Balancing Act


When Christine Jones was designing sets for Spring Awakening on Broadway and The Onion Cellar at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, she was juggling more than two shows. She teaches at two schools, New York University and Princeton, while caring for Pilot, almost three, her son with actor Dallas Roberts. Their second child is due this month. “My partner is an actor and over the last year, he has been spending a great deal of time out of town,” says Jones. How does she manage?

When two people have irregular hours and travel often, life can be complicated. This is never truer than when designers have partners in the same business. Set designer Neil Patel, for instance, and director Maria Mileaf have a daughter, nine, and a son, five. They try not to be in tech in different cities at the same time, but sometimes it's unavoidable. And when they work together — February found them both in London, where Patel was designing Mileaf's production of Underneath the Lintel at the Duchess Theatre — it's inevitable.

Chris Barreca and Mona Heinze both teach at Cal Arts, Heinze full-time. Heinze also serves on the board of the Flintridge Foundation, which funds theatre and environmental causes, and travels to meetings. Having a set schedule makes planning easier, but it also means Barreca has to carefully consider taking any job he knows will conflict. They have two daughters, four and five. They were in the process of adopting one when the other was born, and the onset of family life was sudden. “I don't think either one of us was prepared for how much it was going to change things,” says Barreca, who traveled to China to pick up their adopted daughter and had four shows within months after returning. “I'm not exactly sure how we made it through that period.”

Did earlier generations have it easier? “You don't let children do nearly as much on their own today,” reflects costume designer Jane Greenwood, who often worked on shows with her late husband, scenic designer Ben Edwards. “I would take them to the bus stop [to go to school], but now parents have to take them all the way. It seems everything is much more complicated, and I take my hat off to young people who have children.”

But Greenwood had to do some juggling, too, especially when Edwards was on location for movies, and she has suggestions for other designer parents.


Family and friends: Mileaf is from New York, and Patel says they couldn't do it without her folks, but not everyone has such easy access to extended family. Greenwood sometimes sent her daughters to England, where her mother lived. Recently, Jones flew to Atlanta, dropped Pilot off with her sister for a few days, and then her father brought him back; Pilot also has stayed with Roberts' parents in Florida.

More often, Jones and Roberts get by with a little — well, a lot — of help from their friends. Among these are four actors who went to Juilliard with Roberts, don't have children of their own, and help when they aren't working. Pilot's godfather, Haynes Thigpen, stayed with Pilot when Jones went to Boston so she wouldn't need a sitter in a strange city, and he greeted her below her fifth-floor walkup to carry luggage and car seats up.

Trades with other parents also work. James Houghton, who runs Juilliard's Drama School, went to Paris with his wife when Jones happened to be at home. She and Pilot stayed at their house with their kids. Another couple invited Pilot to stay with them recently. “We don't have family in the city, so we have to be family for each other,” says Jones.

Less can be more: Barreca says his wife compromises when he's not there, but he tries to be there more often, turning down some jobs that interfere with her work. Patel says he and his wife pick projects carefully, trying to limit out-of-town work during the school year, “but even if you have a solid New York career, you have to spend a certain amount of time away. We try not to be in techs in different cities at the same time.” Jones takes fewer projects these days, which allows her to work only on what deeply interests her. “I'm enjoying the opportunity to focus on two or three projects at a time and develop them in an in-depth way.” Teaching, even though it means more to juggle, is what provides the income cushion that allows this, as does Roberts' TV and film work.

Take the kids to work: Barreca says his assistants engage the girls, helping them do such things as turn abandoned model parts into puppets. Greenwood says she and Ann Roth would take their daughters to the Brooks Costume Company, where they played dress-up using costumes on the top floor while the moms worked. The Patels took their children to London for part of their recent stay, and Barecca's daughters, who have often gone with him to local theatres, will accompany him to Austria in May.

Find time, and spend it with the kids: By moving his studio into his house, Barreca is there more often. Greenwood and Edwards thought about moving to the suburbs but stayed put because living near the theatre district gave them more time with the kids. Greenwood says it was important to have family meals when they were in town and to involve the children whenever guests were over. Patel says he found it hard to imagine quitting before 10pm, but now he schedules studio time from 10am to 6pm. Sometimes, he goes back at night, but the schedule has made him more efficient, and he's able to spend days off at home. “In a lot of families, both parents are in the city, but they need full-time nannies anyhow,” he says.

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