How We Do It

We are all of an age now where we’re trying to negotiate The Theater with Life-Long Commitments, and that includes children.  Being a standard bearer for having a “successful arts career” while having “children”, I feel like it’s important to explain how we manage to do it.

First of all, we need to be clear about the timeline and our terms. In the six years between Gideon’s founding and our first child, we had basically six productions, including one that made money (Lucretia Jones)(and about $300) and one big break-out success (Fleet Week). Since having our first child five years ago, we have had essentially eight productions, winning a handful of awards, getting our first off-Broadway option and a raft of great reviews, including two New York Times Critic’s Picks. So… I’m not being an asshole here, we’ve been *JAW DROPPINGLY* lucky since my son was born.

And we have children. *TWO*, if I’m not mistaken.

So, despite my own misgivings about describing myself as a successful artist, I would be an ungrateful prick to describe myself as anything else. Most people haven’t had the luck I’ve had in the past five years and if I nitpick on definitions, then I’m just being a straight-up *butt*.

So, here’s how it shakes down. I stay home with the kids and Jordana works full time. Because she works for a Non Profit that deals with health care we actually have fantastic health insurance, which is incredible. She doesn’t make nearly enough money for us to survive which means I have to hustle up some freelance work every year. Which I do. I make about half what she makes, and it isn’t enough to afford childcare, so the kids are home with me.

This is one thing that has actually *helped* us be successful as a theater company. Look, the truth is we are part of an industry where supply overwhelms demand exponentially, and the difference between a “good” production and a “bad” one is entirely subjective. But one thing that seems to be apparent is enthusiasm, or lack thereof. Because of our schedule, because of the insanity, because half my freelance work is done with a child on my lap, because Jordana would rather be at home then at work and doesn’t want to miss a single bedtime, our knee-jerk response to every single opportunity is to say “no”. The only time we say “yes” is when we’re obsessed. We see a project and are so blinded with single-minded enthusiasm that we are already waist deep in it before we even realize we’ve agreed to do it, and we are driven to dwell on every single detail. Which might or might not be “good”, but we usually end up *pretty close* to the platonic ideal of the thing we set out to make and that is usually apparent in our work.

But, obviously I can’t produce shows with kids on my lap, it’s too much work, most of which needs to be done in person. Our dirty little secret is that we get MASSIVE amounts of help.

Jordana’s parents drive out from Long Island twice a week to be with the kids from 1 to 6. It’s not the perfect time for me, I can usually work from 12-2 when the kids are young enough to be napping, but it does mean I can leave the house for appointments or to go grocery shopping – although the shopping isn’t usually that much because my in-laws show up every couple of weeks with granola bars and diapers and cleaning products and yogurt and giant jugs of apple juice, all purchased at Costco and delivered to our door.

Would Jordana’s parents rather we both get jobs as hedge fund managers and pay for their retirement? I can say, without hesitation or fear of being wrong, the answer to that is an unequivocal NO. They want us to do *this*. Their love for Jordana and their grandkids is about as profound and deep a love as I have ever seen, and I didn’t fully understand it until I had kids of my own. They don’t fully understand what we do all the time, (Jordana’s father once ran up to the back of the theater *during the applause* so he could ask me how the play was and I was like, “You’re… You’re actually *here*. You’re still *here*, you don’t need me to tell you how the play was, you could actually tell *me* how the play was!”) but they come out twice a week because they desperately want us to keep trying.

These guys worked their whole lives at jobs – not “calling”s, just jobs. But they have an unshakable commitment to making sure their children can follow their life’s passions and are willing to do anything to make it happen.

The only person who actually matches their commitment to our work is my mom. We have a two family house, and when we were about to have our first spawn, the tenant who was making the mortgage possible told us he was leaving. So my mom, with about as much thought as one normally puts into their drive-thru order, decided to move from California, take over the apartment, and handle the lion’s share of the babysitting.

In the middle of the day, if I’m on a tear and there are things that are gonna require an hour of my attention, the kids will just say, “I’m gonna go upstairs.” My mom’s house on the top floor has almost as many toys as we have in our living room, there are legos and lincoln logs and markers and trucks and cars and Thomas The Trains and a treasure trove of kid-crap that can entertain any munchkin, from 6 months to 7 years old. She also has snacks.

More important than all of that, this means that as soon as the kids go to sleep we can leave the house. Both of us. Without hiring a babysitter and without worrying about the police. We forget that middle-class white suburban America doesn’t deal with things like “teaching your kid 9-1-1 and locking the door to go work the night shift while he’s asleep”. You spend a few years in a junior college in Los Angeles, you find out how a lot of kids grow up, and you start to realize that there are worse things than how you were raised.

Countless nights my mom has had the monitor going up in her apartment while she watched MSNBC and yelled at Republicans. Countless days, my mom’s apartment was littered with toy cars and granola bar crumbs while Barnaby described his invented mode of transportation, “the CarNaby”. And countless hours she spent holding a new born – first the boy, then the girl – letting them catch up on the sleep that kept their parents up all night the night before… and downstairs the parents were catching up as well.

I feel like this is the most important blog in my “Coming Clean” week, because I just don’t know how anybody else does it.

Let me clarify. *I* don’t know how *ANYBODY* does it. But I know this, I see women pushing a stroller at 10:30 at night with one sleeping kid in it and another exhausted kid holding her hand… or I see one parent at a show of ours one week, and the other parent shows up on a totally different week… or parents are at the PTA meeting with me while their kids want to be ANYWHERE BUT… or parents show up to the CSA with three kids in tow, trying to negotiate their stroller through the tiny New York City Supermarket Aisles… And I cringe in humiliation at the strength and fortitude it takes just for these seamingly simple tasks.

I think of my own struggles just to be on time to pick the kids up from school, just to get them through their homework, just to PAY for the stuff we have to pay for, and I realize that there are generations and generations of people behind us propping us up. It’s not just that we have Gramma Lorna, Grandpa Joe and Gramma Linda… it’s that they are the descendants of people who crossed the oceans and dragged carts across the plains, who lost children and parents on the trail or in the war or in the camps, who fought to turn dimes into dollars at a time when dimes could be turned into dollars in America – and they did all of this because every generation wants to see the dreams of their children come true, for their children’s lives to be easier and more fulfilling than their lives were.

And so we produce theater. In tiny venues for a handful of fans. But when I see my mother-in-law coming through the door, her eyes twinkling, barely able to contain her joy because she read our review in the Times, I glance over at my own daughter and I know why. When my mom staggers over to Mac at the end of a play and silently puts her 80 year old arms around him and just says, “thank you”, I know why. Their love for us is so profound and so beyond description that the things we love *become* the things they love, and they will go to Costco twice in a week, or take the clothes out of our hands at the Carter’s outlet saying “don’t be silly”, or drive to our house in pouring rain, or stay up for hours with a sick boy while we’re at rehearsal because our dreams, by the very nature of their existence, are incapable of being trivial to them. Their dream is that our dream comes true.

That’s how we do it. Countless generations of Jews and Gentiles have braved unimaginable odds to land us all in New York, creating theater because the theater is what Jordana and I fell in love with. And we have about twenty years before we turn, reach back and devote our lives to making the dreams of our children come true. I don’t know how anyone else does it, but we know what we’ve been given and when the time comes, we’re prepared to give it back.