What She Looks Like: Erica Sullivan, Actor

I was ecstatic to see a response from Erica Sullivan to my interview request. Erica and I attended grad school together, and seeing her work after having her first child was in part what encouraged me with my own hopes and pursuits. In a word, visibility. Her wisdom warning against rushing back to work out of a need to prove herself is laid out raw, and her decision to step away bravely is now encouraged by a supportive community.

As a mother of two, she also talks about her experiences jumping in right away after her first child then choosing to take a year off after her second. These options must be available to women to experiment with how they navigate the new relationships with their children and work. The artistry is always informed by the decision to take time away, not deprived.

This smart, strong, emotionally available artist is also a perceptive mother, and her honest interview below beautifully articulates the expansion of artistry and perspective on career that some women experience after having children, proving mothers are craftsmen deserving of the work. Her take on ” hang on tightly, let go lightly” in terms of the motherhood -work balance sings of achievability in its lack of end-gaining and focus on daily process. Her hope for the work also speaks to the empowerment for her daughters to see their mother in varied roles onstage:

“I look forward to my daughters seeing their mother portray women who are brave, damaged, vulnerable, cruel, intelligent, complicated, loving, ambitious and everything else in between.” – Erica Sullivan

You don’t want to miss her final thoughts on the exhausting, trying, rewarding, satisfying experiences on her journey of motherhood and theatre arts.

Read on.


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Erica Sullivan in Fingersmith at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Name: Erica Sullivan

Position: Actress

Status: Two daughters aged 11 1/2 months and 5


What surprised you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

That something else could take precedence over my work/art. I was so singularly minded when I graduated from Yale; singularly minded all of my young adult life on pursuing my dream of becoming a theatre artist and working actor. And what really surprised me was as soon as my heart and mind were filled with this new person and I found myself letting go a little of my work ambition, doors starting opening for me. It was like that statement Evan Yionoulis (a teacher at Yale) used to tell us, “hold on tightly, let go lightly”. I had held on so tightly for so many years, worked so relentlessly and prioritized my career above all else and then my daughter came into my life and I let go (not completely), but I let go of my death grip and lo and behold, opportunities began to arrive.

What excited you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

Sharing with my children the wonderful and wild theatre artists that I have the privilege of knowing and working with. They are passionate, worldly, intellectual, funny, diverse, compassionate and wholly and unapologetically themselves. What amazing role models! On a personal level, the depth of love, selflessness and sacrifice that having children has taught me has greatly informed my work. Having children has increased my compassion for other human beings exponentially and ultimately (I hope) allows me to delve deeper into the hardships and beauty of being human. That is exciting to me.

What challenged you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

In practical ways: the night hours are really difficult to manage as a mother of little ones. You don’t sleep enough as it is as a parent, but when you aren’t getting home until 11-12:30am, it makes it all the more difficult. The physical and emotional energy and presence that performance requires from you accompanied by the physical and emotional energy and presence that parenthood requires from you leaves very little room to recuperate and rest. The juggling of babysitters at such odd and inconsistent hours is challenging. Finding balance is difficult.

I really pushed myself with my first daughter. I went back to work 5 weeks after she was born because I was determined to prove to myself and the world that I could “have it all”, but it took a huge toll on my health and home life. I was fearful that the theatre world I had worked so hard to be a part of would forget me if I took time off; that I would disappear to them and would never work again so I pushed and pushed myself to the brink. And, interestingly enough, so many other female theatre artists who witnessed me doing this (I had a pretty good gameface) remarked that I was inspiring to them, that I was proving that a life of theatre and motherhood was possible. I wanted to tell them: “NO! Don’t do what I am doing, it is killing me!” But I didn’t and I regret that. Now, with my second daughter, I am taking a full year off to be at home. This is the right choice for me. I feel confident that when I return to theatre, the theatre will still have me (of course that confidence may be due to the fact that Oregon Shakespeare Festival has invested in me as an artist long term). Since I became a company member at OSF the challenges of pounding the pavement in New York, auditioning, working and traveling have eased considerably. I seem to have found a theatre haven: a small town life with exciting acting opportunities that offer long term contracts with a theatre that values and honors family and is politically and socially conscious. Wowza! Very grateful. Finding an artistic home base has been such a gift.

What are you looking forward to about having a child and working in the performing arts life?

I look forward to my daughters seeing their mother portray women who are brave, damaged, vulnerable, cruel, intelligent, complicated, loving, ambitious and everything else in between. I look forward to the kind of conversations with them that theatre elicits. I look forward to providing a model in which art and family can co-exist. That Mom can be an artist and a damn good Mom too! That you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other, that balance is possible.

What do you think people should know about having a child and working your performing arts life:

That it takes a village and theatre people are a pretty amazing villagers! That parenthood and art can be an incredible combination, the one teaching you about the other in unimaginable and inspiring ways. That it is indeed exhausting and incredibly challenging but in my humble opinion WORTH IT.

