Mothers In and Out of Theatre

If you're a woman in the arts (and we'll talk about theatre here), you are going to face many similar issues women in any field face, but it typically is compounded by an intimate environment, late or odd hours, no simple "Human Resources" department to turn to, and lines that blur far more easily than most fields.  Theatre is magnificent and fun, meaningful and rewarding, exhilarating and envigorating. But the challenges are real.  Add into this mix a woman who is no longer simply a woman in the field of theatre, but a mother in the field of theatre. Not only do you continue to have these issues, but now you oftentimes are thrust into the role as primary caretaker--within a field work late or odd hours, there is no simple "Human Resources" department to turn to, intimate environment, blurred lines...

In Rachel Spencer Hewitt's article for HowlRoundWhere Are the Disappeared Women of the Theatre?, she interviewed three different female artists involved in transforming mothers' places in Ireland's artistic scene. Sarah FitzGibbon, mother and theatrical artist, spoke to the "bias, or ignorance behind the table. Referring to their awareness efforts, she said:

You can hear a collective gulp when this topic comes up among theatre administrators. I call it “falling off the invitation list,” where a mother won’t be considered just because she’s had a child. A theatre will excuse their exclusion by saying, "she has a family,” as if that’s reason enough to scratch her off. It perpetuates a cycle of invisibility. (Sarah FitzGibbon/Where Are the Disappeared Women of the Theatre?

So what do women do? Women who become mothers and, by nature of the job, must start caring for another human being who has needs which will trump some of that mother's needs?

They make choices.  They make choices they may not want to make--or choices are made for them.  They sacrifice parts of themselves, their families, their dreams, their careers to keep parts of themselves, their families, their dreams, their careers. Or they put one or two life-components on hold in order to let another life-component or two flourish.  How many of us have said, "I'll put my art on hold--for now. I'll give it up for this time while my children are young.  You can never get this time back. These years are precious. Fleeting. This, right now, is more important."?

So mothers go through trial and error to find a combination that might work, that might make them happy, that might give them a sense of fulfillment in one or more major parts of who they thought they defined themselves as.  They rethink. They adjust. Their needs change. Their children's needs change. They strive for balance, balance, balance.

Then perhaps they have another child.

And they reconfigure everything. Again. And hope that it is easier this time. That they have gleaned something about the first time around which they can carry into their new series of trial and error runs.

Finding the work/life/family/self balance in parenting is an endless topic and one that all parents go through, although mothers, in many cultures and households, tend to bear this challenge to a greater degree than men. But how is theatre, specifically, confronting this consequence in its own still male-dominated field?  When mothers do not want to have to make the decision to put their art on hold, how is the theatrical community making it easier to accommodate?

Ireland has been thinking seriously about the issue of working mothers in theatre and over the last year has made significant strides in bringing awareness to the topic. In Rachel Spencer Hewitt's article (and here, I'll mention she is an impressive artist and mother in her own right, with an insightful blog centering around this very topic), she highlights the role of Dublin's rally, Waking the Feminists,  as well as The Mothership Project, "Ireland’s network for visual artists and art workers who are parents." By organizing a 600-strong rally, offering the Mothership Project, and creating an all-female childcare-accommodated production at The Abbey Theatre, Irish Theatre is taking some worthwhile initiative.

Like parenthood, there will be some trial and error, but this is an issue that continues to present itself in theatre, so it should continue to remain present in our minds, as well.