Today I was honoured to be part of a Parenting in Theatre Forum, hosted by Lisa Marie DiLiberto (Fixt Point Theatre) and the WeeFestival. The circle was comprised of theatre makers, performers, administrators, presenters and funders. Despite the inclusive language in the title, the circle was filled only with women – except for one heroic dude who happened to be Lisa’s partner. Where were all the dads!?
The women in the circle took turns presenting wishes and strategies. There was much agreement about the challenges inherent in being a parent in the theatre industry, and many women spoke from a very personal place. I heard the words “isolated” and “exhausted” and “torn” numerous times. I heard people talk about how hard it is, because “the two loves of my life are my career and my kids.” I saw artists I admire admit that the community has lost some interest in their work since having kids, that the work is not as edgy, that there’s someone else with more time and more flexibility who can step in when they can’t. And it’s a bitter irony that many of these women had just hit their stride with their careers when they had kids – that tumultuous moment when you need to decide to lean in or lean out for a while.
Because these topics are likely looping through the head of at least one of your female colleagues, I’d like to use this platform to share some of the strategies that were discussed. Let’s all get on the same page. Let’s all gather around these ideas and try to push them into more mainstream (non-WeeFestival) circles, and hopefully the next circle will have a more co-ed mix. The most common strategies discussed were:
- Try working childcare costs into grant applications as an eligible expense, but instead of just sliding it into the budget, make a case for it as a central part of your pitch. (The more we all do this, the more the granting bodies will have to listen and adapt.)
- If you’ve been hired in a show, try asking the producer or presenter to subsidize your childcare costs. Even if it’s just a small percentage, that helps.
- Try bringing childcare with you into rehearsal – perhaps the Assistant Director you hire can double as a child-minder, for example. Or perhaps the cast can work collaboratively to help.
- Consider sharing childcare duties with another friend with kids, so that you can each have time off to work.
Flexibility with hours
- Get creative with scheduling – instead of long, drawn-out days and (especially) tech times, try to get the company on board to break things out into smaller chunks. Even a request as simple as “I need to be home at 7pm on one of these 3 tech days to help at bedtime.” The more we all ask for this, the more it becomes the norm.
- Be clear with your needs and don’t be afraid to ask. Read about how actor Christine Horne, in attendance today, worked with Why Not Theatre to achieve accommodations.
- If you need a break, ask for it. Perhaps you need to pump breast milk on your lunch and require a bit more time, for example.
- Consider negotiating modified schedules into a tech rider at the very beginning of a conversation with a presenter.
Including children in the work
- Some women mentioned that they have given their children a more central place in their art. Perhaps the work you do can shift towards children (and hopefully we can all kill the stigma that “mommy art” is not valid). Or perhaps your children can even be involved in the work.
- Others discussed bringing their kids to their admin job with them on P.A. days, and asking their workplace to be flexible with that.
One thing that stuck in my mind from the discussion was the importance of female mentors in senior positions. I kept hearing these little tidbits of advice, which happened in the workplace, one woman to another. They were brief moments that had profound impacts. One new mother who works for an arts organization mentioned that her (female) supervisor pulled her aside one day while she was pregnant and told her: “Let’s take you off a freelance contract and get you on payroll so you can claim EI.” This is huge. This simple gesture was so vital because, as this recent mother expressed, she didn’t even know how to ask for that. Or how much her quality of life would be improved. Here’s to women looking out for other women in the workplace.
I myself have benefited in my career from having females with more seniority offer me advice about childcare, or about how to “make it work” in the arts with kids. All this to say – if we’re going to get really serious about implementing the list above we need more women at the top, please.