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“I let go of my death grip and lo and behold, opportunities began to arrive.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor

“Having children has increased my compassion for other human beings exponentially and ultimately (I hope) allows me to delve deeper into the hardships and beauty of being human. That is exciting to me.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor

“I wanted to tell them: “NO! Don’t do what I am doing, it is killing me!” But I didn’t and I regret that. Now, with my second daughter, I am taking a full year off to be at home. This is the right choice for me. …I seem to have found a theatre haven: a small town life with exciting acting opportunities that offer long term contracts with a theatre that values and honors family and is politically and socially conscious.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor


“I look forward to my daughters seeing their mother portray women who are brave, damaged, vulnerable, cruel, intelligent, complicated, loving, ambitious and everything else in between.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor


What are your thoughts on this fierce mama’s trajectory? Let me know in the comments!

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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Sarah Ruhl on Theatre Moms

She had one. She is one. She wrote a play for her mother to act in. Sarah’s Play “”For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” is for, based on, and will star her mother in a premiere at Chicago’s Shattered Globe Theatre. She’s speaking there tonight, and I can’t go because my baby #2 is still breastfeeding (the irony, I know). But here’s what we can celebrate – she’s one of my longtime theatre mama heroes (more on that later) – and here’s a beautiful excerpt from her interview today with the Chicago Tribune. It’s promising and stunning advocacy for #childreninthespace. Looks like it worked out pretty well for her, and I loved reading every detail about it. If anyone I know knows her, tell her thank you for being awesome and PAALtheatre.com.

sarah ruhl in the theatre

Keep bringing them along, mamas. Our children reap some wonderful adventures from it.

xo,

Auditioning Mom

For My Daughter 

When Isabel M. Jones interviewed me for her artist blog, she mentioned  the theme was “hope.” I thought the topic extremely relevant and unfortunately rare. Once I read through her questions, one rang especially rare to me. I wish I were asked the question more. I happen to be very proud to be an artist mom. I  grew up in an artist household. I find my art and my love for my children pour from the same place. I hope for many things for my children. And here, Isabel asked a key question about it – and here’s the answer that poured out:

What do you hope your daughter will learn by watching you pursue acting?

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My daughter found my dance shoes and just started ballet, so she taught me a class at home.

My daughter is incredibly perceptive. Two year olds are such incredible vessels of deep thought and feeling, mind and heart unseparated, that I honestly have learned more from her in regard to acting and how to express the truth of what my character is thinking or feeling or wanting. Toddlers have such assurance and lack of apology that spending time with my
daughter makes me bold.
There’s a courage to her joy and sorrow that I find powerful. In terms of what I hope she learns from watching me pursue my craft:

I hope she learns joy that comes from devotion to a life long discipline, whatever that may be for her.

That rejection from others has no connection to her inherent value.

That critics are meant to make us think, not make us doubt.

That making beautiful things is a valid social contribution.

That empathy and storytelling are effective ways to explore solutions and expand compassion.

That in real life some people do break out randomly into song and dance.

That telling the truth about what she feels and thinks, even when standing alone in the spotlight, should be lauded – whether on a stage or not.

That we are witnesses and contributors to each others stories, and how we engage with that truth matters.

That some professions require ten times the effort for success than others, but may be worth it.

That you can try every time and still not succeed every time, but failure is a part of a healthy process and work is the pursuit.

That I will support whatever she aspires to do. Always.

That is all equally true for my four month old son as well.


Read the full interview here:

Part 1 and Part 2

VOTE – Equity Members Could Change Pay Scale

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Here’s why this matters, mamas:

If it’s online, we’re more likely to do it. (VOTE for equity council). If we DO IT (vote for equity council), we have a say in who gets elected and the sort of issues that get put front and center for change, issues like Fair Wage Onstage. Check out the 8 activists running a slate to get on council for this very reason! Why is that issue so important that we should do it (vote for equity council)? Because Fair Wage Onstage is advocating for a historic increase in off-broadway wages based on overall budget, meaning that equity pay will have an increase and become a more livable wage (so you should definitely vote for equity council).

That liveable wage makes it more possible for we the parent-artists to afford off-Broadway work and childcare!

This (vote for equity council) is one small, indirect step in a very good direction. So VOTE for equity council!! They say you need to hear something 8-10 times before taking action and we’re at 6, so I’m going to say it a few more:

VOTE for equity council!

VOTE for equity council!

VOTE for equity council!

And the best way to make sure you do it (VOTE for equity council! yay – that’s 10!) is to be sure to change your voting preferences to online.

LAST DAY TO CHANGE YOUR VOTING PREFERENCES IS TOMORROW 3/31/17!

SO DO IT TODAY! Equity is all of us, and all of us can make a difference.

Check out the how-to meme again:

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Gender Disparity, Hidden Carers, and Employment Opportunities: PIPA Trial – HowlRound

The full article first appeared on 3/22/17 on HowlRound.com – excerpt and link below.

Written by AuditioningMom Rachel Spencer Hewitt.

Check out this stunning data and innovation coming to us from across the pond by Parents in the Performing Arts (PIPA), a revolutionary consortium of theatres in the UK advocating for parent-artists. In this article, I interview PIPA’s founders, actor Cassie Raine and director Anna Ehnold-Danailov, and lead researcher from the Royal Center for Speech and Drama Dr. Tom Cornford and cover their report’s findings, where they aim to take it, and what the impact may be. Read the excerpt below and click for the full article!

