Be a Light.
Here are testimonies of cool solutions for parent-artists and theatres proving that inclusion and progress for parent-artists exists, is possible, and should be standard in our work culture.
Nothing could please me more than investigating and gathering healthy practices for parenthood inclusion in the theater arts from progressive minds and artists around the country. Our series began by outlining some common obstacles in Parts 1 & 2 and kicked off our introduction of possible and in-practice solutions around the country with our photo essay and Solutions I/Part 3 on childcare. Now, on a day made for stories of theaters around the country with progressive walk to back up their progressive talk, we continue with Solutions II/Part 4, a collection of healthy practices and possible solutions to the remaining obstacles on our list that fall under three categories: Work Opportunities, Work Space, and Work Life/Culture.
I recently had a friend and veteran of the theater ask me about my blog, “but what are you expecting to do?” – providing the collected list below is a good example of my mission, but I’ll articulate it here more specifically: increase awareness of the obstacles facing parents in the theater community and advocate for creative and viable solutions to reduce those obstacles and create pathways in for disenfranchised caregivers in the theatre arts. Highlighting examples of working solutions and emphasizing creative and unconventional problem-solving for mutual gain between parent-artist and theatrical institution is instrumental to inciting change and empowering risk takers to develop family-inclusive artistic practices.
This list is far from exhaustive but provides a sampling of positive examples that hopefully will become more public to alter the conversation and behavior toward family-artist-friendly practices. The work isn’t over with posting the list below – the exploration is ongoing. Photos are already being collected for our CHILDREN IN THE SPACE 2 photo essay, and if you know of obstacles left off or want to give a shout out to a family-friendly theater with a healthy practice, shoot me an email here. I want to know it.
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.
1. Family Residency Programs
“Julia Jordan helped organize the SPACE on Ryder Farm and The Lilly Awards Foundation’s Family Residency program, which sounds revolutionary.” – Adrien-Alice Hansel, Dramaturg
The SPACE on Ryder Farm Family Residency is indeed revolutionary. With women-in-theatre advocates The Lilly Awards in partnership, SPACE now offers TWO residency weeks in the year to parents and children with structured time to play and structured time to create, meals provided. This opportunity is listed first because of its total inclusion of the parent lifestyle and recognition of the child’s potential for creative contribution. The family is accepted as a community to the awarded residency, and more opportunities like this one – where parents are sponsored to create and continue building their relationships in the same space – would provide the paths back in to creating that many parents seek that find having a child taking them out of the creative world entirely for a time. A crucial detail – indirect but far from insignificant – is the result of equality in residencies such as this one. Because the time is sponsored and children are included in the structure, the socially-dictated burden commonly placed on the mother to care for the children is evenly distributed among all members of the family as they are all fed, housed, and incorporated into the creative process. Below is a quote from the SPACE on Ryder Farm website describing the opportunity (click the link for application – deadline for 2017 is February 7):
“All family residents (parents and children) will take part in three communal farm-fresh meals daily. SPACE will facilitate creative and nature-focused programming for the children, culminating in an informal group share. Simultaneously SPACE supports the adult artists by creating an environment with structured time and space to create (as well as structured time and space to be with their children). The response from residents and the larger community has been resoundingly positive and the high demand for this program has compelled SPACE to expand the residency in 2017, making a second week available to more families…” – SPACE on Ryder Farm Family Residency [Read More]
2. Dedicated Project Workspace with Childcare/Child-inclusion
“[Mother House is a] short-term project would demonstrate how a dedicated space provides crucial support for mother artists’ professional development.” – Mother House, UK
Mother House developed as a space for mothers who were visual artists to enter a dedicated space and create work alongside their children or with the children simply on site. Created as “a new independent directive by the Procreate Project in collaboration with Desperate Artwives,” Mother House blows the lid off of potential motherhood-inclusive space that allows art and family lifestyle to co-exist and even inform the structure.
