Mothers of Color in Theatre | PAAL

Since the beginning of PAAL’s formation, our goal has been to investigate and create solutions that address the intersectional reality of parenting in the theatre. In addition to gender-based obstacles and biases, race plays a key role in identifying discrimination that negatively affects work opportunities, promotional tracks, and creating a diverse artistic community.

This past April we hosted our first meetup for mothers of color in the theatre in Chicago. A handful of mothers gathered, with their children playing in the space, to speak safely, freely, and anonymously in order to lay a foundation of dialogue geared toward solutions.

Tomorrow, on Saturday, Aug. 4 we are partnering with the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival to host a FREE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOP FOR MOTHERS OF COLOR that includes free childcare.

Here are some of the topics that arose in our conversation seamlessly interwoven with the laughter of our children, diaper changes, feedings, and creating a revolutionary movement for parents of color:

Professional Development_ Mothers of Color in the Arts (2)
Click to view the event in Philadelphia

Further Reduction of Already Limited Work Opportunities

In many parent artist conversations, the topic of selectivity comes up as a natural – and more often necessary – step in pursuing and accepting jobs. Opportunity cost calculations shift significantly when an artist considers the value of a project up against the investment of an entire family versus solely the individual. For artists of color, work opportunities – in roles available, jobs searches, mentorship availability – are already highly selective, even for individual artists. There are already fewer opportunities for artists of color. The opportunities reduce even further for artists of color who are women. Add motherhood to the equation, and viable work opportunities likely have hit zero to negative, forcing the mother to make up the finances spent even pursuing the work opportunities with childcare.

Lack of Structural Support and Internal Advocates

The lack of institutional awareness, even for basic federal law – you cannot fire a pregnant person, you cannot make a breastfeeding mother pump in the bathroom, you cannot ask about children or family planning in interviews – many theatre institutions find loopholes or act in ignorance. Lack of accountability allows acts of discrimination to prevail. PAAL’s advocacy aims to educate and incite change. It’s hard enough for parents to initiate conversation and inquire about their rights, much less stand up for their rights when the institutions threaten or do not provide for them. Add to that challenge and difficulty the reality of being a parent of color, and further – a mother of color. These layered challenges exacerbate what some mothers articulated as ignorance or resistance when they stood up for their rights as mothers in the workplace. From superiors recommending they leave projects, to refusals for space or time allowance to pump, to open criticisms describing employees in a negative, anti-collaborative light. At times, these criticisms come in direct response to mothers standing up for their legal rights, quoting state and federal law. Putting women of color “in their place” by labeling them difficult when they argue like equals is nothing new. For mothers, however, fighting for parent rights feels a severe risk to employment, in addition to the fact that the mothers’ resources are already strapped. The threat of retaliation from superiors enforces silence and prevents mothers of color from claiming their parent rights in the workplace.

Lack of Representation

Very unlikely will the institution have more than one mother of color. The likelihood of this isolation can lead to work fatigue, career fallout, and exponential distance from potential empathetic mentors. Every mother spoke about either receiving inspiration or providing it in those key moments when another mother of color crossed paths with them, or young women of color were grateful to see the lifestyle at work. These interactions remain rare. Increasing work opportunities for mothers, developing supporting structures and advocates, these opportunities for increased representation will provide mentors and more accessible pathways for mothers of color in the theatre.

In continuing the profound conversation started in Chicago, PAAL is partnering with the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival for their Motherhood Reading Series, during which there will be an event for mothers of color as a professional development workshop in Philadelphia to increase work relationships and build community as mentioned above. In addition, this year PAAL is developing a few micro-grants for childcare for an individual artist, and the larger micro-grant will be going to a woman of color in the theatre.

What are your experiences? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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