I was on bed rest, pregnant with my first child. Bored out of my gourd, I felt that my sole purpose in life was to lie on my side (“Preferably your LEFT side, Sharon and never on your back!”); I was a nauseous oven to a growing baby. Out of the loop, I hadn’t sung or been on an audition in months. I was hormonal and miserable and lonely and feeling forgotten (and maybe an teensy bit sorry for myself). Then, as it happens in our business, my phone rang. “Hi Sharon! I have a job offer for you.” Maybe Tony likes the word Maria, but to me, these nine words were the sweetest sound I’d ever heard. As the director rattled off the specifics, I debated the conundrum. How do I bring up the baby?
“Uh, I would love to come do your show…but…I should tell you, I’m pregnant and I’ll have a seven week old baby on the first day of rehearsal.”
Without a pause the director cheerfully answered, “Great! We love babies!”
It was like winning the lottery—I had a job offer for a show I’d always wanted to do (Into the Woods) and I hadn’t had to audition. I settled back into my downy pillows and drifted back to sleep with dreams of little gurgles and moments in the woods. Life was perfect. Actress and mother. I was superwoman.
Then reality struck--I got the offer. $400 a week, a month long rehearsal period, no lodging available that could accommodate a baby (“We might be able to give you some leads on apartments in the area, but you’ll have to pay for it.”) and just like that, my time in the Woods was costing me a fortune. My husband Rob insisted that I take the job, knowing that I’d been stuck in bed and chomping at the bit to get back into my other life. I was conflicted and guilt ridden. “It’s not that I don’t want to be a Mommy, you know that, right?” I told my husband, “ It’s just that I miss being on stage.” After hugs and tears and reassurances that we’d make it work—I took the job and seven weeks after giving birth, I headed to Cleveland.
The show was wonderful and I happily found my footing onstage after many months away, but my “Mommy” sacrifices were huge. I spent thirteen days away from my seven-week-old baby (I have not repeated that length of time again with either of my children—lesson learned), and we hemorrhaged money. All told, between housing and travel on off days and childcare, it probably cost us $2000 for me to do twelve performances of Into the Woods. It’s a hefty price to pay. Why do it? Was I crazy? I polled other AEA parents about what they encountered after having a baby and discovered I was not alone. Thanks to everyone who took the survey. (Due to overwhelming response, answers to survey questions about breastfeeding and childcare will now become the sole subject of future columns.)
1) How long did you wait to return to auditions after having your baby?
Charlotte: My first audition was two weeks after I gave birth and I booked it!
Anoymous: I returned to auditioning ten days after I had my baby. It was for a role of a woman who lost her young daughter to cancer and I had to cry…I did.
Gina: It took several months after having my first baby to feel like I could handle real life, I was so overwhelmed.
Natalie: I went to an audition eleven days after giving birth via C-section. The director, with whom I'd worked for years, called me and said, "I know this sounds crazy, you're barely out of the hospital, but do you want to come in and read?" I didn't get the show but it was a huge boost to my ego and it felt great get "back in the saddle" so quickly!
2) How long did you wait to return to work after having your baby?
Anonymous: I returned to work one month after having my first child, maybe too early some would say, but the show closed the month after that.
Vanessa: I had a singing gig when she was ten days old. I was scheduled to essentially stand for an hour, but we had to take *many* extra breaks because my girly parts were too sore to stand so long.
Traci Lyn: I went back to work one week after my second child came home (adopted). With child #1 (also adopted) I wouldn't have done that but I felt a lot of pressure to get back to business with child #2. I didn't feel as supported with the second child.
Heather: I was on a National Tour, so I went back to work when my daughter was ten weeks old.
Kathy: While I was pregnant I thought I'd want to go straight back to work--then I felt the tremendous love and attachment to this little girl that was unlike anything I could have imagined. Cliche'? Absolutely. True? ABSOLUTELY!
3) Did you feel pressure to return to auditions or work? Why?
Jen: I felt a lot of pressure to get back to work because I was a young mom. My daughter was born when I was twenty five, which in our business is very uncommon. I felt a lot of unfriendliness from other actresses about it-almost like I was a sell out. It's interesting to look back on it now, because so many of those women are now having or have had children, but at the time I was very successful and I was given a really hard time by my peers, and my agents were not very nice about it at all. In fact, they stopped submitting me and made assumptions about my career because I had a baby. It's very important to work with an agent who understands and respects your need and desire to have a family.