“In the fall of 2016, PIPA distributed a survey to gather data on caregivers in the theatre arts and trial resulting initiatives for a specific purpose: to draft a first known charter of ‘best practices’ for caregivers and their employers in the theatre arts intended for widespread use and implementation. The charter hopes to make the theatre more accessible to its dedicated practitioners with caregiver responsibilities…In a time when funding for the arts receives active cuts and remains on short lists for ejection by government institutions across the globe, creating steady jobs within the arts will continue to be a matter of revolutionary reinvention within limited resources. Admission of obstacles by caregivers and other groups within the theatre should not be perceived as reduced commitment or compromised work ethic, but instead should be seen as the pursuit by dedicated theatre practitioners of more efficient means for achieving high production standards…” [READ MORE]

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Click image to read full article.

Part 2 covering the interventions and initiatives tried for six months by 15 different companies will come out this fall, 2017. Keep an eye out! Exciting things ahead!


CONTACT AuditioningMom@gmail.com if you would like to be added to the list for the USA FORUMS happening THIS SUMMER in NEW YORK CITY and PHILADELPHIA.

Always Leave Early – BECAUSEYOURCARBATTERYWILLDIEONAUDITIONDAY

Today, I found a hero.

I promise this story has the life-is-beautiful perfect-ending twist you could only hope for and never expect. I know I didn’t. But there it was, and it was pure gold – and worth every second and every step. And one solid lesson. I promise. Just keep reading.

I always leave early.

Always.

You never know what life will bring.

For this reason, I say I don’t trust plans, but I do trust preparation. I believe in creating an itinerary then preparing to meet each checkpoint before needed, bracing myself for what may come – be it train delays, diaper bombs, zombies, whatever, at least I will have a buffer to defeat it and still arrive on time. Why? Because life is unpredictable for me. I love it. I feel it’s an opportunity to live ever-creatively. Some people do not have this experience and instead have the midas touch on clocks. My husband is one of these people. He is always early and rarely encounters an unpredictable element. It’s reached the point of absurdity that even his planes (literally) land early (unless he’s with me. Then my luck and his luck cancel each other out, and the plane lands simply “on time”). These midas touch people are freaks. Do not expect them to understand the preparation process. They will blink in confusion as their shoes self-tie and they step through the door at 10:32 AM and arrive at work on the same day at 10:15 AM. IT JUST MAKES NO SENSE. If you are one of these people, you may struggle through this story, and I pity you for never knowing the exhileration of defeating the elements in this video game called LIFE: Leave Early Because BATTERYSTAIRSWALKINGTODDLERSNOWBABYWHOLEFOODSBATHROOMTAPE! Allow me to explain…

Anyone who went to grad school with me knows I was mechanical about showing up. I had to get there before I had to get there. When I worked in DC and encountered too many train delays that prevented my control over my arrival time, I committed to walking – rain, snow, sleet, didn’t matter. I walked the hour+ from my housing to the theater and showered there, getting my workout, warmup, fresh air, sight seeing, shower, and settle in the space before half hour all in on the same journey. Efficiency. I loved it. I loved problem solving to get to each location according to the resources at hand. Exciting stuff!

Having kid and then kids elevated the need to create the early-arrival buffer while elevating the playing field. Early arrival mode operating at a high-skill level. Secretly, a delight. If I’m honest, I’d say I have a mini-stage-manager in me that occasionally comes out to squeal at spreadsheets and calendars, color-coded. Mom-math working backwards from the audition time to determine how to spend the seconds now.

Congratulations, me. But what about the reality-bites element to all this schedule whoopdey-doo? The parts when I get my face kicked by the elements? Enter TODAY’S LINEUP, brought to you by 5:35 PM Email the day before with “Next Day Appointment” in the subject line (Yaaaaa! Raising the roof like the proud lame-o I am! DANCEDANCEDANCE weeerrrrrk!!! #notashamed)

After last-minute scheduling babysitter, learning lines, researching character medical conditions, getting three bodies bathed, dressed, fed, packed for a trip to mom’s audition, work meetings re-scheduled for the afternoon, laundry-folding postponed, and makeup applied, thats when the morning shoots into real hyperspeed – how it changes on me is in red:

11:15 AM – Babysitter arrives at house while children are bundled in multiple layers, baby loaded in carseat, toddler negotiated out of bringing doll-stroller along while mom grabs diaper bag, backpack, snack bag, water bottle, script, toddler, and toddler baby doll, and babysitter grabs infant carseat with baby down stairs to parking lot outside.

11:30 AM – Car starts, toddler in carseat, baby seat snapped in, babysitter and mom all in car and drive to grocery store across the street from audition location.
11:30 AM – CAR DOES NOT START. There is snow on the ground, and thank God it’s sunny, because Chicago is COLD. 