3. Mother-Artist Allies and Advocates in the Hiring/Casting Process
“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, Actor
“Not a theater but a development opportunity — the O’Neill was AMAZING about my bringing my 13-month-old AND his father with me for a month. They were welcomed with wide-open arms.” – Jenny Connell Davis, Playwright
“Not quite theatre experience but I am a theatre new mom.. Baby girl is just 5 weeks old. I got pregnant at the end of a run of a show I was doing at The Public in NYC. I decided to stay in NYC for pilot season and ended up booking a pilot. When I told my agents I was pregnant, prior to the actual booking, they lost their minds and you would have thought I was the first mother known to man. Actually told me he would have to “dead my pilot season.” However, when the casting directors at all the networks found out, they were all sooooo excited and told me to “bring it!” I ended up shooting that pilot 6 months pregnant and everyone was soo supportive and excited that a baby was coming.. Well that pilot is now a series and I am 5 weeks post partum, shooting it. The network could not be more thrilled.. They check in, I pump during hair and makeup and rest when I need to.” -Tamberla Perry, Actor
Irish theatre artist, mother, and founding member of MAM Ireland Sarah FitzGibbon calls “falling off the invitation list” when theatre practitioners with hiring opportunities fail to offer mothers or new parents job opportunities because the artists have families and may not be ready or interested. In addition to awareness of the tendency to discredit parent-artist, allies and advocates on the other side of the table become the next best asset to creating job opportunities for parents in the theater. Allowing a mother or father to determine their own readiness for the job by offering them the opportunity to say yes or no allows them to continue to have primary agency over their artistic trajectory. Advocates and allies of parent-artists create bridges that keep pathways open for work and diversify the work itself with the inclusion of gifted parent-artists.
5. Maternity/Paternity Leave
“I work as a staff electrician for Yale School of Drama/ Yale Rep and they were very accommodating for both pregnancies and kid’s current needs. After my first was born in Sept, I took 3.5 months off, then came back evenings/weekends for the spring, then full time the following school year, allowing me to be home day times for 11 months. With the second, I took off 5 months from March to August.” – Linda-Cristal Young, Head Staff Electrician
Yale has been highlighted positively multiple times by our contributors for family-friendly practices for both creative and administrative positions! Their official policy is unknown, but the feedback from employees, including this one from Linda-Cristal, does not go unnoticed. It’s a refreshing example of an employee whose dedication is rewarded with employer provision in order for life and work to continue in a productive and collaborative way for both parties.
Unlike Yale’s provision here, many theatres continue to function without any parental leave policies whatsoever. The fight for gender equality cannot make progress as long as industries, including the self-proclaimed progressive discipline of the theater, remain ignorant of or refuse to provide maternity and/or paternity leave for their employees. If a theatre promotes itself as a progressive space, it must create progressive policy in its work environment, including but not limited to the inclusion of maternity/paternity leave for its employees.
6. The Maternity Room/Pumping-Breastfeeding On-Site
I can’t show you the photo or share the name because it was shared privately, but just know that somewhere in NYC, I have seen in photo evidence, there is – on work location – a door specifically marked with an engraved sign “maternity room.” Due to breastfeeding moms on staff who need to pump at specific intervals in their day, the company designated a comfortable space, private for the employees benefit, to allow for pumping so that the mother-artists’ workday could continue its flow and the mothers could continue their milk storage. While it should be allowed in the space when needed to be, for some mothers needing privacy without a designated space, pumping on the toilet is standard and unacceptable. This solution of a Maternity Room is simple, thoughtful, and effective, and can make a huge difference in creating a workable environment for a new mother deserving of that job.
“Breastfeeding my 5 month old at intermission while playing Sandy in Grease at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. The staff was awesome and super supportive of my new motherhood!” – Rebecca Kupka Overton, Actor
“I have asked for a shelter in the theatre building for nursing and play place for my baby to hang out…especially when I had to nurse her every two hours. Smaller theatres are better with it. Bigger theatres are hesitant when you ask for things more officially, especially regarding an access to the building. For instance, I had a terrible experience with [high-end off-broadway theatre], but unofficially everyone was fine with my child and my mother hanging out in the building.” – Jiyoun Chang, Scenic/Lighting Designer
Providing space on-site for a child with a caregiver for a breastfeeding mom is another instrumental provision for the mother-artist who is right for the job and simultaneously a new mother. Theatres willing to negotiate the boundaries they need to protect their space while accommodating the space a breastfeeding mother needs create a fruitful collaboration and diversify their talent.
