I got an email at 9:30 on a Wednesday evening asking me if I was available to start rehearsal on a two-hander the following Tuesday. Rehearsal was only going to be two weeks long, only at night, with a four-week run.
Who doesn’t love getting a straight offer?
Except, my wife and I were three weeks away from the birth of our first child. The email said that the theatre would “release” me in the event she went into labor.
After much family deliberation and negotiation with the theatre on what ‘release’ actually meant, I signed the contract and started rehearsals within days.
Cut to the Sunday of the third week of performances with only a matinee to finish. My wife and I planned to spend the morning taking a walk, but that was put on hold when her water broke. Four hours before call time.
I called the theatre, told them to trigger their back up plan (no understudies on Guest Artist), my ‘release’ clause was going into effect. Took my wife to the hospital and the doctor told us she was a long way from giving birth. My incredible wife told me to go, do the show, she would be fine. Got her settled in under the watchful eye of a great team of doctors and nurses and off I went, to do a matinee.
There is something deeply rooted in our souls in what we do. We work through sickness and tragedy, through terrible weather, catastrophic events in the world and apparently births of our children.
We show up. Each and every time. No matter how stressed we may feel, or how painful the sacrifice might be, we show up. And it has set a standard with employers that because we so willfully disregard our own health and personal lives for the sake of ‘the show must go on,’ so go the producers disregarding those as well. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, our family, our health, why should they?
What if our union stood by us with contractual language more supportive of life’s events? What if producers were reminded we are humans and as such, life happens and the show will go on, it just may look a little different?
I don’t have the answers on why we don’t have “birth of your child” clauses already in the conversation. Or why when asked to travel across the country as a mother or father, we don’t already assume that extra airfare will be needed for a spouse or child. Or why theatres don’t offer childcare options as easily as their favorite stack of take-out menus? Or why understudies aren’t considered beyond the casual “not required on this contract” or “we can’t afford that” passing thought.
Answers are arrived at after questions are asked, discussed, and debated. Who is asking those questions? Who is standing up for the mother and father, for the child of an ailing parent that may need their son or daughter unexpectedly? For the stage manager or actor who needs rest to overcome an illness and not feel like their career is over?
I am running for Council because I have experienced the death of a parent the morning of a first preview. I have experienced the birth of a child on a matinee day (and side note, my son waited until Monday to be born anyway, should have known he was a good theatre baby!). I have experienced having a 104-degree fever and being terrified to not show up to perform for fear of never working again. I have experienced breaking my hand during tech and being chastised for taking too long at the E.R. to get back to work.
I am running because I want to be the voice that asks those questions. That discusses the options. That debates the merits of a creating an environment for a healthy, happy family, which will ultimately make for a more available and open artist. Contract negotiations should include that value proposition right alongside valuing the artist with a fair wage.
We are growing up. And now it’s time to have grown up conversations.
Learn more about Michael’s advocacy, Fair Wage on Stage, and the candidates for Actors’ Equity Council advocating for fairer wages at FairWageOnCouncil.org