Women in theatre are warned not to have children because motherhood will derail their career. If they choose to become mothers, they are warned to keep pregnancies secret from potential employers. Once those children arrive, parents are discouraged from asking for what they need, despite the prohibitively high cost of childcare and intense rehearsal and production schedules, especially considering artists generally get paid low rates. But there’s a movement happening in theatre communities all over: parent artists are bringing these particular challenges they face into the light and are advocating for change.
I’m the founder of the advocacy group Parents in Chicago Theatre. In a recent survey of parent artists, we found that 91 percent of respondents had turned down theatre work because of scheduling or the cost of childcare. On top of that, 70 percent said their income had stagnated or gone down since becoming a parent, and around 80 percent felt their career trajectory had been interrupted.
One Chicago theatre has been quietly practicing radical inclusion of mothers for the last decade: Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, whose mission is to help advance the lives of women through theatre by providing a home for them to develop their work. Ten years ago, artistic director Tara Mallen and her husband, ensemble member Keith Kupferer, were forced to start thinking about how to work with parent artists when they had a baby. Thanks to words of encouragement from fellow theatre artists with children, Mallen created a support group with a number of colleagues who were struggling with the same challenges and felt emboldened to create an environment where parents could bring their children to work.
At Rivendell, there is a tub of toys in the rehearsal space and a tent in the dressing room where children can spend time, especially during shows that are not kid-appropriate. Mallen recognizes the importance of family dinners and kids’ bedtimes, so schedules are flexible. Daytime rehearsals, five-day workweeks with two consecutive days off (including one on a weekend), and no ten out of twelves (a limited number of technical rehearsals specified in an Equity contract, where actors can rehearse ten hours in a twelve-hour period) are typical for a Rivendell process. “We cannot be a female-centric organization and not encourage women to continue working on their craft and bring their children along,” Mallen says. There have been many more pregnancies, births, and adoptions among Rivendell creatives over the last ten years, and Mallen’s guiding principle has been, “Come on in. The door’s open. We will celebrate your child and we want to be part of your child’s creative community.”