent artist. Much of this space accommodation comes from simple awareness. I casually mentioned a few of the childcare obstacles over coffee with the company manager of a major Chicago theater, and mid-conversation she stopped and made a phone call to change rooms for a playwright coming in with her mother – acting as accompanying sitter – and baby. After finishing her call, the company manager explained that our conversation made her realize the first room reserved for the playwright didn’t accommodate the extra adult as well as the second option could. I witnessed first-hand a rearrangement for accommodation born of conversation that created a new sensitivity. Administrators need to have the conversations that increase understanding the diverse needs of their hires and arrange provisions accordingly.
Some theaters are brave and secure enough to allow the caretakers and their charge on company property. Allowing a breastfeeding infant to be cared for on-site allows for work and care to continue undeterred. More on this provision in Part 3.b when we cover the issue of children in the space. Both Erica and Michelle from the testimonies above will be joining Jiyoun as some of our “What She Looks Like” subjects – keep watching for when I post their amazing interviews.
5. Childcare Designed for Theater Practitioners
Ideally, initiatives will develop into protocol and more theaters will adopt practices within their systems to efficiently accommodate their artists’ family lifestyles. In the meantime, childcare outside the theater that fits the theater’s rhythm is crucial for immediate problem solving. One stage manager mentioned that she hired another SM to sit for her on a 12 hour day – a task perhaps difficult to explain to sitters outside of the theater world.
Multiple Facebook groups have formed to connect parents with sitters who understand the theater commitments and work within the theater committee, including the Philly-Theatre Baby-Resource and Artistic Babysitters for DC Parents. Broadway Babysitters officially started in 2016. While ideally located in New York City where the need is consistent and high, the concept of sitters capable and aware of the demands and unpredictability of the theater schedule is useful to consider in our list of initiatives. From matinee sessions – where babysitting can be arranged in the city while parents see a show – to audition drop-offs and arranging private sitters for the impossible-to-schedule-normal-sitters long 10/12 tech days, Broadway Babysitters provides services that accommodate the needs of theater artists, specifically, often with experienced sitters familiar with or involved in the profession themselves. I interviewed Vasthy Mompoint, founder of Broadway Babysitters, and will be sharing her story here soon.
I successfully auditioned for a major theater while I was 39 weeks pregnant. My reader had brought his toddler to play in the lobby. A casting assistant watched over the little one for the brief time we had the callback in a neighboring room. Right after I finished having a positive conversation with a casting associate about her own toddler at home, I can personally testify that “some people get it,” as artist Stephanie Hayes articulated in her powerful interview. This scenario would likely not work on a constant basis, but the theater also didn’t burn down over the presence of children. The goal is an awareness, acceptance, and accommodation balance – to the benefit of both parent-artist and theater. The lack of a system and unified community can make the professional commitment for some working parents scant at best, and the guess work alone for what theaters are willing to accommodate versus those who will create more obstacles can sap even the most resilient parent artists who are likely already taxed for time, energy and finances. As demonstrated by these testimonies, a positive and supportive work environment is possible. A great hope would be to see more initiatives like the ones listed above replicated or inspiring similar initiatives, eventually creating a theater culture aware of parent-artists and willing to find work solutions.
Coming up in Part 3.b, we tackle the other obstacles mentioned in Part 2, including scheduling and work culture, covering more theaters who successfully integrate art and family-inclusion. Stay tuned.
Childcare initiatives I missed? Know a theater that has an incredible system in place? We’d love to cover it in an update to this installment on initiatives. Write to AuditioningMom@gmail.com to submit your experience or your theater’s healthy practices!
Chicago artists: I will be at the Women in Theater Forum on Jan 9 where you can sign up for my breakout session at another date (to be posted here as well) on Parenthood/Motherhood in the theater arts so we can start a live conversation.
Hope to see you there!