By Katie Paxton,
Actor/Mother/PAAL Ambassador: Raleigh
This Saturday, as part of The Women’s Theatre Festival, PlayMakers Repertory Company is producing a reading of Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry it Out followed by a talk back on parenting in the arts. For me, this the definition of a dream come true. Let me tell you why.
About two months after my daughter was born (my first—she was early and tiny and perfect and needed an extra week in the hospital), a couple of my wonderful friends came to snuggle my baby while I ate the delicious lunch they brought for me, a gesture I will never forget. Talking to other adults when my normal day-to-day was like being in “Room,” as Jessie says in the play, was heaven. My friend Deya had a daughter nine months older and slipped a copy of Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out on my coffee table. “Read this when you have a minute. I think it will help,” she said. The play went missing for weeks beneath the detritus that inevitably comes with a newborn.
What this play really did was make me feel less alone. I knew now that I was part of an incredible tribe, one that would get me through this motherhood thing.
The thin paperback emerged near the nursery rocking chair during one of those marathon four-hour nursing sessions in the early days. I read it, napped, and read it again, baby on boob the entire time. Jessie, Lina, and Adrienne all seemed to speak directly to my soul—my new mother soul—each woman’s doubts, fears and rage reflecting my own. I thought surely Molly wrote this play for me! But of course she didn’t—she wrote it for all of us. What this play really did was make me feel less alone. I knew now that I was part of an incredible tribe, one that would get me through this motherhood thing.
When I heard that The Dorset Theatre Festival was doing Cry it Out a few months later, I immediately called Deya and proposed a girls’ trip. Us and our babies, driving four hours to see a play. What could possibly go wrong? A road trip with two children under one year is more than an adventure. But we made it. We got an AirBnB, a babysitter, a cocktail, and saw our play. Curtain up, two mothers walk on stage with monitors, cue tears streaming down my face. I felt ecstatic, exposed, grateful. I cried the entire 90 minutes and started up again as I hugged my friends in the cast. I just kept thanking them. It was the first time I felt truly seen in my new mother body. Because you do change. Becoming a mother is scary and beautiful and everything they tell you it will be and nothing they tell you it will be. I wept with relief to see women represented in this new, raw way. I asked myself, “now what?”
My mother-self fought my actor-self daily on when I would be ready to get back to work. I wanted to make art, but I wanted to be with my daughter.
There was a moment during my pregnancy when the auditions started to dry up. A casting director asked if I was pregnant, blowing my cover, and I could no longer hide under flowy tops and dresses. It was suddenly a matter of who would insure me on set. Or if I would “be ready to come back” by the start of rehearsals. These decisions seemed to be made for me and I was too afraid to stand up for myself, not wanting to ruffle feathers for when I returned. I welcomed the break and took the time to focus on getting ready for baby.
Then baby came. My mother-self fought my actor-self daily on when I would be ready to get back to work. I wanted to make art, but I wanted to be with my daughter. There was no middle ground in my mind, it was one or the other. There was no room for a baby in the jobs I was up for. I needed to be in lingerie (no thank you) or I needed to fly to Toronto (nope) or I needed to work twelve-hour days while breastfeeding (how?). With no road map before me on how to be a new mom and an actor, things fizzled out the more unrealistic they seemed. We moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. I started teaching while being a stay-at-home-mom. I wondered if I even wanted to be an actor anymore. But I missed it.
I knew I had found my people.
I reconnected with Vivienne Benesch at PlayMakers, inspired by her unending support of women in the arts. I told her how much I loved Cry it Out, how it made me feel and how I wanted to help parent-artists gain the confidence and resources they need to keep working. I suggested a reading of the play as a jumping off point. She was immediately in.
During a trip down a particularly deep rabbit hole of blogs and articles about working parents in the arts, I came across The Parent Artist Advocacy League for the Performing Arts (PAAL). I knew I had found my people. I sent a blind email to Rachel Spencer-Hewitt, who would over the next few months become one of my strongest allies and mentors. Bringing visibility and real solutions to parents in the arts, Rachel is breaking new ground and changing the world, I’m sure of it. She asked me to be a PAAL ambassador, working alongside the new PAAL Chief Representative Johannah Maynard Edwards, the Executive Director at the Women’s Theatre Festival in North Carolina and a tireless advocate of parent artists.
I know now I can be an artist and a mother because I have a dedicated community behind me, helping me along the way.
Johannah and WTF have made it their mission to uphold the radical inclusion of parent-artists in their programming. A parent herself, she understands what needs to be done and is brilliantly executing those needs within her community. This year’s festival is brimming with speakers, panels, plays and workshops for parent-artists. There is even a program for kids (Seed Art Share) to devise a theatre piece while their parents attend a reading of Cry it Out and the following talk back. WTF is committed to changing our community in the Triangle and beyond when it comes to parenting in the arts and it is radical indeed.
I am so honored to finally get to share this play in my new home, Raleigh, where my family moved in search of an easier path with a child. Easier it will be, I’m sure, but not for the original reason I thought. I know now I can be an artist and a mother because I have a dedicated community behind me, helping me along the way. With allies like PAAL, PlayMakers and the Women’s Theatre Festival, I feel more inspired than ever to lift up fellow parent-artists and spread the word to theatre makers—you can hire parents. You should hire parents. It’s easier and more rewarding than you may think.
My dear friend Molly Ward is playing Jessie in the reading. Our kids are six weeks apart and will be in and out of rehearsal with a sitter. PlayMakers covered our childcare so we don’t have to lose money to do our work, all without the blink of an eye. We asked and we received. It’s doable. For this project, art is imitating life…and it will be messy and at least one toddler will probably melt down right in the middle of a great moment, but that in itself will be a great moment. And I am so thankful to be a part of a community who understands that and champions it. Change is coming. And it feels good.
PAAL Ambassador, Raleigh:
Come see Katie and other PAAL reps at Cry It Out at the Women’s Theatre Festival this weekend in Raleigh, NC.
Find the information here.