Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On Being a Theater Parent

Parenting is tough. I'll put that out right up front.

Parenting when you work a job that is not necessarily during traditional "work" hours is even tougher. 
Parenting when you are doing this as either a single parent or in a relationship with someone who also juggles a non-traditional work schedule is even tougher than that. 

I'm not writing this to get into a spitting contest. It's not a pity party either: a career in arts administration was my choice, much like my husband chose a career in retail management. We both knew what those choices meant as far as schedules and child-rearing before we had children. 

I'm writing this to shine a light on what it is like to be an active parent working in theater management. Mass Media gives us a disjointed view, if any at all, of a career which resembles a luxurious soap opera. Much of what is written about our field in either scholarly or journalistic blog posts is written about the million-dollar companies with staffs and commensurate budgets so a mom could actually afford a babysitter rather than bring her child to the theater to clean before and run the box office of a show. 

And all too many of us know parents who simply dropped out of the scene when they had kids of a certain age, entirely avoiding the struggle to both honor their artistic need and be an emotional support to their family. 

Every year, the theater field loses amazingly talented people--men and women--who cannot continue working for a pittance with no health insurance or childcare benefits. My hypothesis is this is the very reason why there are no longer more women at the helm of regional theaters: the feminist movement opened more lucrative doors for them in other fields. What was once a power position to run a theater in the 1950s and 60s became a low-wage job in the 1970s and 80s. And we have not recovered from this. 

My hope is that by sharing my story about being a theater parent--not the stage-mom of current lore, but an adult, a mother, who is making a career in theater--talking with other theater parents about their experiences, and shedding light on the situation for the rest of us in America who are called to theater even as we have another job (or partner) to pay the bills, we can stop being ashamed of our artistic needs and instead find ways to support each other and our communities in sharing them. 

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