Parenting & Playwriting
Having It All
This post is the third column of a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. Find the previous columns here. Here’s what my advice column will offer you: a place to ask questions and share grievances about juggling life as theater artists and as parents. Here’s what my advice column will not offer you: much actual advice you can use. For those of you masochists longing for some truly crappy advice, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Catherine, I'm thinking about having kids soon, but I will admit I'm a little scared about my career. Like many professions, there still seems to be a bias against Moms in the arts. I had a good friend make a joke to my face when I said that I'll probably have kids soon: "Well I guess I'll take you off my staffing list when my TV show gets picked up." Have you ever felt that? How do we deal with it?
Dear California girl,
Quick—name the five greatest living American playwrights off the top of your head. I'll go with Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel and David Henry Hwang. Why not? As good a list as any. Of these five playwrights, how many have children? If my extensive research (aka Wikipedia) is correct, only one: David Henry Hwang, and he wrote M. Butterfly before he was thirty, so he's clearly a precocious freak-of-nature. Tennessee didn't have kids. Neither did William Inge. Lillian Hellman? Nope. Arthur Miller had children, but institutionalized the needy one (don't judge, that's what people did back then, so it makes it okay).
The deeper problem is not that there's a bias against Moms but that we, as women, suspect they may have a point. It is very difficult to be a divided self. If you want to be the kind of parent who sees your child more than an hour before bedtime, I'm afraid your writing is going to take a hit, at least for a while. You know it, I know it, and they know it.
Fortunately, however, this isn't the Middle Ages, and we Moms have plenty of role models to instruct us in the juggling act of career and children. Look at Tina Fey or Sarah Palin. They're doing it all: TV shows, book deals, and children. Furthermore, we have the internet now, so any funky rash on your baby's bum can be diagnosed in ten seconds. No more time consuming visits to the doctor's office. Finally and most importantly, we have a little movie called Baby Boom.
Fortunately, however, this isn't the Middle Ages, and we Moms have plenty of role models to instruct us in the juggling act of career and children.
In Baby Boom, Diane Keaton is a successful businesswoman, who inherits a baby (don't ask me how this happens legally), which wrinkles her power suit more than a little. She starts missing meetings, leaving work early and generally performing below par. Eventually, she's fired and moves to Vermont to begin life anew, which she does, after the usual obstacles, with aplomb. She starts a successful baby food company and falls in love with the local veterinarian, Sam Shepard. The success of her baby food company impresses her former employer so much that they offer her a bundle of money for it. In the end, she turns them down in order to run the business herself in Vermont with Sam Shepard.
What wisdom can be gleaned from this 1987 gem, you may be wondering? First and foremost, you do not want to be Diane Keaton. You do not want to be the Mom who brings her kid to the boardroom. You do not want to be the Mom who retreats to Vermont, and no, you are not going to start your own theater company there—drop that delusion immediately!
Rather, you are Sam Shepard. Repeat after me: I am Sam Shepherd. Does Sam Shepherd have kids? I have no idea, but it doesn't matter, because no one cares. No one cares because he wrote True fucking West and looks like a matinee idol (or did). I don't even really like True West, but I still want to be Sam Shepard. He's laconic in interviews, sexy on screen, raw on the page, and always maintains an aura of mystery.
And this, my friend, is the role you must play if you want to circumvent the "Mom bias." If you want to land that staffing job, forget Diane Keaton, Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. Go in there channeling Sam Shepherd. Dress like a cowboy. Don't say much. Don't give too much away. Be remote. Play hard to get. Write like a demon. You won't only get that staff job; you'll be directing your own movie in no time. Look at Adam Rapp.
But whatever you do, whether you can pull off cowboy boots or not, do not talk about your kids. Don't talk about them in the writer's room, at conferences, at meetings, at audience talkbacks, or in the lobby, for the key to having it all is to have children but make everyone think you don't.
Don't, for example, write a column for a theater website about how difficult it is to write now that you have kids.
Does anyone have any advice for California girl that she can actually use? Share it with us in the comments!