New Jersey Theatre Alliance Announces Partnership with National Parent Artist Advocacy League
New Jersey Theatre Alliance has announced a new partnership with the national Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL). As the host for the New Jersey Chapter, the Alliance will work with PAAL leadership to create meet-ups, offer resources, and share best practices for supporting parents and caregivers in the arts.
“The pandemic has put the need to create systemic support for caregivers into high relief,” said Erica Nagel, Deputy Director of New Jersey Theatre Alliance. “The arts, and specifically theatre, has long been a sector where many people have had to choose between career growth and caring for their loved ones. PAAL has been at the forefront of research and advocacy to ensure that artists and arts administrators can bring their full humanity, including their caregiving responsibilities, to their artistic practice.”
PAAL has also been a strong voice in the conversation about the intersection of anti-racism and caregiver support. “Professional penalties for living up to caregiving responsibilities disproportionately affect women of color,” notes Nagel. “If we are serious about moving toward an equitable, just, and anti-racist arts sector in New Jersey, we must take a hard look at how some of our traditional models and working cultures in the arts exclude people who care for children, elders, family members with disabilities or health conditions. And then we need to shift those models.”
Rachel Spencer Hewitt, founder of PAAL, has been working for over six years to collect best practices of parent and caregiver support from across the performing arts industry. These were recently published in the PAAL Handbook, available to all individual and organizational members of PAAL. “When organizations prioritize and engage with the needs of families and caregivers, they engage with the concept of care - in both the workplace and in the art we make,” said Hewitt. “PAAL is committed to empowering institutions and individuals within their communities to create networks of support and relationships of empathy and access so that our collective work for inclusion and belonging functions within a culture of care. The community conversations offered by our Chief Reps like Manda in partnership with willing organizations like New Jersey Theatre Alliance create an immeasurable impact of support for caregivers now and in the future.”
PAAL’s New Jersey Chief Rep, Manda Bliss, facilitates the bi-monthly Caregivers in the Arts Roundtable. These virtual meet-ups are designed for any self-identified caregiver in the arts, including administrative staff, independent artists, furloughed or laid-off arts workers, and those aspiring to work in the arts sector in our state. “I am indebted to the caregivers who have supported me, encouraged me, and lifted me up. It is such a gift to work with PAAL and NJTA to gather together, support, and empower the community of caregivers in the arts in New Jersey,” said Bliss. “Advocating for our own basic caregiver needs suddenly seems less daunting and more essential when there is a Zoom room full of wonderful individuals who also require that those support systems become commonplace in our industry and institutions.”
In one meet-up earlier this year, Ryanne Domingues, Artistic Director of Passage Theatre in Trenton, NJ wasn’t able to attend due to her busy schedule as an artistic leader and a mother of an infant. Instead, Passage was represented that day by Production Manager Brishen Miller, who was about to become a first-time father in just a few weeks. The conversation offered advice on supporting his pregnant partner, reflections on infant care, and a general spirit of celebration and congratulation. Miller is currently out on parental leave, the second employee ever to do so at Passage.
“It is amazing to have a space where these types of conversations are possible,” said Domingues. “I was the first person at Passage to ever go on maternity leave, so there were a lot of policies to put into place and questions to be answered. I am grateful to have found support through the Caregivers Roundtable, and I’m even happier that Brishen and I can be the start of a new chapter at Passage, where other caregivers can benefit from all we have learned.”
“We initially wanted to create a space where parents could share strategies for coping during the pandemic,” said John McEwen, Executive Director of New Jersey Theatre Alliance. “I was in countless meetings in the early days of COVID where the people caring for children or for elderly parents were carrying an additional layer of extreme stress and exhaustion. In response, we created the affinity group and also invited Rachel to speak to our member theatres about how to best support staff parents working from home. The thing that was most striking was realizing how the changes PAAL advocates for to support parents and caregivers actually support all employees and artists. We are proud to be the host organization for the New Jersey Chapter of PAAL, and look forward to a long and beneficial partnership.”
PAAL is also committed to supporting individuals who identify as caregivers outside of the realm of parenting and to dismantling biases related to gender expectations of caregiving. “As the caregiver to both of my beloved grandmothers, the PAAL virtual meet-ups have given me a space of support, peace, and encouragement”, says Deonté Griffin-Quick Manager of Programs and Services of New Jersey Theatre Alliance. At the beginning of 2021, one of Griffin-Quick’s grandmothers was diagnosed with lung cancer. “While trying to balance being a working actor, an administrator, and a graduate school student, I was also doing my best to try and support my grandmother as she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments,” he said. “PAAL became a wonderful community to connect with to discuss those challenges and receive words of affirmation.”
Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) is a national advocacy organization serving as a resource hub, community, and solutions generator for caregivers in the performing arts and media and the institutions that support them. PAAL created the first all-gender, all-discipline national PAAL Childcare Grants for individuals and institutions and the first annual international summit on caregiver support in the performing arts and media. PAAL also created the PAAL Handbook of Best Practices for caregiver support for training, education, and application of legal, ethical, and compassionate workplace practice, the three tenets of PAAL’s curriculum designed to create sustainable and humane structures for all contributors. PAAL’s work has been mentioned in the New York Times, American Theatre Magazine, NPR, and more, and PAAL has participated internationally in think tanks, on panels, and facilitated workshops on parenting and caregiving in the arts and media at multiple gatherings, including the national TCG conferences, BroadwayCon, USITT, Actors Equity Association, Professional Association of Canadian Theatres, and the first national conversation on caregiving in the Latinx community at the Latinx Theatre Commons Annual Convening, Miami in Motion.
PAAL commits to anti-racist roots in structure, practice, policy, principle, and production, through Vertical 50/50, centering support on BIPOC artists, and gathering resources for active anti-racism in caregiver support. PAAL is a transgender and non-binary affirming space. All language referencing "mother," "parent," "dad," "caregiver," and their derivatives include and refer to any individual who identifies with them.