I first met Lydia Milman Schmidt at the Motherhood in Theatre Forum this past February in Chicago. It was a breakaway session off of the Women in Theatre forum hosted by Onward and Upward in January. After presenting on the efforts of PIPA UK, MAM Ireland, and discussing potential projects and solutions, Lydia offered up revelatory efforts already under way for Chicago, specifically – she had already hosted a panel for and conducted a survey asking about the lifestyles and obstacles of parents in Chicago theatre. We’ve now connected her as the chief rep for Chicago’s PAAL unit – Parent Artist Advocacy League for the Performing Arts, the US contingency of parent advocacy in theatre, dance, and live performance disciplines.
We began speaking afterwards, and she offered up that she had also started the facebook group Parents in Chicago Theatre. Shortly after, Lydia launched her site after the same name, shortened as PICT.
On the website, she published the data and infographics from her survey. This summer, PAAL will be co-hosting a second forum in Chicago with PICT and continuing the conversation that Lydia started here. PAAL has already hosted forums now in Chicago, Philadelphia, Montclair (NJ), and New York City. AuditioningMom will be continuing to produce projects, and with someone like Lydia tackling the topic for Chicago, specifically, this city is destined for some excited progress on many of these initiatives.
She’s a talented director and TWIN-mom as well. Her interview opens up about her perspectives on what her children see when she thinks and what the term “theatre rat” means. Check it out!
Name: Lydia Milman Schmidt
Profession: Theatre Director
Status: I have a 6-year-old son and newly 2-year-old twins
What surprised/surprises you about having a child and working your performing arts life:
At first I was surprised that I didn’t want to go back to work immediately. My oldest was born in the UK, where nine months of maternity leave is standard (a dream for Americans, I know!) Before he was born I was sure I wouldn’t need all that time off, and then I would be back at work after three months or so. I ended up taking the full nine months. Then after I did start directing again, I actually started working more than I had ever before. I had been freed from the pressure of working a day job, and by bringing my baby to work with me, I didn’t pay for childcare and could afford to direct shows that would get my work seen. I also remember very clearly the feeling that I needed that little baby to see me working. It became very important to me that he saw me pursuing my career, and not giving it up for him. Six and a half years and two kids later, I don’t have a day job, I still freelance and I have yet to go back to work full-time.
What excited/excites you about having a child and working your performing arts life:
Partly due to its relatively family-friendly schedule, I have directed quite a bit of theatre for young audiences. The first TYA musical I directed was A Year with Frog and Toad. My oldest son Elliot was three or four at the time, and we read every single Frog and Toad story a hundred times over in the months leading up to when I started rehearsals. Having that level of intimacy with source material is amazing for a director. My job is to tell a story to children and I’d had months to practice. I directed that play with one particular audience member in mind. When he finally got to see the final production and the books came to life in front of him, it was magical. We still sing songs from that show around the house!
What challenged/challenges you about having a child and working your performing arts life:
So many. But two main things:
First, logistics. I can no longer picture what it would be like to be able to just get up in the morning, go to work, come home, and do whatever you want. I’m bound to school schedules, scheduling babysitters, coordinating with my husband’s work schedule to make sure he can be home to do bedtime if I want to do something like actually go see a play in the evening. Not to mention that in order to leave the house, there are three small pairs of feet that need socks and shoes, three people who need breakfast, snacks, lunch, water bottles, and all the rest.
Second, competition. Most of my peers who are directors don’t have kids. I’m sure everyone has their own stuff to deal with, but it often feels like I’m at such a disadvantage that there’s no way to stay competitive. Internships, assistantships, fellowships, observerships and residencies out of town, none of it works when you have kids. For example, an SDC observership pays an average of $250 a week. That doesn’t even cover childcare for twins. In Chicago at least, no theatres, even the big ones, pay assistant directors any sort of living wage. Travel is especially difficult with young kids. I am hoping that it becomes more feasible once they’re at least all in school! Because I can’t take unpaid work, my solution is to work in educational theatre and theatre for young audiences. The work is rewarding, but no one is writing reviews or giving out awards.
What you look forward to about having a child and working your performing arts life:
I really love sharing the theatre with them. There is so much that kids learn just from being in the room. The twins love any kind of music, and my oldest is a dancer and would watch choreography rehearsal for days. They’re also exposed to stories, characters and situations that will make them more empathetic and kinder people. They are gaining this rich background of cultural knowledge and appreciation for art and people that they will carry with them throughout their lives.
Also, they know what Mama does at work. There’s no mystery. If I’m not with them, I’m in a theatre. They get to see me having ideas, asking questions, collaborating, and being a leader. My father was an astrophysicist. He worked for NASA contractors and had security clearance, so his job was always a complete mystery to me. I remember once I asked him what he did at work and he told me ‘I sit in my office and think.’ That sounded like a pretty boring job to me at the time, but it turns out that’s a lot of what a director does!
What you think people should know about having a child and working your performing arts life:
You can do it. You don’t have to hide your kids away. You don’t have to wait until they’re older, but if you want to take time off until they’re older, you should! A friend who works more than almost any director I know has three kids and took time off to be home with them until the youngest was in nursery school. Then she hit the ground running, and now she works all the time. Also, the bond with other theatre artists who are parents is strong. Nobody understands how difficult it is unless they’re in it.
Your favorite mommy-artist story:
I have so many. Like the production meeting where I brought the twins while we were still potty training and one twin had two accidents, and the other dropped trou right in the middle of the meeting and I barely whisked her away to the bathroom in time! When Elliot was a baby, I was interviewing for an assistant director job at a prominent UK theatre in London (I didn’t get it). They asked what I had been doing, so I told them I had a baby. Then they asked about childcare. I lied and said it was no problem. The person interviewing me was a woman. I have no idea to this day whether that had any bearing on whether or not I got the job. Once I was in a recording studio with my cast and MD to record a track from a new musical revue that we wrote. I had Elliot with me, of course. He wouldn’t let me leave the room, so everyone had to wait until he was asleep to quickly record while he napped! There was also the rehearsal for Eurydice at Governors State University last year where the TD knew I had to bring my twins (who weren’t walking yet), so he enclosed the orchestra pit and they happily played in there the whole time! He is also the person who introduced me to the tern ‘theatre rat’, which I love.
“Then they asked about childcare. I lied and said it was no problem. ”
– Lydia Milman Schmidt, Director
“They get to see me having ideas, asking questions, collaborating, and being a leader.”
– Lydia Milman Schmidt, Director
“You can do it. You don’t have to hide your kids away. You don’t have to wait until they’re older, but if you want to take time off until they’re older, you should! A friend who works more than almost any director I know has three kids and took time off to be home with them until the youngest was in nursery school. Then she hit the ground running, and now she works all the time.”
– Lydia Milman Schmidt, Director
If you’re in Chicago, be sure to connect with PICT and PAAL is available in numerous cities in the USA. Be sure to check them out! More opportunities coming soon!
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!