Parenting and Playwriting
In the Back Row
A couple of months ago, HowlRound hosted a discussion about parenting and theater on Twitter, and perhaps the most interesting question to emerge from the discussion was simply: Should I bring my kid to rehearsal?
When I was a graduate student, I shared an office with four other colleagues, all at various points in the program, some just beginning their coursework, others trudging through their dissertations. We all had more in common than not; only a narrow slice of humanity has any interest in pursuing a PhD in theater, except for one colleague who stuck out like a sore thumb. She had a baby. And this was a difficult fact to forget, because she often brought said baby to work with her. At first it was a sweet novelty—hey, look, at the chubby, cute, powder-smelling baby. People would stop by the office and croon. It was like having a popular mascot around, and it was nice. Until it wasn't. Because, of course, babies whimper and cry and in general like to draw a lot of attention to themselves (total divas), which makes concentrating on grading papers, writing papers, and research difficult.
Eventually one of my office mates complained (not me, I swear!), and the young woman was asked by the head of the department to cease bringing her baby to the office, which she did. We were all relieved, although a thin layer of ice grew between her and the three of us. In fact, she stopped working in the office much at all.
A couple of years while teaching at another school, an ice storm hit the area, knocking out the power for many people. The elementary and secondary schools in the county closed as a result, while the large university, on a different grid, stayed open. A young assistant professor, who was a single mom, brought her child into work with her. She set her up in front of a portable television (this was before the age of iPads) in her office, which she did not share with anyone else. The child spent the day quietly watching her shows and drawing, and when her school reopened the next day, she was gone. Yet once again, someone complained, or perhaps it was at the whim of the department head, I don't really know, but the young assistant professor was told that the department had a "no children" policy. Despite having been relieved when my office partner was told to leave her child at home, I felt quite indignant on behalf of this single mother, whose child had been well behaved and unobtrusive.
When my first child was young enough to still be nursing, I brought her to a far-flung city with me for the opening of a play. It was our first preview, and the baby needed feeding just as the production began (of course), so I snuck her into the back of the theater and fed her, while I watched the play. She made little squeaky, gurgling noises, as I recall, but no crying or whining or other disruptive noises, and I sat in on the end of the row by the door, far from the rest of the audience, ready to make a quick exit, if necessary. After the first scene, the house manager tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to take the baby out of the theater, as one of the actors had complained.
In retrospect, I don't think I would make that choice again. I think it probably was disrespectful to bring a baby into the house, even a quiet one, when the actors were performing in front of an audience for the first time. Had it been a run-through post-tech to an empty house, I doubt I'd feel so abashed.
There's obviously a balance to be found between respecting the needs of parents in times of emergency or early infant dependency and the actual work that everyone has gathered to do. I don't know what that balance is, however, or if it's even possible to systematize it, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever brought your kids to rehearsal? Have you ever regretted it?