Tracy Held Potter tells us what it’s like to be the Theater Maker who “has it all.”
“The world must be peopled.”
-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing
As a mom of two very, very active young boys, people sometimes marvel at my ability to work in theater while raising children and ask, “How do you do it?”
Well, I have to.
For one thing, I love my boys like crazy and yet I sometimes feel like I need to be around grown-ups, because I occasionally have to do something else besides getting that urine smell out of my bathroom … and clothes … and carpet.
I get stir-crazy being home and doing the same things all the time—the repetition that is so great for young children is hard on me, because I want to hop around and do different things all the time. I want to be swept up in a story and frantically run around trying to collect teams of people, rewrite pages, and sell tickets to shows. That’s why theater feeds my spirit so well: I get to be around grown-ups who like to play and I get to do something completely different every day.
When my first son Henry was born, I marveled at him and wondered what he would be like and what incredible things he would be doing someday. I asked myself what I could do to help him achieve his dreams. I knew immediately that I couldn’t help him achieve his dreams if I didn’t fight to achieve mine.
I actually wrote my first non-academic play within days of Henry’s birth. My post-partum experience was extremely overwhelming, and I was on bedrest for weeks. I wrote a short play called “Reality Checkout” about a new mom’s nightmare about being emotionally attacked in a baby store, and somehow that play helped me to feel a little less lonely.
Seven months after I wrote the play, and about a year after I completed my Theater Arts classes at Laney College, I gathered some friends and approached the owner of a local baby store about producing the play in her shop.
I fantasized about how great the production would be and how dozens of people would flock to this little baby store, how delighted they would be about the production, and how enthusiastically they would purchase products from this independent, mom-owned store. I was making the world a better place!
Within a couple of weeks, the project expanded to include a total of four short plays in various site-specific locations with a showcase of all of the plays at the end of the summer. I wrote three of the four plays, directed two of them, and produced all of them, while working part-time and caring for and nursing my eight-month-old.
We produced the first play at the baby store, but it was kind of a mess. In addition to losing half of our rehearsal time to events outside of my control, we had audiences of about two or three people at each of the three performances, and children who weren’t part of the show kept running through the stage.
Somehow, I managed to bring Henry to a number of rehearsals, and I got away with nursing him while the actors were running lines or practicing their staging. I also brought him to some of the performances, but that turned out to be extremely stressful for me because I would bristle every time he fussed during a scene, worrying that the audience was getting distracted or annoyed.
Despite all of the things that weren’t working, the production gave me the opportunity to break outside of my comfort level and showed me a world that I really wanted to be a part of, and I discovered that this world was accessible to me.
Since then, I have continued to write, direct, and produce plays through my company All Terrain Theater and I’ve tacked on a number of other projects as well.
I’ve found that any work is accessible to me as a parent if my collaborators are comfortable with my status as a parent. Small things like inviting me to bring my children to meetings, telecommuting, or giving me autonomy to generate my own schedule all make it more possible to work while raising small children.
My friend Rachel Bublitz and I created an international playwrights challenge called 31 Plays in 31 Days while each raising two children under the age of four, and I think we accomplished it because we could have meetings at the playground while our children were playing. We worked our schedules around preschool, naps, and making dinner, and we did a lot of the work online. Working with someone who “gets it” makes it possible to flow with the craziness of parenting without fighting against it.
My children are a great gift to my ability to be productive. Because my personal time is so limited, I have to maximize every moment of it. If I have thirty minutes because my kids happened to fall asleep in the car, then I’m writing or responding to important emails. If I have a script due, then I write it as soon as I can, because I never know when I’m going to need to keep my son home from school because he’s sick, or if it’s going to take three hours to put my kids to bed (which is a lie, because I do know, and it’s every single night).
I’ve talked with a number of women who run theater companies in the Bay Area in collaboration with other women, and it’s exciting to hear them create spaces for their children (or future children) within their theaters so that they can continue to be creative and productive in the arts while still being close to their children.
The more we can incorporate the needs and realities of parents in our creation of theater, the richer our stories will become, because we’ll be representing more of the world around us.
But, more importantly, we need children around to remind us what theater is about: creating a magical experience that transports us into another world.
Tracy Held Potter is a writer, director, and producer currently working as an MFA candidate in the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University is Rob Handel. She is the Artistic Director of All Terrain Theater (www.allterraintheater.org), Executive Director of Play Cafe (www.playcafe.org), and Co-Founder of the 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge (http://31plays31days.com). She changes a lot of diapers, dispenses many hugs, and is extremely grateful to her dad for caring for her two incredible boys while she runs off to pursue her dreams.
Awesome! I love it! You’re going to go far dahling, far, I tell you!