With her play The Madres and its sequel The Abuelas – which starts previews this Saturday at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago – Stephanie Walker takes on the inner terrain of human experience to navigate through our shame, collective responsibility, and the lengths some will go to rectify wrongs. Her protagonists are, in these plays, mothers, who defy the laws to find the missing children of Argentina’s wars.
A longer interview exploring her plays and themes is coming up on the PAAL blog soon, but first we wanted to hear from Stephanie about her experience becoming a mother and the questions that rose up for her personally. Below, she tackles questions on building community, the mother’s voice, and hope for more widespread opportunity and acceptance. Check it out.
Name: Stephanie Alison Walker
Status: Mother to two boys (5 & 8)
WHAT SURPRISED AND EXCITED YOU
When I got pregnant with my first child, I assumed that I would never be able to write again. I tried to cram as much in as I could while I was pregnant, because I thought motherhood would make it impossible for me to write. What I didn’t expect was that motherhood actually ignited a fire in me and made me a better artist. With very limited uninterrupted time at the computer, I learned how to become a more efficient writer. But, it wasn’t just that. I found that I became more driven to write – not less- and I was more inspired than ever before. That was a wonderful surprise.
WHAT CHALLENGED YOU
The challenge for me back when I started having babies was how do I do this and continue to build community? How do I leave the house without my baby? How do I go see plays with an infant at home? How long can I be out as a nursing mother without leaking through my shirt? (Three hours is the answer.)
I was able to sneak out here and there to see a play or attend a writer’s group thanks to my partner. I have a wonderful husband who is a dedicated dad and very supportive of my work. Now that our kids are 5 and 8, it’s easier to leave them with a sitter, but the cost of that adds up. That is a reality and a challenge. As I write this I’m in Chicago for a week without my family. I’m here for the first week of rehearsal for my new play THE ABUELAS. It’s important to me and my process as a playwright to be in the room for the first week of rehearsals and this time my kids and husband stayed home in L.A. I’m very lucky that my husband can work from home during these stretches and take care of our boys. His ability to do that gives me the headspace I need to really focus on the play this week. I’m traveling a lot in 2019 for my plays and I couldn’t do that without a willing partner.
WHAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO
Every day I feel grateful to do what I love. I love that our kids get to see their mom pursuing a creative art form. I love that they see their dad cheering me on. I don’t know if our kids will have anything to do with this life, but I do very much appreciate that they are growing up surrounded by the world of theatre. I look forward to seeing where that leads them. I’m also encouraged by more and more theaters welcoming mothers/parents.
My hope is that more theaters will start creating programs that include mothers so that our voices aren’t lost during those critical parenting years. My writing and my voice only grew stronger as a mom and I believe that we women have a lot to say that I would hate to see continue to be lost because it’s just too hard.
What do I mean? I mean welcoming nursing mothers by creating spaces for them to nurse/pump while in the theater. I mean finding money to offer young parent artists for childcare. Boulder Ensemble Theater Company is an example of a company that supported me with a stipend for childcare with their Generations Prize. It’s a model I think more theaters should follow. Wouldn’t it be so great if theaters included childcare or even a day care facility? One thing I miss out on as a parent is attending a summer fellowship. But what if more fellowships included children? I have a vision for like a family camp where during the day the kids get to go play in the woods (supervised) and I get to write and collaborate with fellow artists.
I know there are few out there, but more more more, please!
I am encouraged by hearing stories of mothers who bring their babies to work and are not made to feel like they’re doing something wrong, but welcomed. I’m encouraged by all the young moms who don’t put their art on hold to be mothers, but are actually being encouraged and finding a way to continue to express their art. I look forward to the paradigm shift where this becomes the norm and not the exception.
WHAT YOU THINK PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW
They are not mutually exclusive. There are a lot of us out there who make both work. It helps to find each other to feel less alone. It helps to share our stories and hear more about how motherhood actually feeds the arts and mother artists shouldn’t just be “tolerated” but encouraged.
YOUR FAVORITE MOMMY-ARTIST STORY
It’s not really a story, but just an explanation about one of the photos I’m sharing. The photo where I’m hugging our boys Malcolm and Graham was taken by a fellow playwright, Victor Lesniewski, at LAX upon my return from the Ashland New Plays Festival. That hug was a week in the making. Every time I leave them, I miss them so much.
The series “What She Looks Like” was originally hosted on AuditioningMom.com and is now published exclusively here on the PAAL Blog with permission. If you would like to submit your story for What She Looks Like as a mother and artist in the performing arts – working, seeking work, or stepped away – submit an interview through the form here!