I think about personal symbiosis a lot. Some people, including sometimes me, call this “work/life balance.” But calling it “work/life balance” implies a separation between the two, with work on one side and life (all that is not work) on the other. Somehow, to be successful in both, one might assume they remain in their separate realms and, like the sides of a scale, can somehow be balanced if the right amount of each is placed on the pan on either side
But life and work are mutualistic, two systems that work together. This mutuality is what I’m calling personal symbiosis. It is one’s personal infrastructure. If one is going to work in arts/culture/higher ed/creative industries (pick as many as apply) and also have things that are not work kids/marriage/family/friends/neighbors/religion/politics/service (pick any and all that apply) finding a healthy interaction between the two is both a challenge and a necessity.
Last week, I shared my “Ten Things I Wish Someone had Told Me When I Was First Starting Out” with a large class of freshman and transfer students. As I got to #2, “Your life outside the theatre is more important than your work inside the theatre,” and glanced out at the crowd of over 150 students, I noticed students nodding in understanding. The nodders were all women. Why? Is it that the young men in the class didn’t agree? Or, more likely, that these young women understand that achieving the personal symbiosis they will need to sustain life and career is a challenge? Is it more of a challenge for women than for men? I would like to say “no,” but can’t because I don’t experience life as a man. I do know, through both research and observation, that the challenges are different for women than for men and that on the professional front at least, remain greater for women than for men.
There’s been a lot of chatter in my particular corner of social media space about imbalance in theatre programming such that plays by men make up the vast majority of plays programmed by large institutional nonprofit theatres. The most widely publicized version of this inequity being the Guthrie Theatre season announcement. So, if you’re a woman playwright, the odds are not in your favor professionally. Despite the fact that contemporary lighting designers stand on the shoulders of giantesses like Jean Rosenthal and Tharon Musser, historically, only just over 20% of Broadway shows have been designed by women.* Even if all else is equal at home, women are more likely than men to find gender bias against their work in the theatre.
My life has been a constant series of choices that adjust the symbiotic mutuality of the home system and the professional system. As I get older, I realize that there is a third system that requires attention as well: the actual biological system that demands healthy food, adequate rest, exercise, and access to healthcare. Creative infrastructure is not always funding or buildings or skills. Sometimes, creative infrastructure is the symbiosis of these three mutually dependent systems.
* For more on this, see my article “On Their Shoulders: Women in Lighting Design” Theatre Design and Techology, Fall 2005.
UPDATE: New post, a follow-up to this and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” – (Not) Having it All