Published September 2019
Technicians for Change exists to support workers in their fight for fair, safe working conditions. One place (of many) that our industry operates in an unsustainable manner is for parents working in the arts. Parents (and caregivers of elderly parents, for that matter) become master-organizers through always having one eye on the logistics of their lives and the needs of others. As incredibly focused workers and artists, parents bring so much to the table if their supervisors and co-workers can understand a few basic needs.
Most theater makers have to cobble together a variety of work in order to make ends meet. We are all subject to hard choices about what jobs we can and cannot afford to take. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cost of childcare. According to Christiane Cordero of WCCO Minneapolis, “The cost of childcare is the third largest expense among married, middle-income families, after housing and food, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The USDA estimates that number is increasing at about $100 per year…Metro-area preschools cost, on average, $13,000 a year, while infant care costs $17,000 on average.” This translates to $326/week. Rates are higher for part time or drop-in care, which might seem like a better option for many freelancers, though the value drops significantly. We encourage all companies to center their budget planning on fair wages: wherever an increase can be made to improve the lives of workers, it should be the focus. We are asking that all participants be able to pay for their lives with what they earn.
Until companies can provide a living wage, we encourage employees to advocate for themselves by demonstrating creative childcare solutions, and pushing management to include this in their planning. Can artists who are parents be connected with one another and supported in finding cooperative childcare during rehearsals and meetings? Can the company provide a safe space for childcare if the artist provides the caregiver? Is the company open to the idea of having children present at the beginning or end of an event to facilitate hand-offs between caregivers? Can the company be relied upon to stick to stated end-times (critical for childcare pick up)? At the very least, companies should be able to affirm the parent they hire by letting them know what options are available. We encourage workers to add this aspect of employment to contract negotiations.
The largest concern for parents contacted for this article, after the cost of childcare, was the need for a predictable schedule. As Sleepless in Theatre aptly covers, late nights are often considered the only available option for getting our work or our notes done. How might that be re-imagined?
Other scheduling aspects that would benefit from flexibility include evaluating whether a 10-out-of-12 (a term from the Equity Actors’ Association rules for union members, it’s a 12-hour rehearsal day with 2 hours of break) is necessary, or if an 8-out-of-10 would suffice. The value of a worker’s whole life balance is not being respected in a system where work hours are not set until the night before. An employee who has fewer responsibilities to other people gauges the impact of “Can you come in two hours earlier tomorrow?” as an opportunity rather than a burdensome choice. As humans, the feeling of being irreplaceable is a positive one. As caregivers having a trained swing (another term borrowed from performers, someone whose job is to learn multiple roles and is ready to step in to cover the roles in case of injury or absenteeism) would be a game-changer. With this stand-in, we could attend to a sick kid, or be present at a recital or planned swim lesson without feeling guilty.
Our culture and society as a whole are not set up to support working parents: you feel like a failure for not spending enough time with your child, for missing a meeting because your child vomited at daycare, for turning down a work call that conflicts with a game you promised to attend (or for missing that game because you took the call). What parents need are supportive teams that don’t guilt them for leaving at the scheduled end time or for not coming in early to deal with a last minute emergency. Staying late or coming in early create equally challenging situations; lives are planned around traffic, pick-up deadlines, and our partner and/or other caregiver’s schedules. The choice to stay for an extended conversation or as extra hands to finish a task is always balanced against the value of someone else’s time.
An important question raised in the collecting of stories and experiences for this article is “Whose time do we value?” (related to “Who gets to make art?”). When a company can strive for pay that meets the cost of living (and raising children) and efficiency in scheduling for all members of the team, everyone is empowered to bring their best work to the process, and a better product is the result.