by Hallie Palladino
On Take Your Child to Work Day recently I was inspired to see a long post by Fin Coe, the co-artistic director of The New Colony here in Chicago laying out a vision for becoming a more parent-inclusive company and community. This post was in conjunction with an announcement of a newly launched program called Kid’s Day to Play. The company will offer a theater class for kids while parents attend a matinee performance of a grown-up appropriate show. You can learn more about that program here by watching PAAL founder Rachel Spencer Hewitt interview the program’s creators. As for Coe’s post, it was like he was channeling the vision of PAAL when he wrote:
As much as I love Chicago Theatre, it’s not actually that hospitable to bringing your kids to rehearsals, shows, or much of anything really. I’ve seen countless instances where actors, directors, designers, everyone, have had to pick between being a parent and being a practitioner. Paying for child care so they can go do unpaid or low-paid work for a play or a reading or a fundraiser. I’ve seen people decide they can’t do both, that can be no work-life balance because there is no accommodation. And, surprise surprise, this difficult choice is made more often by women, and accommodations are made more rarely for people of colour.
…artists shouldn’t have to choose between their passion and their family….Being proactive and flexible about scheduling and working with artists to plan around family schedules; setting and abiding by rehearsal space expectations that would allow for young people to be in attendance; fundraising and budgeting for paid professionals to provide supervision during rehearsals or shows; having a designated pumping room like a regular workplace is required to.
….I encourage everyone who works in the theatre to re-examine the ways that we reinforce this barrier to making art, and how we can change the culture so that people no longer have to make that tough choice. Just think about it.
The model of offering a class for kids during a weekend matinee has the potential to benefit not only audience members, but also theater workers who, as Coe recognizes in his post, may also have parenting responsibilities on the weekend.
So often when we examine the challenges parenting presents for working theater practitioners, we neglect to consider how those same barriers to participation impacts the potential theater goers. Once people have kids it is easy for them to fall out of the habit of going to plays.
This recognition could lead to a cascade of cultural changes in the community more generally. Says Rachel Spencer Hewitt of PAAL, “We’ve interviewed a handful of theaters who have done this” and she says even when attendance is low, “that doesn’t mean that it isn’t life-changing for the individuals who need it at the time…I think it should be considered in terms of childcare for the artists and employees’ benefits as well. So, low population but high-impact.”
I believe that there is an audience development opportunity in packaging theater classes with weekend matinees into a series, either at a single company or in partnership with a few companies of comparable size and quality.
But without support from the community it is all too easy for these fledgling programs to falter and disappear. Victory Gardens had a similar program called Play Pals (just for audience members and their kids). I personally got very excited about this program, but both times I attended my kids were the only kids in attendance that day. Because I thought it was such a brilliant concept I had a follow-up meeting about the program asking how I could help save it. Sadly, the numbers didn’t add up in that case and they suspended the program.
Since then I’ve been thinking more about ways to design and promote these programs that would fit into the lives of families more naturally. Because kids are so busy with organized activities, one-off events are sometimes hard to get onto family calendars. But parents are in the habit of signing their kids up for a series of classes including theater classes. Therefore I believe that there is an audience development opportunity in packaging theater classes with weekend matinees into a series, either at a single company or in partnership with a few companies of comparable size and quality. And I would suggest harnessing the power of group sales to encourage parents to participate with their friends adding a social element.
Connecting the dots between the needs of parents onstage, backstage and in the house is a crucial step on the path to inclusion. I hope programs like Kids Day to Play will become more popular as companies experience their benefits. In the meantime the best way to help these programs succeed is to support them by attending, spreading the word and letting theaters know that something seemingly small can have a much larger social value.
Hallie Palladino is a playwright and contributing PAAL rep based in Chicago, IL.
A reading of Hallie’s play Disinformation at Church of the New Play is happening this Sunday morning, May 19, and host Prop Thtr has a workshop for kiddos happening at the same time – so kids get to play while adults get to hear one. Score. CHECK OUT THE LINK HERE.
Check out PAAL’s latest Childcare Funds Campaign!