Parenting & Playwriting

Snow in April

This post is the fourteenth column a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. Find the previous columns hereHere’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 dctrieschmann@gmail.com or tweet me @ctrieschmann.

I've always loved airports. Bursting with love scenes, hate scenes, and their fair share of the ridiculous—for example, the woman with penciled eyebrows who recently chatted me up at gate 63A about her on-line dating life and insisted upon rubbing lavender oil on my wrists—airports provide a plethora of raw material. Airports are also pure hell, which is how I felt the other night at one o'clock in the morning, standing in the snow outside the Denver airport waiting for a hotel shuttle after seven hours of waiting for a flight that sat on the runway for two hours but never took off. To make matters worse, I didn't have a toothbrush, a fresh pair of underpants, or a babysitter for the next morning back in Kansas.

Aerial view of a snow-blanketed airport
Denver Airport under snow

I won't lie; I was feeling pretty sorry for myself but also thinking I could probably squeeze enough humorous material for a column out of my airport travails. Until I remembered that two bombs had exploded in Boston earlier that day. Then my little problems seemed neither bad nor worth writing about—not even problems, really. Inconveniences.

 

Until I remembered that two bombs had exploded in Boston earlier that day. Then my little problems seemed neither bad nor worth writing about—not even problems, really. Inconveniences.

 

That we spend so much time bemoaning our inconveniences when true suffering traverses the world over in great, confident strides is not a fresh insight. Nor is it revelatory to ask why a bombing in Boston should give me pause on a snowy night in Denver, when the horror of maternal mortality in the developing world, not to mention female genital mutilation, does not—at least, not most of the time. Not as much as it should. I suppose while a biologist might have a good evolutionary explanation for why we grieve harder for strangers who look like us, I know of no convincing moral one.

Standing in the snow at the Denver airport, I felt pretty helpless to aid people suffering in Boston, much less in Sudan. We can give money, yes, and we can raise awareness through our art and our activism, yes, and we can also pray, if you're the praying sort.

If you follow dramaturg and HowlRound contributor Julie Dubiner on twitter, then you will observe that she periodically writes, "let us a pause for a moment of complete optimism." I don't have any fresh insight to offer you on the ontology of suffering, but in this little corner of the internet, where I write about parenting and playwriting, I can offer you a moment of complete optimism, which is, also, a form of prayer.

I flew to Denver for the first production meeting of my new play at the Denver Center Theatre Company. At the meeting, around the conference table sat a playwright with two girls under six; a director with a three-year old; a dramaturg with two boys under two; and a costume designer via Skype, nursing her newborn in a rocker. The production meeting might have been Kodak commercial for working Moms. The dramaturg gave me notes while pumping behind a half closed door—I'm not kidding.

We did not plan this cabal of young parenthood and yet there we all were, balancing this juggling act one way or another and working at a theater that emboldened us to try. In my very first conversation with Denver Center, when they told me they wanted to produce the play, the Artistic Director said to me, "I know you have small children, so we'll work with you to give you what you need." I almost cried.

Look, small strides in the workplace in one corner of the country don't balance the scales of suffering in the world; I feel queasy even writing about workplace equality in the same breath as the Boston bombings. But in this moment of complete optimism, I will express my gratitude for things both large and small. The world is making strides in combating malaria and AIDS, peace covers Sarajevo like a balm, my children are healthy, and the Denver Center is a great place for working Moms.

Is there sexism in the American theater? Yep. Is it hard to be a parent and an artist? Sure. Are many of our not-for-profit institutions stuck in a for-profit mindset? Certainly. But institutions are also made up of people, and many of these people are deeply decent and empathetic—the kind of people who open their suitcases to offer you their extra coat when you're standing on a sidewalk outside the airport in the snow in the middle of the night in Denver, because, of course, you didn't bring one. You had no idea there'd be snow on April 15. The world over, generosity strides alongside suffering in gestures both large and small.

So there's your moment.

And now it's done.

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Thoughts from the curator

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

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A great story! I wish there were more like it. Maybe there are, and I just don't know it. But it's lovely to remember that it is possible when theatre staffers have empathy for mothers, or simply are mothers themselves.

And a wonderful column. I'll be reading it from now on, even though I'm not a playwright or a parent.XO,Chris

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This "moment of complete optimism" is exactly what I needed today.

Beautiful, Catherine! What a wonderful meeting--and I can imagine how sweet that would have been for you!

I think you are onto something. Finding a way to give thanks in the midst of all situations--whether they be mundane and trivial or horrendous and excruciating--is transformative.

Picturing that meeting could bring me to tears. Good ones. I worked at a theatre company who really went out of their way to accommodate me and my young family. At the end of the run, when I tried to thank the Artistic Director, I cried. That kind of support is so meaningful. And certainly cause for optimism. More of this, please.