Plan B: Battery booster! Portable battery charger for car. Lift hood. Covered in snow, will not stay up. Passing superintendent offers to hold hood. Hook up battery booster. Turn key. Car does not start even though battery booster worked three times before. Reset booster. Car does not start. Reset booster while calling out to babysitter to check time to destination by train. Try again: car starts!!! CAR DIES. Car needs new battery. Toddler eating snow by handfuls. Babysitter takes baby back inside. 

11:40 AM – Babysitter reports GPS says 25 min. From experience, with kids the travel will be 30 min. minimum. Buffer time eaten. Everything needs to go well to make it on time.

Stroller set up, baby clicked in, toddler picked up, entourage bolts toward train stop. Train stop has no elevator. Mom picks up toddler, diaper bag, backpack, stroller back while babysitter picks up baby car seat and stroller to head up the stairs carefully. Cannot rush on snow. 

11:50 AM – On train. Laughing hysterically with babysitter about preferring warm weather and wondering if she knew she was going to get her workout in by force. Consider charging her for personal training excursion via lifting stroller and children. Send text to husband about insanity while seconds tick loudly. Include jimmy fallon freakout thank you gif, multiple prayer-emojis and one cry-laugh emoji because hahahahahahalifeamiright?

thank you text auditioning mom
Jimmy Fallon Freak Out Gif Says It All.

11:55 AM – Free parking. Full-size stroller out of trunk, baby in stroller, babysitter, toddler, and mom bolt into grocery store, buy lunch for babysitter and toddler, breastfeed baby, set entourage at table to enjoy a delicious lunch.

12:10 PM – Mom walks casually across the street to audition site, signs in a healthy 15+ minutes beforehand. Changes out of breastmilk-splatter top to #wokeupthisway fresh audition top. Studies lines, sips water, fantasizes about world peace.

12:10 PM – Train flies, so no delays: arrives on schedule. Everything needs to go well to make it on time. Exit with toddler, stroller, babysitter, bags, and head toward elevator. THERE IS ALSO NO ELEVATOR AT THIS STOP. WONDERFUL. HA! Oh man, I’ve got to get the name of this film, because FUNNY THINGS.

Speaking of, full entourage turns corner to see TWO of THREE full flights of stairs, each flight a minimum of twenty steps with landings in between, and beside them, a barely-legal-width half-escalator that wouldn’t fit even a folded stroller. Babysitter’s jaw drops at the towering staircase that literally disappears above us, the end unseen as it reaches past our vision to the earth’s surface. The children grow heavier with the minute. Time slips. Clock ticks. The stairs will be the crushing obstacle with no cell service to phone in a notice. Mom scoops up toddler and turns to take stroller front to carry it, to persist. Everything needs to go well to make it on time. Deep hope. A prayer…And then — a voice:

“Can I help with that?”

Mom raises gaze to see gentleman asking sitter again, “Can I help get this up the stairs?” Babysitter, flooded with gratitude, says hardy “YES!” – mom nods head fervently and points out the best spot to grab on stroller, makes comment about no elevator. Man comments:

“Yeah, there’s even an additional flight of stairs around the corner before we surface,” realization slowly dawns on man’s face about extent of what he offered as all adults look up to the towering staircase, end completely out of view at this train stop called Treacherous, leaving only 8 levels of Dante’s inferno to climb with babies, stroller, bag, and HOPE. Toddler asks for snacks.

Mom, man, babysitter all lift babies, strollers, and bags up first flight, then second, turn corner, and together crush the final ascension, mom sniffs back nosebleed from sudden altitude change but presses on, sun pours over the group as they rise from the center of the earth to Chicago’s old city neighborhood with speed and agility of fresh team-member strength.

The stairs were mastered, some minutes gained because of the strength of a stranger. A hero. Game changer moment. This is where a turn happened…

With quick thanks and take care, the man takes off one way, entourage another.

12:11 PM – 9 minutes to arrive at sign-in time for a 7 minute walk in snow with two kids, three bags, a babysitter and stroller, a hope, and a prayer, but cutting through alleys for 3 blocks with a quick shortcut leaves kids and babysitter heading up to the grocery store doors on time while mom dashes with water, sides, and new top across the street.

12:22 – Mom signs in, pees like a racehorse going for gold, changes out of breastmilk-splatter top to #wokeupthisway fresh audition top. Returns to chair, studies lines, sips water, fantasizes about world pea—

“Tony?” Another audition call is being held at the same time. For no reason at all, mom glances up and sees – hands fixing his collar and nodding “yes” with the right humility-happy-to-be-here calm being lead into the next room – a man with the face, voice and demeanor of a staircase hero. Time slowed for the first time in the day as he disappeared through the doors. Glancing at his jacket proved it was indeed the one who offered help. On his audition day, too.

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“You helped on audition day?!…Thank you.”

Overwhelmed with the realization, mom scribbles a quick thank you note. 

Auditions are short, and Tony returns. Mom has to step forward.

“Thank you.” Man turns. “You helped me with my stroller.”

Suddenly recognizing her, the man laughs and says, “yes, of course! I didn’t recognize–no problem.”

“I can’t thank you enough! I can’t believe you did that when you had an audition too, and because you did, I made it here on time.”