Vanessa: I felt a lot more pressure NOT to go back, and still do. Unless you've got a production contract, going back to work as an actor is an almost guaranteed financial drain, once you consider childcare and -for the legions of us who live outside the city - transportation. The strain on my family that's caused by me "pursuing my dream" is pretty intense. We have yet to figure that one out.
Charlotte: The only pressure to get back to work was from me. I was on bed rest most of my pregnancy and was eager to get 'in there' again. I also needed to prove to myself I could still get hired and wasn't forgotten in the acting world.
4) Did you change the kinds of jobs you were willing to accept after having a baby?
Kim: I had to change the kind of jobs I took- It had to support another salary- my babysitter- I think it actually helped me - I had to say NO!
Rachel: I auditioned for anything and went on a job to job basis.
Melissa: I still go on auditions for tours and I would consider taking one. As much as I hate being away from my kids, it's my responsibility to make sure they eat and have food and clothing.
Vanessa: Honestly, the only work I do now (being agent-free and not at liberty to go to EPAs) is when someone calls and asks me to do a project. If I only stand to lose a few hundred dollars, I'll do it.
Anonymous: I will only take a job out of town for money, legs (if it comes back to Broadway) or a role I HAVE to play.
Jen: Having a baby definitely narrows your playing field as far as work. How on earth do you go out of town? Who is going to watch your baby during rehearsals for 8 hours a day? What about performances? I did several regional theater jobs and took my daughter and it was very stressful trying to find day care centers or local people. How do you go to a strange town and leave your baby with strangers? I did it and it was not fun.
Ashley: I'm just getting started back, so I haven't booked a job yet, but I definitely had to change my parameters. I have twins and we don't have any family in town so I'm only able to go out for jobs that are local, and preferably the majority of the rehearsals and performances are at night, so I can work around the schedule with my husband's 9-to-5, and my mom coming to help.
5) How did you manage to function on so little sleep? Did people notice and comment?
Ashley: Luckily my babies are pretty good sleepers at night, but there is beauty in caffeine.
Anonymous: I survived on diet coke and chocolate.
Kathy: The sleep deprivation is a shocking reality that comes with motherhood. I'm amazed that I'm able to function at all, but what I really noticed is that my memorization skills were slow and sloppy. I'm normally a lightening fast memorizer. I felt that I could sing well, which surprised me, but the brain-cells allocated to memory were at a bit of a loss.
Vanessa: When I'm working on a show, I find my energy in that. I'd say I'm more alert, wittier, and more on the ball working on a performing project than pretty much any other time.
Alison: Hahahahahahahha. Sleep? What's that? Honestly, for me, the worst consequence of sleep-deprivation at this point is that I seem to get sick quite often, which is detrimental to my performance ability.
6) Did you feel supported? If yes, how? If no, why?
Charlotte: Casting directors seemed to love the fact I had a baby. For a final call back at Telsey, they even gave me an intern who watched my daughter while I went in and out of the audition room for match-ups.
Anonymous: The only times I didn't and still don't feel support is when someone would chalk up my strong opinion to "hormones" or right after my babies were born to "post-partum".
Gina: An assistant in my agent’s office once told me I shouldn't come in with the baby, because it would limit me in the agent's eyes. I don't think that is true with this particular agent in retrospect, but that assistant is now an agent, so I'm sure it happens.
Vanessa: All around, I do not feel supported. Actors who are more firmly established (with Bway credits, agents, etc.) have a very different experience of actor/parenting, I think. For many of us who are professional but still struggling to climb the ladder, it really feels impossible -once you've started a family- to continue the climb. It feels like a world of two clubs: the young, childless, mortgage-free, responsibility-free folks who wait tables and audition all day long and leave town, etc., and the seasoned, credited, agented, contracted folks who have to juggle but are not simultaneously trying get a foot in the door. I don't belong to either club, so it is easy to feel discouraged.
Alison: Yes and no. I had my children at a young age, and prior to joining the Broadway community. I felt there were very few actresses who were still building their careers (like me) that had children. I felt very isolated, and that I was often the only one in a show with a family. But in recent years I have met many, many, many more working parents, which makes me feel like I have a vaster support system, and that I'm not alone.
Courtney: I feel that people are enthusiastic about my son but I wouldn't say supportive. Only two other people in the room of thirty five have children. Support for parents is not built into our structure. Mostly, right now, I feel I am not very good at either of my jobs. I am making many silly mistakes at work and I have less patience with my son than I want to have. I hope soon I figure out how to balance these two worlds.