Catherine Hernandez is a Dora-nominated, twice-published playwright and the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre Company. She is a proud queer femme of colour, single mom, and burlesque performer. Today she stops by the blog and talks about mothering and creating.
When people ask me what it’s like being a mother and a theatre practitioner, I often say, “Before I had Arden, I worked in the arts. After she came into my life, I became an artist.” This may seem strange since the act of creating, auditioning, writing, performing gets kicked in the nuts when you have a kid in your life. Your schedule, sadly illustrated by a variety of coloured rectangles on your Google calendar resembles a dizzying patchwork quilt being sunk slowly by the weight of responsibility.
You find yourself apologizing to actors who are delivering a vulnerable moment at a table reading you are dramaturging because your toddler is dumping pasta all over her dress. You find yourself choreographing dance numbers with your screaming baby swaddled onto your aching body. You find yourself asking your precocious kiddo to “please stop begging the cast members for college money.”
But then magic happens.
In an act of pure necessity I had brought the then 5-year-old Arden along with me to Medellin, Colombia to teach theatre and photography workshops alongside Aluna Theatre, Kahaniya and Fundacion Imaginacion. We were heading high up the mountainside into what was a guerrilla stronghold to share with former child soldiers our skills in art making so that their stories would be heard and not forgotten. People thought I was being careless for bringing my own child into what some of my friends called a “war zone.” But I knew in my heart we would be safe.
We were prepared by the folks at Imaginacion that we were going to be dealing with a population rife with trauma. Her presence, her small stature, her shy, gentle nature, became essential to the healing goals of our workshops. I trusted them as Arden travelled from lap to lap; drawing pictures and gawking at donkeys built an intense friendship between us all. These souls, these brilliant minds who were taught at a young age to be killers — caught in a war between drug lords, landowners and the insatiable worldwide appetite for blow — were the giving community that helped me care for my daughter and involve her in the workshops we led. The weight of that time we had, the glory of childhood, the celebration of innocence and the mourning of lost innocence would have never been discovered had Arden not been there.
It is true that, as a single mother, my creation time must happen during evenings and weekends. It is true that my career moves at a slow pace because I cannot build networks or attend every event like my childless or partnered colleagues. Nor can I dreamily walk through forests during the day waiting for inspiration to hit me; nor drink coffee slowly in a cafe, typing whenever I want because my time is my own.
I remember my good friend and fellow theatre creator, Jean Yoon, visiting me weeks after Arden was born to tell me about the reality of being a writer and a new mom. “You think up the words while you’re breastfeeding. While you’re changing diapers. Pushing the stroller. Wait until the words are all over you. Then when she’s asleep, you write, you dump it all onto the paper. This is how it is now.” I still write this way. I wait until the words are all over me, heavy in my head, heart and hair, and I dump it onto the page as soon as my now nine-year-old daughter goes to sleep.
But the truth is, no matter how much I believe creation happens after Arden is away from me, she is the best act of creation I have ever executed. That her limbs have grown on dimes I have earned through my work makes me so very happy. That I will catch her up late at night penning the words to her next song makes my heart leap. That the universe has granted me this most perfect person who acts as my audience, my muse, my everything, leaves me entirely grateful.
For a glimpse into the Colombian project, take a look here:
Catherine Hernandez visits visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Valentino Assenza, Christine Miscione and Sheila Toller.
Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!