Off-Broadway program offers support to actors with kids



Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space on West 52nd Street. Photo by Lauren Dalban

The Playwrights Realm, a non-profit that supports early-career playwrights, debuted its new production “Mary Gets Hers” at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space in Midtown last month. This is the Realm’s first production since the pandemic.

Just like other Off-Broadway plays that require long hours and frequent rehearsals, a Playwrights Realm production includes professionals who are committed to their craft. But the organization stands out in one specific way: it intentionally supports theater professionals with children, from the lead-up to the play’s debut to the course of its run.

Launched in 2019 and funded by theater lovers, this project provides opportunities to parents who struggle to have stage careers. Through its special program called the Radical Parent-Inclusion Project, the Realm gives playwrights and actors with children an opportunity to work in theater without worrying about scheduling issues or unaffordable child care.

“I know how hard it is,” said Roberta Pereira, executive director of the Playwrights Realm. “I think I had to call 11 sitters before I found somebody to be able to help me this week,” she said, referring to the multiple rehearsals she oversaw in preparation for the debut of “Mary Gets Hers.” Pereira had her childcare costs covered by the parent program, an opportunity she wants more theater professionals with children to enjoy. 

The Radical Parent-Inclusion Project is the brain-child of Pereira and Rachel Spencer-Hewitt, who is a parent, actress and founder of the Parent Artist Advocacy League, another organization that supports caregivers in the performing arts.

The 2022-2023 season brought theater attendance much closer to pre-pandemic levels, with 88.4% of theater seats being filled, according to the Broadway League, the national theater association. But the shutdown also amplified how unstable theater careers are, especially for parents.

“We worked out a schedule, we worked out a stipend, and we used Broadway Babysitters,” said actor Max Gordon Moore, who has an 8-year-old daughter. He was a cast member in the first Playwrights Realm production to make use of the parent program in 2019. 

“I could keep her in the theater just because often it was a new babysitter. I just wanted her to be around,” he said.

The program accommodated his scheduling needs and reimbursed him for his child care costs from Broadway Babysitters, a daycare service for parents in the theater industry.

Pereira said during the pandemic, the Realm hosted online panels and workshops with playwrights that were free to the public. In an effort to ensure that attendees with children could truly focus on the learning experience, Pereira offered them child care reimbursements —setting in motion a long-term effort to offer the parent program for most Realm events. 

Today, the Playwrights Realm also covers a large portion of child care costs during their annual Ink’d Festival, an event where Realm playwrights publicly read their work. 

Moore said many people in the theater industry with kids feel like they must choose between having a family and furthering their career.

“There’s a great deal of anxiety about making things stable, because the nature of theater in my experience is that it is—even when it’s going well–unstable,” said Moore, adding that having a child and trying to care for her while he pursued acting frightened him. “I really considered trying to find a different thing to do.”

The Realm is small and only debuts one play a year, reaching just a limited number of working caregivers in the theater world. For parents in theater, the Realm’s program is the only formalized support they have seen in the industry.

Mary Hodges, 52, is a member of the Parent Artist Advocacy League and has worked as a director and actress for many decades. As a mother, she struggled to get her career off the ground after her son, now 13, was born.

On multiple occasions, Hodges, while living in New York, had to move her son to Virginia so that he could stay with her parents while she worked on productions across the country. 

“When those auditions came, I was quite frankly scared because I was thinking, ‘How am I going to leave town? Do I get to take my son with me?’” said Hodges, who now teaches public speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University. “That’s not really how it’s done.”

The Realm’s play “Mary Gets Hers” runs through October 14.