“Oh, it was no problem – I had time. I’m glad I could help.”

He had time. He had the wealth of that resource and he chose to give it. This is the point that began to hit home as I shook his hand farewell and he wished me graciously “break a leg!” The example he set began to formulate an application I had been searching for.

As Tony leaves the building, mom returns to her seat in awe that she made her audition on time because someone used their extra audition time to share with her.

12:30 PM – Mom crushes audition. This happened.

12:40 PM – Mom returns across the street to grocery story, toddler is finishing pizza and makes hugely excited face seeing mom. Mom grabs food, breastfeeds baby again, bundles baby and toddler.

1:00 PM – Full entourage piles into car and heads home. [Everything that just happened but backwards, and no need for help because taking stroller apart and taking our time.]

The Hero, Epilogue.

I could have made it right at the time of my appointment without the help up the monstrous climb, but every actor knows the sweet spot for good arrival is at the 10 minutes before – that’s the time with the most advantage. I’m not stranger to crazy travel and adventures, so I could laugh through the whole event, but the difference is that this story had advantage, it had success, in large part because someone was generous. That is no small point to note.

In no way shortchanging the support and efforts of everyone else leading to the audition, the generous act of this actor highlights a very integral role in the artist network of healthy community.

We have the first two:

The Support System – my husband’s help with lines and kids the night before, encouraging messages to lay a foundation of confidence.

The Advocates – the babysitter’s willingness to laugh alongside while sharing the crazy, ever-changing, child-lifting task of an expanded parent-artist; a casting director’s willingness to say yes.

And here’s where we can identify a third element:

The Heroes – those with no obligation, connection, or reward whatsoever who share of their own resources to ensure the safe arrival of another artist.

This is key. A factor that can be crucial to forward movement for the community of parent-artists in terms of hiring, empathy, creating pathways back in, and crafting initiatives and solutions.

Tony had the extra resource of time and shared it with a parent-artist. Simple as that.Without realizing it, Tony Jose Garcia was a hero to a fellow actor whose expanded life needed an extra hand at a single, crucial moment in order to continue forward. So much of why I write is to identify a support system, praise and support advocates in terms of family-friendly artists and organizations, and to encourage and recognize those with the heart and character to see the need of the parent-artist and help in a way that makes it possible to participate. In fact, this sort of empathy and being present to the needs of others is a practice all artists can contribute and benefit from.

Tony had the time.

Tony is a hero.

Because Tony left early.

Be like Tony.

Always leave early.

You never know who you’re going to help.

 


You can like Tony’s actor page here and write him a thank you, too. He deserves all the bookings he can get if he’s spreading this kind of generosity.

Keep connecting, friends. Good stuff is happening.

What She Looks Like: Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/Producer/Writer/Director & Son on the beach

Since pilot season is wrapping up, I’ve opened the What She Looks Like series to television – and a powerful story of single motherhood and resilience.

I went to high school with a girl named Valerie Powers. The school’s focus was high education and the arts. What started as a random collection of a small handful of students turned out to be a rather gifted group, many of us becoming professional artists long into adulthood and still going. (Go Falcons.)

Valerie was no exception to this gifted community, but her story has always been exceptional. With a history of moving through foster care and unconventional home life, Valerie had every reason to fall behind the curve. Instead, she showed up on the first day of school, after years of being absent from the school system, better read, better motivated, and readily more passionate and engaged than most adults, much less high school underclassmen.

Her intelligence, vigilance, and artistry not only keep her succeeding as a professional but also now as a single mom in the industry. In this interview she openly shares about the questions that rose up in her when confronted with life on set and life as a mother, people who said to her face that it was impossible for her to do both, as well as how she’s defied that impossibility, calling it “freelancing in expert mode” to describe the invisible juggle professional artist moms know all too well and are tempted to keep under wraps – all the while including insight to the profound balance that comes from embracing the chaos as part of our beautiful, human character.

“Happy is happy, and normal is not real. Its okay…to raise your child in your trailer/studio/on your set/in your workshop, as long as you do raise them.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

She’s also writing a book about the wildness of her life story leading up to this point, appropriately titled, “Leave Her Wild,” which you can find on Patreon.

I’m so proud to know this incredible artist-momma, from childhood to now, and can testify that she has been unstoppable and brave enough to stand on her own feet since the beginning. Here’s Valerie:


 

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/Producer/Writer/Director

Name: Valerie Astra Powers

Profession: Story Associate Producer (National Geographic, Discovery), Director (The Howard Fine, short film, music video, webseries), Screenwriter/Playwright, reluctant Actor (A Fold Apart, Sleepwalking)

Status: sole parent to a 6 year old boy

What surprised you: For years I controlled the narrative of my life in networking and professional settings, thinking that being known as a single mom would create doubt at my candidacy for the jobs I wanted. How can you spend 16 hours on set? Who is watching your kid? Do you really have time to prep a production? I had even been told flat out by successful (childless) authors that the life of a writer was incompatible with being a parent. I was having drinks with a high school friend and her successful screenwriter beau when she outed me as having a child. I cringed inside. I joked and smiled about it, explaining that I don’t reveal that piece of the story in order to keep my son’s life private, and for the aforementioned reasons. To my surprise I saw on the screenwriter’s face a look of surprise and respect.

