Shutting the Door on the Hard-Knock Life

In sync with the resurgence of labor activism nationwide, actors, dancers, stage managers, technicians and others have been questioning the nuts and bolts of their contracts — both the documents that detail their jobs and the wider assumptions about what they owe an audience. Can the theater, they ask, find a way to uphold them more holistically as humans, even as they continue to gut themselves every night?

Some people will not even agree that it should. The idea that theater is a calling, not a job, and that the two categories are mutually exclusive, is so ingrained in the industry’s ethos — not to mention its business model — that demands for shorter working days, more understudies, intimacy coordinators, mental health stipends, child care reimbursements and other accommodations are often met with doubt or derision. Caring for actors, some say, is coddling. Suffering is a badge of honor, and the theater is properly a purple-heart club

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To test whether the idea of supporting parents could work in the nonprofit sector, the Playwrights Realm, an Off Broadway company devoted to early-career playwrights, created a pilot program called the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project. Roberta Pereira, the Realm’s executive director, explained that during the 2019-20 season, which included a production of Anna Moench’s “Mothers,” the company basically tried every possible accommodation to make parents welcome not only onstage and backstage but also in the audience.

 

Among those accommodations was a caretaker reimbursement of up to $750, available to anyone working on the theater’s programming that season. (The credit was good for any kind of caretaking, including eldercare.) Rehearsals were cut back to 30 hours over the course of five days from 36 hours in six, necessitating an extra week to make up the difference. Broadway Babysitters, an arts-focused child care company, was hired to mind children during open auditions and callbacks, and a 4 p.m. matinee was added to the schedule. “For children who are younger and take naps,” Pereira said, “that was a much better time than 2 p.m.”

 

The free child care was not just for performers, by the way; audience members brought a total of 22 children, half of them less than a year old, to the matinee — which perhaps as a result sold out. —New York Times