7. Family-conscious Housing
“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.” – Erica Sullivan, Actor
“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
While apartment space varies depending on a theatre’s resources, accommodations should be made with a family-awareness. Also mentioned in our solutions for childcare, housing is important to mention in terms of space because theatres need to have an awareness of family-artist needs and see their space resources in terms of an artist with children when the opportunity arises. It’s not a superfluous resource burden, it’s one of the necessary factors of being in the business of accommodating diverse groups of people.
8. Flexibility for Children in the Space
9. Virtual Meetings in a New Era
“Sarah Slobodien Dovere and everyone at Woolly Mammoth Theatre were so supportive when I had my daughter. I had a really long commute, so Sarah let me telecommute two days each week so that I wasn’t losing that time each day with my baby. It was so important to have that flexibility!” – Sabrina Sikes Thornton, Foundation & Corporate Relations Manager, Woolly Mammoth Theatre
We currently make theatre in a time where access to conversations across the globe are available at the touch of a screen. While theatre will forever be a banner art for in-person human contact, its accessibility from the creative end could benefit from access that allows for collaborative conversation to not be limited to space or location when possible. When the right person for the job could benefit from meeting in separate spaces, a production could flourish when its collaborators show flexibility and a bit of tech savvy.
10. Representation in Produced Work
“Ellen White, Executive Producer at Gorilla Tango, posted the opportunity in the Chicago Theatre Parents Facebook group. I contacted Ellen to express my interest and it turned out that she was already familiar with my work. We had an interview where I pitched my concept and shortly after I was hired for the commission.” – Jenny Seidelman, Playwright
In an interview with AuditioningMom.com, Jenny Seidelman describes her opportunity to write a commissioned piece that she pitched as a “parent-centric comedy” (read the full interview here). Gorilla Tango snatched up the opportunity and the piece started rehearsals yesterday. In the audition notice, parents were encouraged to audition, a great example of family-sensitive collaboration and networking due to inclusion of a parent-artist, which leads us to the next solution.
11. Alternatives to Networking After-Hours
“I’ve started regular breakfast dates with a couple artistic collaborators of mine. It has done the most to make me feel connected when I don’t stay out late.” – Hannah Hessel Ratner, Audience Enrichment Manager, Shakespeare Theatre Company
“What do you think the possible solutions are? Besides going to matinees. I sometimes feel like women are shy about networking in the times when we encounter one another…like on the playground, etc. Like, we feel like there’s some rule against networking, that we should only be developing personal relationships during those times. But why?…My collaborators will definitely show up for morning coffees/breakfasts. I love doing that. It’s more missing the soft networking late at night that concerns me…” – Michelle Tattenbaum, Director
“I think [online] groups like this are a good place to start! We as women need to have each other’s backs and acknowledge how stacked the deck is against us. We must do more to pull each other up!” – Cristin Hubbard Miller, Actor
The post-rehearsal/show drinks and weekend meetups at bars create an environment for relationship-building that often leads to trust and/or networking that generates more jobs, especially in a discipline based on collaboration and freelance artist hustle like the theatre. For parents, and often the sacrifice is maternal almost to a point of potentially contributing to the overall gender inequality in numerous professions, late night meetups remain an impossibility, resulting in a disconnect from cast and/or community. Regular breakfasts and intentionally adjusting the time of the meetup can create more accessibility. However, awareness of the other parents in a production community should be encouraged so that the “soft networking” late at night recognizes the group is incomplete when the parent can’t attend and hopefully effort on the part of the surrounding members will proactively create additional solutions as well.
The online or otherwise collaboration of theatre mothers/parents not only creates a sense of community that can provide emotional support, it also provides a networking platform not dependent on time or location – a huge asset for artists whose lives revolve around accommodating multiple schedules. The networking platform itself can and has been used as an opportunity to find meetups with other artists who are also parents, creating a networking that is family-inclusive due to the understanding nature of the participants. Intentionally networking with other family artists may help steer the collaborations in a direction of family-friendly work culture, creating work with an awareness of the needs of artists with care responsibilities.
