Yesterday, I started rehearsals for The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy de las Rosas, written by my friend and longtime collaborator Ricardo Gamboa. This is the mutant chihuahua play I’ve been wanting to direct/produce for years – and always had the project kicked back or totally ignored. Maybe it is the telekinetic fight scenes. Maybe it is the radical, pro-community pro-youth politic. Maybe it is the challenge of a bilingual script. WHO KNOWS!?! It doesn’t matter – being an Artistic Director is a lot of thankless work sometimes, but the advantage is that I can be an agent for producing the work I believe in. But that’s not what I want to write about.
I want to write about the impossible quandary that is parenting, economics, and the arts.
Before rehearsal, I was in my office when a student came in to chat. She is writing about the institutionalization of unpaid labour in the theater – her interest is internships, but of course we talked about Free Street. (I always talk about Free Street!) I work very hard to find resources to pay my collaborators at Free Street, but I know that what we can afford to pay is peanuts compared to the cost of participating. I’m not talking about actually paying rent or bills or buying food – I mean just the cost of transit, babysitters, not working at another job while you work for almost free as an artist. And I was really upset to hear story after story of “professional” theater companies paying people $50 for a whole run. Or expecting younger artists to do it for free in exchange for “connections.”
Meanwhile, a call came in from a number that I didn’t recognize so I let it go to voicemail until after my student left. It was my daughter’s school, calling me to pick her up because her arm was likely broken. I felt sick to my stomach that she had waited 45 minutes before I even got the message and I rushed there, leaving everything I needed for the first rehearsal for my show in my office. I took my daughter to the doctor, and watched the clock tick right past the start time of my first production meeting. I made it on time for the first read-through because my partner was able to leave work and pass off taking our daughter to the ER.
The whole time I was at rehearsal, I felt the most complicated mix of emotions. I was tight with worry about my kid and felt so guilty about not being with her at the ER (I met them after rehearsal, of course.) I was also excited to be starting a new show, and felt guilty it didn’t have my full attention – my phone was a flurry of updates from the ER. I was reminded that when I started Unnatural Spaces, I had to leave auditions because my daughter needed to be hospitalized after an asthma attack. I missed a pick-up tech for Cry Wolf for the same. This is why I always build in a budget for an AD, someone I trust to get it done in case I have to run out of the room to care for my daughter. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill babysitting – balancing that calendar is hard enough. I mean, the panicked-the-show-must-go-on-but-my-kid-is-hurt kind of running out of the room.
It feels impossible to be both a theater-maker and a parent sometimes. And not just in an emergency. I’m in an exceedingly cushy situation – I have a partner who is an awesome and totally involved parent. We both have jobs that pay us enough to afford childcare when we need it. We both have project-based jobs that won’t fire us if we have to leave work to take care of our children – but the project has to get done. But if you don’t, what do you do? The reason I love theater is that it allows us to imagine the worlds we want to live in, but we have done a terrible job of imagining a professional practice that is livable and sustainable. I don’t mean for me – I mean across the board? What are we doing? What can we change?
I’m speaking on a panel about this very topic at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed panel later this week – mostly about Free Street and the ways we work to make our rehearsals and our performances spaces that accommodate the chaos of being a parent/guardian. But I’m thinking more and more about how models that over-rely on one figure to be in charge will always pull parents into multiple directions. I guess it is another vote for ensemble practice, for co-creation, for thinking about our work structure not as a ladder but as a lattice. Am I stretching the metaphor? What’s the opposite of a ladder? A ladder on it’s side? Jajajaja…. You know what I mean, what I’m asking, what I am trying to find, what I’m trying to figure…