Barriers to Work for Parents in Chicago Theatre – Survey Results

by Lydia Milman Schmidt

PAAL Rep, Chicago

This article was first featured on April 6, 2017 on Parents in Chicago Theatre, the Chicago resource founded by PAAL rep Lydia Milman Schmidt, active director and twin-mom +1.

In the fall of 2016, Parents in Chicago Theatre surveyed a sampling of parents in a wide variety of theatre jobs – actors, directors, designers, educators and administrators – to determine the effect that having caring responsibilities has on careers. Below is the first report of our findings, an overview that includes some of the challenges artists face and the resources that are currently available, as well as ideas for how working conditions could be improved. 

91% of parents have turned down theatre work because of scheduling or the cost of childcare.

Anyone who works in theatre knows that it’s not easy. The hours are long, often late in the evenings, and unpredictable. It seems like there is never enough pay, if you’re getting paid at all. Getting a paycheck to do what you love feels like a privilege, a bonus. So you work a day job and rehearse in the evenings, find flexible work that gives you time off for auditions, take that internship or apprenticeship and eat ramen for six months to make rent. We’ve all been there. It’s part of the charm and tradition of the theatre: hard graft, long hours, and lots of collaboration and inspiration.

But what happens when there is another mouth to feed? The desire to raise children doesn’t discriminate against artists. At some point your time is no longer free, and no longer your own. When you have a child to care for, every hour you or another co-parent isn’t with that child, someone has to be. Every hour you work, you have to pay someone else to take care of your child. If your agent calls with a last-minute audition, what do you do? If rehearsal runs late and your babysitter can’t stay, who do you call? The day care charges for every 15 minutes you’re late picking up. You may not want to work 40 hours a week at a day job, plus spend another 20 in rehearsal, performing every weekend. Usually when people have children, they want to spend at least some time with those small new people they went to so much trouble to acquire. All parents know the pull to be home for bedtime is strong. Sweet-smelling freshly bathed children in cute pajamas snuggling up for a story? How can any professional storyteller resist?

The answer is we make it work. Or we don’t. We involve children in the process, we work split schedules with spouses to cut down on childcare costs, we rely on free childcare from family members, or work out reciprocal arrangements with other parents. I personally have done all of these things at one point in the last six years to make it work. But also, sometimes we don’t. Theatre artists, especially women, are in danger of falling off their career track when they have children. And we make it work or don’t. Very few theatre organizations have policies in place to help the parents who work for them, so it’s up to the individual.

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Lydia Milman Schmidt is a freelance director and teaching artist in Chicago and the surrounding area. She has an MFA in directing from East 15 Acting School in London. She has a six-year-old son and two-year-old twins. She’s the founder of Parents in Chicago Theatre and one of the first PAAL reps to contribute the data of her advocacy work to the organization, connecting in February at PAAL’s first pre-formation Motherhood in Theatre forum.

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