“How do you do it?” He asked, in genuine wonder. “How is it even possible to produce a show when you have a child?”

I went on to explain about my personal resilience and flexibility, and how remarkably unashamed I am to text-blast friends to watch my child to make it to a last minute meeting.295316_10152520656765657_303564701_n

“I can put on lipstick while begging into a phone and making a sandwich, and show up hair in place hands steady as a surgeon’s. I’m crazy like that. Freelancing on expert mode.”

I’m sure not everyone is as generous with their perspective as he was in asking and listening with admiration and encouragement. That said, I have found the scarcity of single Moms in the industry does elicit more respect than pity when I am understood to be one. Anyone who has done the job knows that it is hard enough without a child, the fact that I have one only adds to my credibility as being hardworking and capable. I don’t volunteer the fact but neither do I cringe anymore when someone outs me. As I realize more of my peers have been raised by single Moms and are appreciative of how difficult the undertaking of sole-parenting is even of itself, the scarlet letter is slowly turning into a medal of honor. Once you move out of the sandbox of mediocre minds, little emphasis is placed on how you screwed up and much is placed on how you stood up and showed up.

 

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/ Producer/ Writer/ Director

What excited you: I would have never done the things I have if it weren’t for my son. I fell into a true depression when I found out that I was pregnant at 21. I had to drop out of school, had to quit a job I loved in a smoke-filled bar. As I fought through the melancholy of thinking my life was being stolen from it the struggle was won in a beautiful revelation: anything I could do without a child, I could do with a child. The scope of my dreams wasn’t so great that it couldn’t include him. I never thought that I would be a good Mom so I had never even considered having a child. I found out that being his Mom is something I’m good at because it required me to take an honest index of where my life was headed, and what I really wanted out of life. He put into perspective, by seemingly jeopardizing, everything I truly wanted – and then he became the reason for doing it all. You wouldn’t think it would work that way, but for me it did. Instead of a dead weight he became the anchor I needed to find my barrings and chart a course to where I wanted to be all along.

What challenged you: Climbing the mountain of being an ambitious artist is undeniably harder when you’re carrying a child on your hip. It paces me. I can’t get too far too fast, but for that reason I haven’t burnt out. I haven’t given up. You don’t meet many single Moms in the industry. After being active almost four years I’ve met one, and she’s hardcore. For that reason also its uncommon to encounter empathy. I find myself needing to work harder than others, to get all the same work done by the time daycare is going to close because staying late is seldom an option. I have to be a powerhouse, I don’t have room to skate by. Time is at a premium, and if I borrow time from him to invest in a meeting, or networking, or even a shoot I’ve planned for months, I have to live with the cruel sting that it is his childhood I’m siphoning time from. I know that Dads, single or otherwise, are praised for working long hours to provide and further their careers but the same charity is not always extended to Moms doing the same. Making my relationship with my son a priority and a constant effort to make the time we have together count has really helped to ease the shame I once felt at not being a stay-at-home, nor having a “normal” life with a husband and mortgage. Children are tough, they just need to see that you are constantly considering and contributing to the happiness in their life. That is a challenge all its own, and the most rewarding way to spend your life. Going to bed exhausted each night is a small concession for knowing you’re literally spending your life on something that is singularly worth your exertion. It takes every inch to make it work, to raise a happy child and still see your name at the top of call sheets, but you don’t do it because you want to you do it because you love to.

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/Producer/Writer/Director & Son

 

What you look forward to: I’ve come to think of my work as a writer/director as if it were my “other child.” The art is sometimes more needy than its corporeal brother, but generally the process of developing them both is the same – I spend quality time with both each day, and watch them both grow, and in the process I myself also grow to become better at helping them to become what they will be. Watching them develop and become actualized is the absolute expression of who I am as a person. My job in TV is merely to support them, both of them. My son and my work as an artist are essential to me and my happiness in life. I look forward to seeing what they both grow into as they take on lives of their own. With regards to both, my happiness is in knowing that all my effort will be worth it on the day that they are released into the world and that if I have done my job right they will be understood, loved, and beneficial to the lives of those who encounter them. Also, I cannot wait for my son to learn how to read – he’s getting so close!

What you think people should know:
Your child needs you to be true to yourself. I didn’t truly understand this until after I moved back to Los Angeles (because sometimes the test comes before the lesson). On the first show I worked on there was a Supervising Producers named Sarah who was filing in for my boss who was, believe it or not, out on maternity leave with her first child. Sarah was as cool as it is possible to be while still working on unscripted television. She was almost ethereal. I was girl-crush at first sight when I saw Sarah in the hallways because she just exuded originality and genuine kindness. One day we sat in her office and I opened up to her about my trepidation at raising my then 3 year old by myself in Los Angeles.

img_20160818_162848“I grew up backstage,” Sarah told me, and described to me a childhood where her father raised on the road while he produced gigantic international rock shows. The more she spoke the more I realized her awesomeness came from growing up around the planet, in the company of artists, and the “normal” life was not one she felt she missed out on. I even felt a pinch of innocent jealousy at the experiences she recounted. I was looking at the happiness in her eyes as she spoke to me. She didn’t grow up in an orthodox way, but she grew up happy and loved nonetheless.

