Innovative solutions in rehearsal for pregnant/mother artists exist. Some companies are restructuring old ways and thinking to support and engage their parent artists. One such company with a touring show going up in NYC on Sept. 14 and at the Scranton Fringe Sept. 27-29 is The Anthropologists with their fierce solo piece Artemisia’s Intent, winner of “Best Solo Drama” at the FRIGID Festival 2018. In this interview, co-creators Melissa Moschitto and Mariah Freda dialogue about the obstacles, solutions, and discoveries they made while making theatre pregnant/as mothers.
The Anthropologists was founded in 2008 to create devised investigative theatre that inspires action. For ten years they’ve been working to uncover hidden voices and bring dynamic stories to the stage that can reveal something new about our world today. Founding Artistic Director Melissa Moschitto has two small children, ages 4 and 6 and Artistic Associate Mariah Freda has a 2 yr old and is expecting baby #2 this November.
(MELISSA) So, Mariah, let’s talk about being artist moms. You and I met in 2012, when I spent my last few months of my first pregnancy furiously workshopping three new plays. I credit you a lot for helping me to emerge from the haze of motherhood three years and two kids later to start making theatre again. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience but several times now, I’ve had people ask me: “How do you do it?” My answer is usually “I have no idea” or something cheeky like “I ignore my children.” Which is only partly true.
(MARIAH) I usually say something nicely packaged like “it helps to have family close by,” but what I really want to say is, “Tons of mothers go back to work. Being a theatermaker is my career, so there is no choice but to make it work.”
“Tons of mothers go back to work. Being a theatermaker is my career, so there is no choice but to make it work.”
I love that. It’s so important that we keep reframing this as work and not merely a hobby. That’s important for all artists, not just parent artists. When we started working together again in 2015 and took The Anthropologists out of hiatus, I was the only mom in the company, but by the time we finished workshopping No Man’s Land (2015-2016) you had been pregnant and then had given birth to Isaac.
Baptism by fire? We’ll save my “pumping in the co-ed dressing room” story for next time.
I will say that it felt so reassuring to have a fellow mother working in the company with me. Not that you weren’t supportive before – it just was so great to share that shorthand with someone or to have someone else who just “got it” without having to even really talk about it.
There’s a difference between being supportive and really “getting it.” I suddenly understood that the stakes for attending rehearsal were very high.
So high! Sometimes I don’t want to share that I’m late to rehearsal because of a kid meltdown or about how I’m in a crappy mood because I am feeling guilty about leaving my kids with a sitter.
When you’re on the clock with a babysitter, time is money spent, and trying to build a schedule around available childcare and the availability of other collaborators becomes a maze you can quickly become lost in.
I have found it really challenging to talk about this in “mixed company” for fear of being accused of “pulling the mom card.”
I remember you started joking that doing a solo show would be our only option to ease some of the scheduling madness.
I think we both to some extent craved the chance to work on our own terms!
Turns out, the joke was actually a great idea.
What do you feel has been a big concrete change to our rehearsal schedule since becoming parent artists?
By 9PM I am spent. There is truly nothing more exhausting in my life than a day with my 2 year old son. It’s a wonderful sort of exhaustion, but evening rehearsals after a day of chasing him around just isn’t in the cards for me. 10AM-2PM became our power hours. For one, school is in session (bonus!) but it also feels great to step into creativity mode fresh and energized–or loaded up with coffee.
I’ve definitely been known to come to rehearsal with two travel mugs full of coffee. Let’s talk about what it actually means to be in rehearsal. Because we have changed some things about how we work to reduce babysitting hours, like hosting dramaturgical meetings via Zoom (online video conferencing)–
Do you think that Zoom could be our corporate sponsor?
Definitely. Zoom, are you listening? We’ve had some memorable moments meeting virtually, like the time when we had to do notes after a run-thru over the phone. It was after bedtime only my kids wouldn’t go to bed so, naturally, I ignored them. Until child number two’s head met a table while running around in the dark. There was definitely blood!
Thank goodness no stitches were needed! Video conferencing can be so beneficial but it can never replace the rehearsal studio.
When we were deep into scripting and ramping up our rehearsal schedule, only a few weeks away from our premiere at the 2018 Frigid Festival, how did you prepare for that?
First, I bought one of those magnetic refrigerator calendars. I needed to visually map out where I would be and who would have my kid while I was gone.
Ah yes, the babysitter rotation!
And I needed it in multi-colored chalk pens so nothing would be missed. I remember looking at all of the the dates filled in with babysitters and times and locations and husband-handoffs and feeling crazy excited like I had coded some kind of well oiled artist mom robot and it was running on its own.
Ah yes, the babysitter rotation!
Level 40 Artist Mom unlocked! But let’s talk about the toughest test.
I arrived home one night to a kid with some kind of beastly stomach flu. As I laid with him all night, puking on a towel, I knew I was in trouble, but it was crunch time and there wasn’t an hour to spare. I showed up to rehearsal the next morning–
You were definitely green.
I quarantined myself to the far side of the room as we worked through the scenes ever so slowly. Weirdly enough, we found some really great moments that day.
