Redefining “Radical” In Terms of How We Support Parents

I am a single dad who currently has full custody of my two-year-old and four-year-old. I am autistic and legally blind. I have a son who is also on the spectrum. I am a co-founder and co-executive director of National Disability Theatre where I am a full-time volunteer.

I was so fortunate to be the first autistic actor to play Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and one of the first autistic actors to get to play any autistic character. Later this year I will get the honor of playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus at Syracuse Stage.

A man in blue suit is speaking in a large conference room. Next to him is a woman in a green blouse and behind them is a woman in black suit ASL interpreting. They are all in front of a curtain which is lit in blues and yellows.

Mickey Rowe and Talleri Adkins McRae at the Kennedy Center's Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference in Atlanta, GA in August 2018. Photo by JW Barker Photography.

Because of my disability, I am not able to drive, which makes being a parent in Seattle, Washington very hard. I am frequently on important conference calls with our partners at the Ford Foundation, our producers at La Jolla Playhouse or the Goodman Theatre, or others while also picking my kids up from preschool, trying to placate them with Play-Doh and crafts, or rocking one of them to sleep in my lap—with various levels of success.

Being a single parent and doing theatre at all is incredibly difficult—if not near impossible. It really shouldn’t be. We must change our institutions. But being a single theatre parent with full custody and autism just makes it even more difficult.

We must create a society where parents are able to fully participate as well as financially survive.

Executive function is the skill in the brain that makes some parts of parenting easier: making a grocery list, scheduling appointments, filling out detailed paperwork. The ways my autism affects my executive functioning can definitely make parenting take more planning for me than for others. But my autism has never affected the way my children love me or the way I love them.

Being on the autism spectrum growing up and through high school, I had no friends. I spent my lunch breaks and recesses pacing the hallways not knowing who to talk to, how to talk to them, or how to make a friend. I was completely alone in my own head. But my grandmother had a subscription to Seattle Children’s Theatre, a professional theatre for young audiences, and when I was sitting in the dark theatre watching a show, I felt seen, I felt silently heard, and, really, sitting in that audience was the one time I felt understood. Now I have had to turn down so many auditions there because I knew that if I got the show, I wouldn’t be able to come up with the childcare to actually be able to fulfill the contract.

At National Disability Theatre, we solve this problem by acknowledging that children are welcome in all rooms. We can’t yet afford to pay for childcare in another room so we just have to embrace that that means children must be welcomed. Since Talleri McRae, my co-executive director, and I are both parents, this means during most video conference calls there is at least once child’s beaming face, sitting in someone’s lap, watching a copy of their face on the screen change with theirs as they make silly faces. And does this hinder or stop the work? No. In fact it enlivens the work. It makes us remember what it is to be human. Why we are doing what we are doing. That there will be real people in the audience. And, quite frankly, it keeps everyone in the room from taking themselves much too seriously.

I might not be able to afford to stay in the theatre community anymore. Because I am a parent. Because I’m a parent with a disability.

We must create a society where parents are able to fully participate as well as financially survive.

I haven’t quite figured out how to, yet, in my own life, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This year I met a fellow single theatre parent Helen Marion. Helen also has two boys. We are engaged and planning on getting married in the fall of 2020. And you know what? All of that executive function stuff that my autism makes so difficult? Helen is so brilliant at all of that.

We are a Brady Bunch for 2020. An autistic and legally blind man and a woman of color trying to piece together the future their blended family deserves.

Our future is still unclear. For custody reasons we must continue living in Seattle where the cheapest three-bedroom apartments cost over $2500 a month, though we are both more than happy to travel for work.

A man is sitting holding a phone up to his ear while a toddler sleeps on him. The toddler is holding a rainbow colored stuffed animal.

Mickey Rowe on a conference call for National Disability Theatre in the lobby of a preschool.

Will Seattle be able to support two theatre parents? I don’t know. But would it be a loss for the city if we left the industry? Absolutely.

I might have to. Despite acting opportunities and speaking engagements, I might not be able to afford to stay in the theatre community anymore. Because I am a parent. Because I’m a parent with a disability. But I sure hope that’s not the case.

Kids are literally our future. And we theatre parents cannot do it alone, nor should we. It takes a village. Is the American theatre going to step up and be the village we deserve?

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Thoughts from the curator

This series covers challenges faced by parent artists and builds on the work of the Parent Artist Advocacy League for the Performing Arts (PAAL), a national resource hub and all-parent, all-discipline league advocating for a national standard of best practices for parents in the performing arts. 

Parent-Artist Advocacy

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Here, here!  I have shared this on our facebook page for @ThinkingCapTheatre 

Thrilled to see this topic being addressed more extensively and consistently.

Warmly, Nicole in Fort Lauderdale