I realized then, and still hold true, that your child needs you to be yourself. The fullest expression of yourself. They will never understand themselves unless you do. I am a weird artistic Mom, and I am raising a silly, wonderful artistic child. I tried in vain to normal myself up for years in the hopes it would help him to be normal, thinking as many Moms do that normal means happy. Happy is happy, and normal is not real. Its okay to be a strange actor/writer/director/costume designer/Executive Producer/Cinematographer Mom, to raise your child in your trailer/studio/on your set/in your workshop, as long as you do raise them. Being a Mom with a camera in your hand is no different than being a Mom with a broom in your hand, work is work and someone has to do it. You can set an example for your child in how to be happy and fulfilled in the work that you do. So long as you are genuine and loving, so long as you are emotionally present and supportive of them, so long as you take whatever time you have with them seriously in filling their childhood with meaning and magic, they will be proud of the life your career gave them. They may not be normal but they will be happy. Isn’t that the most any Mom can hope for?


1901414_10153975464270657_1915479375_nYour favorite mommy-artist story:

My first job in TV at 25 was a show for National Geographic and I was determined to make a good impression. I had heard through the grapevine that the EP hated when workers left early, and he loved seeing people working late – it mirrored his own sensibilities. Desperate to secure my spot in the production for future seasons, I worked late as often as I possibly could. I did a lot of apologizing to the sweet Israeli woman who kept him for me during the day, sometimes 14 hours all in all. That Halloween I dropped my 3 year old off at his babysitter’s in his sweet little fireman costume with the promise that when I picked him up we’d go trick or treating. My plan was to go to a fall festival at a church down the street from his baby sitter. We were still relatively new in town and the boarding house we lived at in South Central wasn’t the ideal location for trick or treating, or making eye contact with neighbors for that matter. I shouldn’t have stayed late that day, but I did. Everyone else with a child in the office had gone home. I stayed behind, just trying to get a little more work done than the guy next to me who was the same age but childless and cut early to go to WeHo. When I finally got out that night I raced up to Encino to get him but by the time we got to the church but they had closed up shop.

I felt terrible. I felt like I should have a citation against my license to parent.

“The party is over Mommy!” He said as we rolled slowly through the empty lot. I was bracing myself. This was going to get ugly. My mind was racing – how to word my apology in a way that deescalated his crying? How can I make this better once he goes nuclear in 3, 2…?

But like the Great Pumpkin, Scream-aggedon never came.

“We can just go to the store and get some candy.” He told me simply.

“YOU WANT TO DO THAT?” I asked smiling ear to ear, trying hard to feign excitement while fighting tears at how sad it was that he didn’t realize I had messed up so royally.

At the Ralph’s later I pointed him to giant bags of Halloween candy, shedding my aversion to the idea of pumping a three year old full of simple sugar in favor of medicating my disgust at being that Mom – at the store with her costumed kid because she obviously dropped the ball on Halloween. My low key prince surprised me again when he insisted he only wanted a single bag of regular M&Ms. Back in the car I buckled him in and by the time I got around to the driver’s seat he had his Star Wars Angry Birds bucket in his hands. He held it out to me, smiling.

“Trick or treat, Mommy!”

I put the M&Ms in his bucket. Then I softly cried the whole way home. Tears of self pity at my failure, and gratitude at how incredibly kind he was being in spite of it. He didn’t realize what I had done but I did, and I would not forget that feeling. I swore I would never rob him of another holiday again. I knew I got lucky this time. My son had a sweet enough heart that he wasn’t hurt by my mistake. I resolved that the only way to protect that sweet heart of his was to never test it again. All the money and success in the world isn’t worth breaking one little boy’s sweet heart.


I’m continually moved by each mother’s ability to be transparent both with the struggles and incredible strength of motherhood in our creative professions. Valerie nails the pain of disappointment while admitting the love she still has for what she does. That incredible paradox is home for many of us, and what a beautiful way to continue the conversation by hearing from a mom who has been doing this on her own.

Well done, Valerie. And thank you.

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“So long as you are genuine and loving, so long as you are emotionally present and supportive of them, so long as you take whatever time you have with them seriously in filling their childhood with meaning and magic, they will be proud of the life your career gave them.” – Valerie Astra Powers, Single Mom/ Producer/ Writer/ Director

My favorite Quotes – What are yours?

“It takes every inch to make it work, to raise a happy child and still see your name at the top of call sheets, but you don’t do it because you want to – you do it because you love to.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

“Happy is happy, and normal is not real. Its okay…to raise your child in your trailer/studio/on your set/in your workshop, as long as you do raise them.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

“Being a Mom with a camera in your hand is no different than being a Mom with a broom in your hand, work is work and someone has to do it.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

“I realized then, and still hold true, that your child needs you to be yourself.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director


Be sure to write to me in the comments after you see Susie’s show! I cannot wait to read its impression on you.