I can’t believe you made it through that rehearsal.
When rehearsal was over, I made it one block from the building, promptly puked all over Grand Avenue and peed my pants a little because, ya know, childbirth.
Ok, so you’ve been in several shows since Isaac was born. What was the hardest thing about the process this time through?
Getting off book.
What was the most fun?
Speaking to my kid in an Italian accent all day. I like to believe he liked it.
Last summer we created a wacky role for you – Marion – in our nihilistic screwball comedy about climate change (The Anthropologists Save The World! at the 2017 Ice Factory). You played a very pregnant, very ridiculous artist. What was it like now, portraying a real woman who was a successful painter and a mother? I know that personally, when I discovered that Artemisia was a mother, it made her paintings and career seem so much more…heroic!
Did Artemisia paint with a baby in one arm and a brush in the other? Did she sometimes cry when she was woken up in the middle of the night? Did she complain out loud why it was always her responsibility to book the babysitter? Did she cry out, “baby, you are so inspiring and yet you make it feel impossible to do the actual work that you inspired me to do!”
Did she cry out, “baby, you are so inspiring and yet you make it feel impossible to do the actual work that you inspired me to do!”
It’s a paradox that it seems so incredibly difficult to be a mother and an artist and yet so elemental.
We are both bound to Artemisia in this way. To be a mother is to have everything in your life come second to your child, and yet, to be an artist means you must open yourself up and bleed everything you are into your art. It feels almost impossible for both of those things to happen and yet they do. All I know for sure was that when we started this project I had one baby and by the time it was ending, I had another one growing inside of me.
So, our run at Frigid went well. Really well– Better than we expected for a solo show dealing with sexual assault. So much about the stories in the play are resonating with women, regardless of being a parent or not. Though, I always think about our one 10:30PM slot – everyone in the festival got one – and how so many mom friends showed up for that performance. It was a nor’easter that night and they still made it out!! That is some real mom love.
So, I decided to start applying for fringe festivals – Providence, Scranton, some international festivals. This was all around the beginning of April. And then–
Then I found out that I was pregnant. With every performance option on the table, I was quietly calculating weeks and waist size. July – that would be a small bump. September would be a “pretty big bump.” October would be a “you’ll-have-to-roll-me-off-the-stage-bump.” And yes, there would be physical technicalities, but what about storytelling? Would a visibly pregnant actor be distracting? Would we have to change the script? Could audiences just handle the fact that I, the actor, am a woman and sometimes women are pregnant?
Could audiences just handle the fact that I, the actor, am a woman and sometimes women are pregnant?
It’s been really exciting to be re-approaching Artemisia’s story while you are pregnant. In some ways it made certain moments more poignant and at other times we had to be really careful about the blocking so that we didn’t transmit the wrong information. For example, we didn’t want to conflate your pregnancy with the historical biography of Artemisia. And sometimes, certain gestures suddenly read as, uhm, inappropriate with a big belly!
Going back into rehearsal this past July (around 20 week pregnant) I had several things on my mind:
1: Could I breath in a corset?
2: Could I squeeze into our beautiful handmade costume?
3: Where could I plant water on stage and when could I drink it?
4: “Is baby brain real? Would I remember the lines?
I just really wanted to take your lead on answering all of these questions and just doing my best, along with our amazing stage manager, Katie, and visual designer, Irina, to support you. Because this is a really demanding show. This is 60 non-stop minutes of performance.
Perhaps the most important questions was: How was I going to fit through the damn frame?!
A little context: the centerpiece of our set and of the show is a beautiful frame we found at Materials for the Arts (we love you!). The dramatic action is often initiated through one of Artemisia’s paintings, so much of the staging of the play is Artemisia climbing in, out and around the frame.
After each performance, as you get further along in your pregnancy, we keep saying that we are going to need to build a new frame. Yet somehow you continue to adapt and make it work. I think that’s a fitting metaphor.
Well, we did what we do best and we investigated. We dedicated a portion of rehearsal to it: How Can Mariah Get Through The Frame?
I just want to sidebar and say that working with an almost entirely female creative and production team has been so rewarding. Everyone’s natural inclination has been to problem-solve. Finding solutions or adjustments never belong to just one person–
Irina, our visual designer showed up to each rehearsal with a needle and thread and cut, stitched and stretched the costume around my rapidly changing body. It was remarkable and also humbling to have someone adapt to me just when I was feeling that my body was demanding that I adapt to some many things already. It’s a beautiful thing to work in a room full of women.
Working with an almost entirely female creative and production team has been so rewarding. Everyone’s natural inclination has been to problem-solve.
And now, here we are. It’s September, I’m 31 weeks pregnant and I spent my son’s nap time frame-navigating again. I can still get through it, which is a good start, though I still need to figure out a new way to do it gracefully. We have some rehearsal hours to work that out. This time around, Artemisia will be visibly pregnant for the whole show and I think that’s pretty damn exciting She certainly didn’t stop painting as she carried each of her children and I don’t plan to stop creating as I carry each of mine.