Keep the Drama on the Stage

I always try to keep the drama on the stage.

For the first year of my daughter’s life I was a stay-at-home mom, which isn’t that much different from being a stay-at-home writer. Except for the writing part. I picked up a few small magazine gigs and some script consulting in an attempt to keep my brain from atrophying and make me feel like my big, fancy degree was being put to use. But after an unfortunate experience involving baby vomit and a dead cat, I realized it was time for me to get back to work. So I decided to combine all of the things I loved and missed—writing, cooking and adult conversation—into one evening. That’s when The Chat and Chew Supper Club was born.

For five weeks I invited twelve guests into the kitchen at my church where I performed a monologue about all the things we hunger for, while cooking supper. At the end, we all sat down to share a meal and fellowship. It was the first time since my daughter was born that I ate good food and carried on a real conversation with any sort of consistency.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival invited me to their Southern Writers’ Project to workshop the piece. They even offered to build me a kitchen on the stage. The offer was far too sexy to pass up. The Southern Writers’ Project has been very good to me over the years. My plays Gee’s Bend, The Furniture of Home and The Flagmaker of Market Street have all been workshopped there.

But this year would be different. This year, The Short Person would be joining me. The Short Person is a nineteen month old woman on the go, who enjoys dirt, Legos, coloring, and cheese. She’s a whole lot of awesome.

 

We, as theater artists, are really just glorified migrant workers.

 

We, as theater artists, are really just glorified migrant workers. And this migratory lifestyle poses its own unique set of challenges if you are a working parent. The biggest challenge is finding childcare on the road. My director, the fabulous Hana Sharif, is bringing her fifteen month old with her, as well as her mother. I, on the other hand, will be at the mercy of the nice Methodists who are willing to let her attend their (fabulous) pre-school while I rehearse. It should be more fun than sitting in our apartment with a nanny. I hope.

 

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Everyone has worked hard to accommodate our needs. The rehearsal schedule has shifted. We are being housed in the apartments instead of the hotel, so that we both have a full kitchen and a bit more space.

Our journey to ASF had a dramatic start. My biggest concern for the past week has been the raging case of diaper rash that turned into a raging case of impetigo. I knew that the nice Methodists would take one look at her bum and assume that those shady theater people had infected their school with some sort of dirty theater funk.  So the past week has been spent applying antibiotic ointment and dosing her with pink stuff in an all-out effort to make sure she passes inspection. With that crisis averted, I was feeling pretty good about things.

Then, as we were loading the final bag into the car, The Short Person took a tumble down the brick steps of our 112 year old home and face-planted on the sidewalk. There was a little blood, a lot of tears. As I watched the goose-egg rise on her forehead I prayed that she was ok. Not just because she’s my kid and my heart breaks when I see her in pain, but because I have no Plan B for the week ahead.

 

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With her Cookie Monster boo-boo pack on her head, we started our drive. Our car, loaded down with all of my cooking supplies and our suitcase, as well as toys, a booster seat, a ball, the Pack ‘n Play, snacks, diapers, and of course, her frog shaped big girl potty. It looks like a scene from The Grapes of Wrath. She slept most of the way, exhausted from the drama of it all. We arrived safely and said hello to all of our old friends.

Tonight, she is tucked into the Pack ‘n Play, which she is almost too big for and I am here trying to get organized for the day ahead. There are checklists and spreadsheets that any stage manager would be proud of. We will visit her new school, so that she can meet her teacher before she starts on Tuesday. We will do our grocery shopping for the week ahead, buying rehearsal food and unloading my supplies at the theater. With any luck there will be time for a trip to the zoo. And then on Tuesday morning, like millions of other working moms, I will drop her off at daycare and I will go to work.  And I will try—hope—that we can keep all of the drama on the stage.

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Thoughts from the curator

A series on balancing responsibilities as a working playwright and as a parent.

Parenting & Playwriting

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Love this post so much. I actually traveled out of town to do an acting job last year...for 11 weeks...and left my 3 year old at home with Daddy and her cat. When I share this news, people often stare at me, mouths agape, as though I abandoned her under an overpass. It's a tricky balance. Will be following your journey. Oh and we squeezed ours into a pack and play until she was almost 3!

I love this whole series of posts. (I've got a series of interviews on my WritingLifex3 blog, the Juggler Series, that has the same theme.) Thanks so much for being so honest about the joys and challenges. It sounds like you've had a wonderful experience.

I really appreciate the honesty of this piece. I know so many artists who start families and worry it will bring their careers to a grinding halt because no one will want to work with someone with kids. But the fact is that a lot of artists have kids and for every challenge there is a solution. I think you will set some minds at ease which is a wonderful gift. I hope the audiences at SWP enjoy the wonderful entertainment and the good meal!

"The Short Person is a nineteen month old woman on the go, who enjoys dirt, Legos, coloring, and cheese. She’s a whole lot of awesome."

Was this her application for pre-school? I'm not a Methodist, but my pre-school was. All good. I hope she has a blast, so you can too. Truly, that's what it takes: knowing that your child is safe and well clears the mind for work. Mine is in first grade now, but reading this gives me hope that if I had to be out of town for a chunk, we could work something out.

Elyzabeth, I'm so excited to read this series! Thank you for sharing. As a theatre person, I'm struggling with balancing family (kid!) and creative work. And the traditional model of long rehearsals over many weeks is challenging. So glad to know that you are making theatre and maintaining a quality relationship with your daughter -- inspirational to know it can be done!All the best,Tamara Kissane

She's lovely. She reminds me of myself at that age. I took a tumble down the stairs to the basement when I was 4, and took no harm from it. So I consider that a good omen for you. :-)