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!

So What Now? HOW ABOUT THIS…

4/2/2017 – We’ve launched PAALtheatre.com to take this conversation to the national level. Be sure to check out the site and join us!

josh-calabrese-146257After an incredibly successful first #MotherhoodInTheatre forum last Saturday, Feb 25, 2017, we have a PLAN OF ACTION (notes and slides from the session will be posted soon). I’m geeking out already!
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FIRST – we will be having similar events this year in NEW YORK and PHILADELPHIA. If you’d like to be put on the list when the details get launched, email us and we will be sure to let you know when we’re coming your way.
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NOW FOR THE GOOD STUFF 2017! Let’s dive in:
If you see something here you want to be involved in specifically (for my CHICAGO peeps) but haven’t told me yet, shoot me an email! We’ll rope you in right away.
 
Upcoming Forums:
  • Fatherhood in Theatre
  • Motherhood in Theatre Forum 2: Solutions & Database Exchanges
  • All-Parent Panel & Symposium
Upcoming Projects:
  • Playground Workshops (a la MAM style – check out the revolutionary Mothers Artist Makers in Ireland if you don’t know them yet) – Devised work with mothers and children in the room; for artist refinement and presentation.
  • Reading series – 4 plays, 4 weeks, in 4 different theaters; motherhood theme with parent actors, mother playwrights, mother directors, mother dramaturgs, etc.
  • Classes and workshops with on-site childcare – coordinate a few classes and workshops that will run alongside provision for children.
Upcoming Events:
  • Socializing Meetups – theatrical and non-theatrical (both mother exclusive & all-parent)
  • Networking Events (all parent + non-parent professional mixer)
Solutions & Organizations Mentioned at Forum:
  • Exchanging comps for childcare volunteer work like usher “saints”
  • Requesting theatrical schedules ahead of time for childcare planning
  • Casting appointment designation of time for parents to make kids in the space acceptable and manageable
  • Distinction of permissibility by casting office preference of children on site to prevent guesswork and make for better planning
  • Collective babysitter arrangements
  • “Childcare matinees”
  • Address pumping
  • Address liability needs and processes for on site childcare that theatres and organizations have to juggle
  • Focus on solutions specifically for ages 0-5
  • Focus on solutions that morph with ever-changing nature of artist trajectory
  • Pay it forward for those who don’t have children yet but will with implementation of protocol
  • Take a Break playgroup (organization)
  • Broadway Babysitters (organization NYC)
  • Sitter City (organization)

THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED

Set up and ready – Motherhood in Theatre Forum 1 – Free Childcare Onsite. #kidsroom #MotherhoodInTheatre Forum

HUGE thanks to the 15 ladies and 9+ kids who came out in the SNOW to gather for mothers in the theatre. If you missed this one, no worries. There will be more! Just the beginning, friends ❤
I will be posting the PowerPoint and notes soon, along with some of the discussion points and upcoming events & projects.

If you couldn’t make this one, and you’re interested in being in the loop for upcoming events, email me at AuditioningMom@gmail.com

NYC and Philadelphia, we’re setting up forums for you, too! If you’re interested in attending, contact me via email at AuditioningMom@gmail.com, and we’ll put you on the list for details.
Huge thanks to Vagabond School of the Arts for hosting. Click the image below to check out this awesome space and their killer classes. #FamilyFriendly
Vagabond School of the Arts #WomenInTheatre #MotherhoodInTheatre

#roomwhereithappened #womenintheatre #actormom #theatre #theatremommy #theatreartist #chicago #chicagotheatre #chicagoactor #chicagotheatreartist 

TODAY – FORUM: Motherhood in Theatre (Chicago) – FREE CHILDCARE PROVIDED

IT’S HAPPENING. After a successful meeting of Women in Theatre – the forum hosted by Onward & Upward – our official breakaway session on Motherhood in Theatre is live and ready for your voice. Register here!

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And yes, as the title says, FREE CHILDCARE PROVIDED on-site (breastfeeding moms and children are also welcome in the forum space). Check out the details and click the link below to register you and your people:

When: February 25, 2017 (Saturday)

Where: Vagabond School of the Arts, 4001 N Ravenswood Ave #504

Time: 10:30AM-12:30PM

TicketsFREE (but please RSVP for you and any children who will be playing in our childcare via the “child” ticket option) or email if last minute – auditioningmom@gmail.com

What: A forum to begin conversation on the obstacles, joys, struggles, and solutions for motherhood in the theater. From social stigma to structure/schedules to sanity and opportunities, we will touch on common topics and also have time to share what we’ve experienced, all in all, to create a community here that will lead to productive change. 

We hope you can join us!

We are already working on similar events in Philadelphia and New York City. If you would like to be on the email list, shoot us an email.

This is the first but not only event we will be having this year. I hope you can make it, but if not, please contact me to get your name on the list, and we will absolutely keep you in the loop. You’re a part of this simply by who you are – and that in and of itself has value, you rockstar theatre mom.

See you soon.

Love,

Rachel Spencer Hewitt

Auditioning Mom