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My Own Coming Out by Elana Gartner

28 Nov 2013 2:44 PM | Anonymous
My son has recently started to parse the idea that people can have multiple identities or roles; a mom, a dad, a teacher, a wife, a husband, a sister, a brother, a doctor, etc. And he has subsequently realized that I am a playwright and a mom. And that I can be both as well as many other things. But it has been much harder for me to articulate that on my own than to him.

I’ve been a playwright nearly my entire life. While visiting New York recently, fellow ICWP’er, Julia Pascal, asked me what makes me write. I ultimately answered that I didn’t know how to be any other way; it’s simply in the fabric of who I am. In addition to the actual writing, I have spent a lot of time building a professional presence for myself.

I have a website, I have cards, I have a Facebook page for me as a playwright and I primarily use my personal Facebook page for theater related posts as well. I have found many ways to connect to the theater community, both here in New York and internationally.

Then there is the other part of me. I am the mother of two young children, ages 2 and 5.  I have made sure that I have concentrated time in my week to spend with them because I believe the earliest years are critical to learning about and shaping who a child is. I have spent a lot of time building myself as a mother. I have found many ways to meet other parents and find resources for family activities. I always knew I’d be a mother; it’s part of the fabric of who I am.

And never the two shall meet. My writing is not appropriate for children. My children are not appropriate for my writing. I do capitalize on my experiences as a mother when giving feedback on other people’s work in a playwriting group. And, of course, I want to teach my children about theater.

I have had a number of conversations with other theater moms of young kids about being treated differently once the baby is born. It’s not that the theater community isn’t thrilled that we’re pregnant and pro-creating, hopefully giving birth to the next phenomenal actor, playwright or director; it’s what it means for us: it’s seen as a liability. And I’ve checked it out; it’s different for dads.

For theater moms of young kids, there’s an assumption that we are unavailable for rehearsals or networking events and, therefore, might not get cast or invited. These assumptions are not without merit. I routinely have to go home after a show and miss out on the critical post-show drinks/networking because I have to get up early with the kids. My weekend time, the prime time for all things theater-related, are often given over to my family.

Until recently, conferences have been impossible to go to and writers’ retreats are right out the window. But I try as hard as I can to go to friends’ and colleagues’ shows or readings, to participate in playwriting groups and to meet theater folks for coffee or dinner. Both the perception and the reality of my circumstances make the effort harder.

I am aware that there are those parents who, once in a production or when they are part of a theater administration, bring their children with them to the theater when they have to work. Getting to that point is more challenging. I was encouraged when I recently saw a call for scripts from the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company who had received a grant specifically supporting playwrights who had families so they could attend a week-long residency.

With the grant, playwrights received compensation for childcare while the parents were away. I was also encouraged when I attended the Great Plains Theatre Conference to see one of the playwrights had brought her baby daughter and the conference provided volunteer babysitting (for the first time in their history) when she needed to be focused. So I do see a few in-roads here and there.

This year, my worlds began to smudge. My son’s pre-school class was doing a lot of work with drama and puppets. I offered to come in to do a little playwriting exercise with them. I talked with the teachers at length about how to do it with the children’s gnat-sized attention spans and, on my way there, I was probably just as nervous as I would be at the opening of a production. I explained dialogue and action in the simplest terms and then the class “wrote” their own oral play with actors acting it out in real-time. Smudge.

This summer, I attended the Dramatists Guild conference and attended a workshop on the use of social media in playwriting. The presenter talked extensively about his Twitter conversations, philosophical or otherwise, about experiences in the theater world. But then…he also Tweets about his family and his son. “You want to be the person that people want to have a beer with.” he said. And that, to him, meant including all of your identities.

I don’t know that I am ready for that. People in my local theater circles or on joint projects generally know that I’m a parent. Those who are just meeting me for the first time (some from ICWP) are often surprised. Smudge. You would think that, even in an organization of female playwrights, that I might feel more comfortable “coming out”, as it were, to these dual parts of my personality.

But I’m not always and, after all, getting to be an adult and having conversations not about children is a refreshing change of pace. However, I have, very slowly, been posting some of my blog posts on my experiences as a parent to the ICWP listserv in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of link. And several members have responded with encouraging emails. Smudge.

So…I guess I need to accept the smudges. After five years, this should be easier, shouldn’t it? Okay. Deep breath…I am a playwright and a mom. I am a playwright and a mom. Hi, I’m Elana, and I’m a playwright and a mom.


© Elana Gartner. All rights reserved. This work may be republished, only with full attribution to the author.


  • 19 Dec 2013 10:31 PM | Donna Hoke
    Great post, Elana. My kids are older, so I don't often hear as much anymore, but I do often feel like I need to hide it. But just to give you an idea of this issue in all reality, an AD of a theater that I spend a lot of time with, i.e. he KNOWS me, called me to a meeting to see about me doing some other work for the theater. In the end, I politely declined saying that with four kids still at home, I didn't think I could give it the time. His response: "Oh yeah, you have four kids. I always forget that."
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  • 19 Dec 2013 11:37 PM | Mary Bracken Phillips
    Thanks Elana for writing so well about us. My husband was killed in an automobile accident when my son was eight. That was twenty years ago. My son is now thirty one and married. But every year he was young I ran into the conflict between the playwright and the mother. My late agent, Brett Adams once said to me, "Why can't you be more like (composer) Andrew L...? He's at every opening,every party, he knows everybody and has networked with everyone in the business. Why can't you be more like him?" To which I had to reply that Andrew L was a single young male composer while I was a middle aged widow and mother of an eight year old. To which Brett (who truly cared about me) said "And that's a problem."
    So thanks Elana for writing about the "problem". I hope succeeding generations of women will handle it better than I did. Meanwhile my son has grown up to be a caring wonderful young man of whom I'm very proud. And networking still isn't and has never been my strong suit. And that's a problem.
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  • 23 Dec 2013 12:55 AM | Raf
    The other side of the coin is people assuming thoughtfully that you won't be able to do something because you have children - when (due maybe to temporarily fortuitous circumstances) you CAN!
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  • 02 Jan 2014 4:11 PM | Lisa Rafferty
    So glad to read this Elana. Love the idea of our worlds beginning to smudge. It does happen all the time and perhaps we need a smudge icon or smudge super hero that we can call on when it happens.

    I was a director first, then a mom, then became a playwright after I had three kids under four, moved across country twice and missed directing so desperately that I decided to write a play about motherhood with friends just so I could direct it. Plus, my over anxious, over-thinking, over-doing motherhood brain needed some kind of outlet and writing worked as the best kind of therapy. Especially writing funny. Thus, 'The MOMologues' was born!

    I'm in the support group with you. I'm a playwright and a mom. Let's call our Motherhood Anonymous or MA. First meeting will be about smudges.
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