Babysitters For Artist As Well As Audience

Back in August I mentioned a partnership of organizations working with the Broadway production of Here Lies Love to offer babysitting services to people attending select performances.  What I hadn’t dug deeper into, but an NPR reporter did, was that one of the organizations, Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL), was started as a way to offer childcare services to artists.

PAAL founder Rachel Junqueira Spencer Hewitt characterizes the organization as essentially being staffed by artists for artists and says it started partially out of her own need for childcare.

Hewitt had struggled to balance an acting career with her growing family. She had to hide her pregnancy at auditions; once her child was born, she had to turn down work because the contracts paid less than a babysitter would cost.

“I saw my path to my career blocked because of the lack of support,” she said. “And I know that every industry has this dilemma of — if the child care costs more than my job’s able to pay, how can I still do this?”

PAAL advocates for parents in all sorts of ways, including giving grants for fertility costs to artists and presenting a Black Motherhood and Parenting New Plays Festival. But helping people in theater take care of their children is part of their core mission — an early initiative was hiring babysitters to watch children at auditions.

I had noted back in August that PAAL was opening chapters in other cities. From the NPR story, their expansion plans are based in facilitating the participation of both creators and attendees of different arts disciplines. (my emphasis)

Eventually, she would like to see the concept spread to orchestras, operas — even museums. She says it’s good for the organizations, who may see increased loyalty and gain new audiences; it’s good for the parent-artists who are supported; and it’s good for people who’d like to see an art exhibit or a play but can’t because child care is so expensive.

“People who appreciate the arts are engaged in the realities of life,” Hewitt said. “You say, ‘Gosh, I wish they would come to my show,’ without understanding, where are they right now? They’re in the car. They’re in the pick-up line [at school]. They’re listening to your ad promoting your gorgeous exhibit while they’re trying to schedule the soccer game.

How The Red Scare Led to Ren Faires

The Smithsonian Magazine just published a pretty interesting story about how the proliferation of Renaissance Faires (RenFaire) in the US got their start due to artists being blacklisted during the Red Scare period of the late 50s and early 1960s. The first Faire in the US occurred in Los Angeles in 1963, by a mix of artists and educators who found themselves black/graylisted for various reasons, including refusing to take loyalty oaths.

The first faire was the brainchild of educator Phyllis Patterson who tapped into the talents of many out of work artists.

“That whole [anti-communist hysteria] helped guide what I did next,” Phyllis later told Rubin. “What happened to their lives and mine intertwined.” According to Rubin, Phyllis was “emphatic in her conviction that the Renaissance fair was able to flourish thanks to the Hollywood blacklist, [which] had the effect of making gifted and skilled people … available to lend their talents.”

The Smithsonian piece is rather long and detailed with videos and pictures from the first event and some of the early faires that followed. Things came together for the first event as a mix of pleas and luck with people going on the radio to ask for help building the Elizabethan village and loans of surplus materials out of warehouses. Subsequent events were a little more formally organized, but there was attention to detail right from the first one with Patterson coaching “performers in improvisation, English accents, Elizabethan vernacular and street cries.”

Perhaps most importantly, the aesthetic of community participation by attendees which is a hallmark of Renaissance Faires today was a cornerstone of the founders’ philosophy right from the beginning.

The original faire organization actually grew to encompass other events and expanded to present Victorian Christmas faires as well.

I suspect many readers here have participated in RenFairses in some capacity, (I worked at one for five summers as a kid), and will have an interest in reading more about their history in this article.

One Of The Last Un-Unionized Groups Of Broadway Workers Looks To Organize

Last week I saw that production assistants (PA) on Broadway shows were seeking to unionize under the auspices of Actors Equity Association, which represents actors and stage managers.

What really surprised me was that production assistants weren’t part of a union when pretty much every other group that staffs Broadway houses, including the ushers, ticket takers and doormen, are unionized.

Reading the description of what they do and how hard they work, it seems like there would have been a natural fit either in IATSE, the stage hands union, or Actors Equity, and they would have unionized long ago.

PAs, the union says, are hourly employees who work as part of stage management teams “from pre-production through opening night, doing everything from preparing rehearsal materials to ensuring decisions made during rehearsals are recorded to being extra sets of hands and eyes during complicated technical rehearsals to efficiently running errands that keep the rehearsal productive.”


The unionization would cover PAs who work as part of stage management teams on Broadway and sit-down productions produced by members of The Broadway League.

I strongly suspect there was some sort of politics or bias that prevented production assistants from being courted/allowed to join a union and something has changed. I would love it if someone had any insight.

One thing that may have changed is that Equity has shifted their approach to membership in the last couple years, broadening the scope of those they are willing to represent. I wrote in 2021 about how they adjusted the standards that would allow performers to apply for union membership. As I recently wrote, Equity also successfully unionized dancers at a strip club rather than nudging them toward AGMA, the union representing cabaret performers, or SEIU who had represented dancers at another strip club ~25 years ago.

One Org Making Good On Covid Era Diversity Commitments

A number of arts organizations made strong commitments to diversify their offerings and the composition of their staffs and performers as they emerged from Covid restrictions. Recently there was a story on about the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) new dancer roster which is younger and 50% composed of persons of color.

The organization had already begun moving in that direction, including the composition of people whose works they were choosing to dance, but their efforts have accelerated since venues were allowed to reopen. The article cites a woman who wasn’t entirely comfortable being in the company in the pre-Covid era who is more engaged with the organizational culture now.

In addition to changing the face of who is dancing and whose works are being danced to, the company has also addressed the body type and costuming issues which have been a somewhat controversial element of ballet.

Even when PNB performs full-length classical ballets like Swan Lake and Nutcracker, the rows of tutu-clad swans or snowflakes on stage are no longer made up of identical white dancers with long necks, narrow hips and flat chests.

Now dancers wear shoes and tights that match their skin tones, and sometimes Black dancers free their hair from the tight buns that have been de rigueur for ballerinas.

Going into the article, I was looking to see if there was any mention of audience growth or diversity. I was partially thinking of the post I made about Dallas Black Dance Theatre which has thrived since the Covid shutdowns. While anecdotal evidence, if PNB also saw an increase in audiences, it might be a sign there was an undertapped, unmet need that was finally be recognized. I was interested to see the article’s authors didn’t just depend on PNB’s claims about a more diverse audience, but spoke to a media outlet that serves the local Black community.

TraeAnna Holiday of Converge Media, an outlet that covers Seattle’s Black community, wrote in an email that while it has yet to be a major topic of community-wide discussion, she’s seen more diverse audiences at PNB performances.

“People are noticing this shift in diverse representation,” Holiday wrote. “PNB is setting a precedent in the industry; it’s impressive and notable.”

There was paragraph in the article that jumped out at me which I wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret:

To an outsider, PNB seems to be evolving into a contemporary ballet troupe, but Boal politely declines that moniker. “We’re a company that moves, a company that can dance,” he says.

I wondered if the term “contemporary” was being used as a qualifier to suggest PNB isn’t a “real” ballet organization. I am sure there are purists who might say that regardless of the terminology, but those couple sentences made me question if the internal politics of the dance world employed labels like that to signal acceptable boundaries.