One of the first things I think about when I begin rehearsal for a play is how many people in the company — stage management, director, playwright, cast — have children.
The current one I’m on … it’s just me.
I know it’s a silly thing to think about, but it’s sort of hard not to. Because sometimes having a kid means “emergencies.” Like a hospital visit or, as happened with us three times this past winter, simply having to pull your sick kid from school. And if there are other people in the rehearsal room who can relate, that’s obviously helpful.
I don’t know the actual birth rate among artists. Anecdotally speaking, however, I imagine it’s faaaaar below replacement level (2.1). Especially among artist couples. The threat of professional derailment in some small way is tangible. I’ve been in a production when a cast member was afraid of mentioning that she was newly pregnant. And I know numerous women who have lost their roles in productions after it was discovered. Pregnancy becomes a disorder. I also know an agent who, upon discovering a potential new client was expecting, declined to sign her, citing some fallacious point that women lose interest in acting after having children. And, for what it’s worth, that agent was a woman as well.
Having a child, for both partners, can seem like a threat to one’s career. During rehearsal once, a director jokingly quoted an Eastern European auteur who once said that “the death of art is the cry from the bassinet.” Beyond this apocryphal loss of creativity, there are of course physically superficial things to worry about, the imminent and unfortunate pigeonholing, and etc.
But perhaps most damning is just the sheer impossibility of logistics.
When my kid woke up sick last month, running a temperature of 103, my wife was out of the city working. I had rehearsal at noon with no grandparents to rely on. So I had three options: try to find a babysitter; bring the kid into rehearsal; or call in sick.
If you’ve ever tried to find a babysitter you’re comfortable with for a sick kid in New York on short notice, you know that there aren’t enough eye-rolling emojis in the world for that. And add on the expense of eight hours (conservatively) at $20 an hour, and … well, that’s almost half my weekly net salary on the show.
Bringing a biological weapon like the petri dish that is an ill, preschool-attending four-year-old into a rehearsal is still punishable by up to five years in actors’ prison, so that was not going to be a legitimate option.
As for calling out on a show that has three weeks of rehearsal in the room? That was my only real course of action, and I hated doing it. We were supposed to do a run. I felt like I was allowing a valuable day of rehearsal to go past, and I felt like I was letting my company down.
We’re in an industry that is not particularly conducive for having children; so not many folks have children; so the industry continues not being conducive for having children. It’s a vicious cycle.
Maternity and Paternity Leave is pronounced “unemployment,” and a woman taking any number of months off from work during her final trimester and in the first few months of her child’s life could be in danger of losing her health eligibility.
So what can we do? Here’s one thing that I’d love to see implemented in theaters of certain sizes across the nation. It’s a way of easing the burden for workers, but also of making the theater more attractive to the middle class:
Onsite child care.
Ok, correct. I would not have brought a feverish four-year-old into a theater’s childcare. That would make me history’s greatest monster. But the following week, when a snowstorm closed New York City schools? Yep.
Let’s look at onsite childcare from an employee standpoint — and not just for stage managers and actors. As the private sector has discovered, employee turnover is lower at businesses that have onsite child care. That just makes sense, of course, as companies that value their employees’ personal lives will be rewarded with loyalty and trust. Investment banks and Silicon Valley are falling over themselves to retain top talent by not only extending family leave, but also offering superb childcare facilities.
Obviously, this kind of thing in our industry may be from the outset financially burdensome. The cost of licensing laws and liability alone are a fair amount. But there are mitigating factors, such as the retention of new parents and the lessening of workforce turnover costs. The price tag on a job search, recruitment, and training should not be underestimated. Additionally, there’s a 25% credit for Employer-Provided Childcare Facilities and Services — this can also apply to contracting with an outside provider.
And let’s not forget about enthusiasm and employee morale that increases when an employee isn’t worried about the insane logistics that come — especially as an independent contracting artist — with having a child. My wife and I can certainly speak to the stress that comes, gearing up for a matinee, with trying to find a babysitter. And this is to say nothing of the full-time employees of the institutions.
Making theaters truly family-friendly from an employment aspect makes sense professionally and ethically.
Onsite child care in the theater could be seen as not just a perk for employees; matinees on the weekends with a dedicated offering like this would be a tremendous boon for families eager to see a show together. One can also imagine what kind of other opportunities could emerge from a theater offering childcare — such as granting teaching artists access to their facilities for toddler or youth classes and building interest in theater and the arts at a young age.
There are other ways we can make our industry more family-friendly. Of our #FairWageOnCouncil candidates, a third of us are parents to young children. So you can bet it’s something we’ll be interested in exploring not only in committees, but also in potential panels through Equity.
Learn more about Adam’s advocacy, Fair Wage on Stage, and the candidates for Actors’ Equity Council advocating for fairer wages at FairWageOnCouncil.org