I’m Not the Only One with a Show

The last week of March 2015. Tech week for Dancing the Mural. I have 5 artists flying or driving in from out of state: two of them arriving the day of dress rehearsal. I have pieces that are being finalized and set during tech week. I have dress rehearsal. I have long rehearsals leading up to the show. I have three fifth graders from a South Tucson elementary school and one community member performing with us. I have a crew that needs to load in and completely strike (as in take all of the equipment to an offsite storage unit) the show in our site specific location every night. I have a very heavy “mobile” stage that needs moving. My phone number is the box office number and I have tickets I need to print and a box office to organize. I have to make sure volunteers and front of house have things taken care of. I have to worry about security, costumes, and rides of artists. I need to make sure this mobile mural is finished and gets to the location of the performance. And I am also dancing in four out of seven choreographies premiering in the show.

I am the epitome of heroic leader, which by the way, is the standard model for modern and contemporary dance companies. One dynamic leader – a la Martha Graham, José Limón, Alvin Ailey – the driving force pushing a company, an art form, the dance field forward. The model has not changed much for the dance community since then. So here I am, juggling and struggling in an outdated model; a one-woman force carrying a company on my back, singlehandedly running a community-engaged multimedia art performance.

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And my org was nominated for a Governor’s Art Award so I have to travel the 4 hours to Phoenix and back on Tuesday night of Tech week, in the middle of the madness, in the off chance that we win (we did not). And the EmcArts program, which I am now a fellow of, changed the date of the first Arizona seminar to the morning of the show’s opening, so now I have to attend that. (I show up late and the facilitators are not impressed.) I have a million and one things to do, fires to put out, artists to calm and reassure, details to smooth over. I am at my wit’s end. The house is a mess. I am a mess. Spread so thin. Being pulled in a thousand ways.

 

And I am not the only one with a show. Thursday morning, the day of dress rehearsal, at 9am, my son has a school play. The annual Easter performance. I never miss his shows, which usually run 2 mornings. Knowing full well I can’t make the Friday morning show (given that dress rehearsal will run late, I am directing/producing/performing in a show that evening, and I am already booked for this EmcArts thing), I go to the Thursday morning show.

It was a cute show. He was a roman solider. I was exhausted. But I arranged the company’s Thursday rehearsal schedule around that show so I could make it. I think I went straight to rehearsal after his show. I think I worked straight from 10am-midnight that night. I think. I can’t quite remember.

But I was there. Tired. Exhausted. But I was there.

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You Look Happy Today

This past summer into fall, I worked every single day from August 3-October 3. I had a total of 40 rehearsals and 14 performances plus grants, photo shoots, out-of-town board meetings, production meetings, guest lectures, and award ceremonies. I worked straight through. No days off. All of Buddy’s after school activities – swimming, piano lessons, and tae kwon do – were canceled during that time frame because my work schedule was so intense that I could not manage with his regular activities. In general rehearsals were twice a day, 9am-noon, then 6pm-10pm. Saturdays were 3 hours of technique classes, then afternoon rehearsals until 6pm, Sundays 10am-6pm. I was never home. I did not see my family. The house was (is) a mess. There were many many nights that my boys ate cereal or worse, fast food for dinner because I was not home to cook. And, as I may have mentioned before, my husband may prepare a meal once every six months or so. I am lucky laundry was done.

August 3-October 3 was a long time. I was so sleep deprived; the dark circles under my eyes were so large and so dark my husband said it looked like I had black eyes. I was grumpy every morning. Sleep deprived.

It’s cyclical. The never ending workload, the crazy rehearsal schedules, all my time, energies, and talents essentially donated to small non-profit arts orgs. This cycle takes a consistent toll on me and my family.

After the last show I produced for my company closed, Buddy mentioned to me a few times in about a two-week period, “Oh you look happy today” or “You are smiling” or “You don’t have a mean face.”

I knew I was stressed, but I had no idea that my son was seeing me with angry stressed out faces for months on end. And that it had such an impact on him that he noticed the difference when I actually had a pleasant expression and smiled.

My poor baby.

In my experience(s), there is a lack of support systems for women choreographers, women of color and Latinas in the arts, and artist mothers. I am all three. I am torn because there are so few Latinas in dance and choreography working in the themes and aesthetics with which I work. I want to keep working, fight the good fight, and have a positive impact on the field. Yet, I wonder if it is worth it.

Tears at the Bus Stop

Collaborating with theater companies is interesting. They love to rehearse. And I mean LOVE to rehearse. 6-10pm, 5 days a week, or 6-10pm 4 days a week AND 10 am-5pm on weekends at least 6 weeks at a time. And I get it, they need that rehearsal time. But this rehearsal schedule is BRUTAL for me and my family.

During a recent theater collaboration, Buddy spent a lot of weekends at my in-law’s house. First it began on Saturday nights because I would rehearse late and then have to be back at rehearsal the next morning. And my husband, well, for the most part, he isn’t the stay home and make a meal and take care of the kiddo type of guy. All I can hope for is that he doesn’t give me a hard time when I drop the kid off with him on my way to the theater, he feeds him a decent meal, and that puts the kid to sleep at a decent hour. For now, that is all he can (or will) handle.  And my Saturday nights sans child, I usually spent them on a date with my husband. Because, even though I was exhausted, this was the only time I have to spend with my husband all week. If we do not have a date night, I will see him less than 15 minutes a day for a 9-10 week rehearsal and performance run, and that schedule is really problematic for a marriage.

At first, Buddy loved staying at my in-laws. All the unhealthy processed foods and sugar he could ask for, unlimited cartoons. It was fun. But that can get old after a while. Once the Thursday-Sunday performances started, the once a week sleep over at my in-laws evolved into both Friday and Saturday nights. My husband started waking up with the kiddo to make him lunch and take him to school on Friday mornings so I could sleep in. But the two full days of watching the kiddo without me in the house (I was also taking a technique class every Saturday morning before the show) was not something the partner was up for. Buddy grew tired of Nana’s house and he started to miss me.

The last Friday of the show’s run, I woke up around 6:30 am to walk Buddy to the bus stop with my hubby. It was then I told him he would be staying at Nana’s house again that weekend. He started bawling “NO MAMA!!! WHY?!? WHY, MAMA, WHY?!?!? I MISS YOU!! I MISS YOU MAMA!! NOO!! WHY?!?”

My son missed me. Yet I hadn’t gone anywhere.

I felt guilty, like I was a terrible mother for not spending quality time with my son when time is sacred and childhood is precious and fleeting. I also felt resentful, bitter, and angry that I was sacrificing so much time away from my family for so little pay and so much unnecessary drama that oftentimes accompanies theater productions. I promised myself then and there I would never again commit to that type of rehearsal schedule and for so little pay. It isn’t worth the sacrifice.