12. Rethink Schedules/Adjusting the “Staying Late Always Means Dedication” Perception
“Family-friendly scheduling does not mean that all events after 5:30 should be prohibited. Rather, it means that those engaged in programming should be conscious of the exclusions created by after-hours events and should take proactive steps to accommodate faculty unable to stay on campus into the evening…The larger problem is when a center, institute, program, or department puts the bulk of its programming at 5:30; a faculty member with family responsibilities may be excluded from conversations crucial to his or her professional development for a period of years.” – Office of the Provost, Brown University
Not a theatre, but the best memo I’ve seen on scheduling adjustment at a high-end institution still intent on producing as often and as well as before the memo was issued. This adjustment to work culture recognizes that there is no perfect time and by no means demands that all meetings (or rehearsals or production meetings) accommodate family schedules but instead insists on an awareness and sensitivity that allows for a reworking of assumptions and timing that would allow for conflicts and adjust so that attendance is accessible to a range of various faculty (artists). The theatre as a discipline benefits from artists with experiences outside of its walls, and creating obstacles to showing up for people with caring responsibilities may incorrectly project a perception of divided interest or lack of dedication. Again, the right worker with the highest amount of dedication may still be unable to attend an arbitrarily scheduled meeting or stay for an unforeseen additional half hour. Awareness and intentionality to consider diverse lifestyles in timing and duration may help the theatre work-culture create schedules and produce within respected time boundaries to the benefit of a diverse and dedicated group of artists, some of whom may have caring responsibilities.
“This is for low-budget film, not theater, but I was blown away when production offered to fly me PLUS TWO COMPANION TICKETS across the country. My son was only 4 months at the time and we would never have bought him a seat otherwise. But it was a huge paradigm shift moment for me too: oh, having a newborn doesn’t make me an aberration; I’m now just another crew member with family. I was IN the club!” – Samara Bay, Actor/Dialect Coach
“I’m just starting to work now that baby is here, so more on that in the future! But when I was pregnant I did two weeks of long days on a special event where the company helped me by making sure I’d be able to sit lots (this is a problem on these jobs always), paying for Uber rides home at night and providing someone to continually bring me food during the event open hours!” – Jenna Woods, Stage Manager
The theater has a long way to go in terms of how it welcomes diverse groups of people, many with more oppression and exclusion than I would ever come across, but a group that often feels shorted are the working mothers in the theater. In a craft that prides itself on revolutionary progress, women who expand themselves are often made to pay for it, or worse, completely disqualified.
Encouraging inclusive practices for artists with caring responsibilities will come from awareness and advocacy. These testimonies are just a few examples of the sort of practices that may go a long way in making the theatre accessible to artists who also parent.
Below is a letter that sums up awesome, healthy, supportive, and profoundly simple perspective of working with families in the theatre arts:
(From Vineyard Arts Project in response to my inquiry why we had seen and received so much positive feedback from parent-artists who work at Vineyard.)
Thank you for your email and your interest in Vineyard Arts!
I am pleased that we have been getting some positive attention from welcoming families into our artistic process at Vineyard Arts, but I can’t claim that there is a particular philosophy behind it. To be honest, I don’t know why anyone would do it any other way. I certainly never thought of it as a choice but as a given that children would be welcome if we wanted to work with their parents. If parents always have to choose between their children and work, we, as producers, are severely limiting ourselves from the widest range of talent out there. Plus it’s just more fun having kids around at the end of a long rehearsal day!
I hope this is useful for your article.
Founder and Artistic Director
Vineyard Arts Project
“The Vineyard agreed to hire me as the PSM for Indecent, a show I have been on for years, knowing full well I wouldn’t make it through opening. They let me select an ASM (whom they signed off on) to take over for me as we went into tech. Baby Jack came six weeks early – the first day of prep – but they allowed me to stay on contract for two weeks to get things started without pressuring me in any way. Stage management meetings were held in the parents’ lounge at the hospital and I traveled back and forth from the NICU to rehearsal. They were lovely, welcoming, supportive, and thoughtful and I will always sing the praises of them and DR Theatrical. And the work kept me clearheaded and balanced amidst the anxiety of delivering a little early bird. It’s not for everyone but the whole team made it work and for that I am grateful.” – Amanda Spooner, Stage Manager