The first words that caught my eye on the Facebook post were “kids at rehearsal today.” Lynne Childress had posted in a DC Theatre Parents group on Facebook to share her experience producing a show with parent – and their kids – in the room during the process.
She ended the post with a proactive solution, adding that as she’s filling out her theatre company’s next grant, she will be sure to “include childcare” in the expenses it should cover. This awareness breeding immediate action is inspiring, so I reached out to Lynne to see how her production company experienced children in the room and what they learned. Here’s her awesome interview and bullet-point how-tos at the end from her answers. Enjoy!
What is your theatre company and your role in it?
We are Building Better People Productions, and we are a professional theater company that does shows for young audiences, all based in themes of kindness and respect. I am the founder and artistic director.
What was your children in the space experience?
For our current show, “The Imaginators”, 4 out of the 6 people involved in the rehearsal process had kids that they brought to rehearsal at some point. This included 2 of the actors, the director (myself), and the stage manager.
Were you planning on having children present before it happened?
We knew that one of the actors would be regularly bringing his 4 month-old daughter, because this was the only way he could be a part of the show, as his wife works mostly during the days, and he is usually home with the baby. At the first rehearsal, one of the other actors asked if she could bring HER baby to the next rehearsal, and we said sure, and she brought her 8 month-old as well as her almost 3 year-old, who she sat in the back with a movie. It turned out that another actor in the show used to be a nanny, so when he wasn’t onstage, he hung out and entertained them. Then I thought, wait, I read an article once about a theater that provided childcare for their actors and staff members so they could work, and I thought that would be an awesome idea. I was planning on having my son have a babysitter at our house during a rehearsal, and instead I asked the sitter if she would come to the rehearsal space and watch all of the kids who came that day. And she said yes.
What was your experience of having them in the space?
It was honestly varied, but that is life with kids, right? The first days that we had babysitters, either that I hired, or that the cast brought (our stage manager brought a friend with her on some days to watch her grandkids), it was easier to keep the kids in another room, or if they wanted to come in and see what was happening in the rehearsal space, the person watching them could walk them in, then hang out. Then we had days where they were kids but no babysitter, and they just sat in the back and watched, and we were able to take breaks and attend to what they needed. There were also days with and without babysitters where the kids got so into it that they ran up onstage. Yeah, that was a challenge. But they actually gave us clues on how kids would react to the show. It was great preparation in some ways.
“Having parent artists/and their kids cared for in this way is crucial.”
What insights did you gain from the experience?
I think that parent/artists often don’t work in their fields because of the challenges of finding reliable childcare, of finding people who are available on a temporary basis, and being able to afford a sitter once you do find one. This first and foremost, despite the challenges of it, makes me know that having parent artists/and their kids cared for in this way is crucial. I think that when I do this again, I will try to have the same sitter (or sitters) for the whole process, and I will have it available at every rehearsal, if I can. I think that not knowing what to expect from day to day, for the kids and the parents, can be stressful, and if the kids knew the person watching them, it would make them more comfortable staying with them in the space. Having a consistent person would also let us set parameters and a schedule, like when the kids get to come check on the parents (which I love), and then they maybe CAN watch rehearsal. It was really fun having the kids be a part of this process, and I think with more planning, it could be even more incredible. Parents get to relax because they know their kids are cared for, and they are able to perform, and the kids know the parents are close.
What are your hopes with your current grant application?
It would be great to have funds for childcare covered, so that I can offer it to artists who want to work with us. I hope that funders are excited about the possibilities of this.
How does this effect you as a mother, specifically?
It makes me really happy . I have turned down work because I didn’t have childcare, and couldn’t afford it on what I was being paid, and at the same time, I had a theater pay a sitter at the space to watch my son while I taught, because I said that I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have someone to watch him. It made me feel valued as an artist, and also secure as a parent that he was taken care of. I have paid sitters during rehearsals where there were just 2 kids as kind of a last minute thing because we had no one else, and having this planned and covered is huge.
How do you think theatre companies would benefit from childcare grants and provisions?
I think that they would widen their pool of actors and other artists, because so many of us disappear for a few years because we don’t have childcare. It would give them access to more talent!
Anything else you would like us to know?
I am excited about all these possibilities! Thanks for asking!