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Broadway's Busy Mothers

Kerry Butler, Jan Maxwell, Lea Salonga and other stars write about the joys and challenges of being a working actress and a working mom.

Kerry Butler and Segi
(© Kerry Butler)
Being a working mom, as so many people know, is a challenge, and being a working actress has its own set of challenges, and joys, and funny stories. In honor of Mother's Day, TheaterMania asked seven of these extraordinary women to share their own stories in their own words.

Kerry Butler, The Best Man
My husband Joe Mazzarino and I chose to adopt. We found our beautiful daughter, Segi, in Ethiopia. The process took about a year. I was on One Life to Live at the time, and I was let out of contract just as we brought her home. It actually worked out great because they still had to pay me for six months. Segi was 13 months, so I had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom. Then, that spring, I got Xanadu. Life became hectic. I had to learn accents and how to skate.

There's not a lot of privacy at the Helen Hayes Theatre, where we did Xanadu. The dressing room walls didn't even connect to the ceiling. Joe and our nanny would bring her for visits in between shows. Then, we discovered the nanny, who'd been recommended by a friend, was being vocally abusive to Segi, so the search began anew. That's how Terry entered our lives, and what a blessing she was.

I was leaving for rehearsal at 9:30am, and getting home at 6:30. I'd take Segi to the park when she woke. At 7:30, we'd usually be the first on the scene. We'd spend an hour. I scheduled skate lessons during lunch break, so I could get home to tuck her in. I'd be up into the wee hours practicing dance moves and studying the script. I never worked so hard! Thankfully, at the orphanage the children were somehow trained to sleep through the night.

My goal now is to leave six months between shows, which is why The Best Man is my first show since leaving Catch Me If You Can. When Segi's in school -- she's now six -- I can take jobs, like voiceovers, that fit into the schedule. I won't take jobs that require me to be away. There are sacrifices, and you hope for the best.

With The Best Man schedule, I pick her up at school at three and don't leave until 5:30. I try not to schedule anything on non-matinee days so we can spend time together. Still, I can't be home to tuck her in. Segi's gotten used to Joe tucking her in, so in the middle of the night she never calls for me; and, now, doesn't want me to tuck her in. We love Disney World, but on occasion when we've been there and she doesn't want me to sit next to her on the rides, I've cried. She doesn't even get upset when I leave for work. Though I know she loves me as much as I love her, she's totally a daddy's girl. It's heartbreaking! To try and create a balance, I'm trying to negotiate having more shows off so I spend more time with her.

Christina Kirk, Clybourne Park
I'm a terrible multi-tasker, and when working I tend to be completely consumed, so the idea of starting rehearsal six weeks after giving birth in order to launch into two consecutive runs of Clybourne Park this year [first at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A.and then Broadway], was daunting. One of my biggest fears about becoming a mother was that I'd never work again, so the fact that I not only had a job waiting on the other side of my pregnancy but also one that was familiar and beloved, felt reassuring.

As crazy and chaotic as this journey has been, it's also turned out to be wonderfully cozy and containing. In a serendipitous symmetry, Annie Parisse had a baby a few months before we began rehearsing Clybourne two years ago at Playwrights Horizons, so she has been my guide and inspiration. Castmate Brendan Griffin became a father three weeks before our daughter Stella Louise's arrival, so we have comradeship in this disorienting terrain of parental responsibility and early mornings.

Yes, there've been minor embarrassments: [Clybourne Park playwright] Bruce Norris asking me on the first day of rehearsal how my birth canal was; having the entire cast and crew know exactly when and for how long I was pumping; and little heartbreaks: missing Stella Louise's bath and bedtime most evenings. At the end of the day, with the help of my very supportive husband, John Hamburg, Terry, our wonderful nanny, and Stella Louise sleeping through the night (hooray!), these past few months have been packed absurdly and beautifully full.

As a new mother, many things about being a parent still feel mysterious and confusing, but one thing I wish for this little girl is to live out her most cherished dreams, so it feels particularly sweet that her birth has ushered in just such a time in my own life.

NEXT PAGE: Jan Maxwell, Annie Parisse
Will Lunney and Jan Maxwell
(© Jan Maxwell)
Jan Maxwell, Follies
It's always hard to write about motherhood and career - especially in this business, especially around Mother's Day - when I'm away (Excuse me. Time-out for a little bawl fest). Our son, Will, is 16. I have to say that working in theater was much easier when he was younger. It seemed the ideal schedule: being home and, as time came for me to go to work, putting him to bed. There were jobs out of town and I always took him. I was so blessed to always meet a young actress who'd want to baby-sit. Will will never again be surrounded by as many gorgeous, smart women. He used to ask my husband, Robert Emmet Lunney, and I to go out so he could hang with them! But then, Will started school.

Taking your child out of school for even a day (hell, an hour) is a felony (or so it seems) so I came to the decision to never take work out of town. Follies is the first exception in 10 years. Even working in town is very hard - only seeing Will briefly in the morning, a couple of hours after school, then before I left for the theater.

When I was doing The Sound of Music in 1998, some of the nuns decided to get pregnant; but what better show to be in to show! Those habits are very forgiving. I went home between shows on matinee days, and volunteered my dressing room for nursing and visits. That made me think how wonderful it would be to have a family room for parents and their kids. Since that wasn't going to readily happen, I decided to put into my contracts that Will would be allowed in my dressing room at all times (full disclosure: no producer has put it in writing; there've been only verbal agreements which every producer has honored).

Will's experiences have been wonderful. He's met incredible people, and seen more theater than those five times his age. When the cast and crew weren't bringing him cookies, cake and gifts, he even studied! Heartbreakingly, while doing Follies on Broadway, I came to realize that one of the last things Will - at 16 - wants is to hang out in his mom's dressing room (He's relieved I'm in L.A., and that for five weeks I won't be yelling "Do your homework"!).

I'm often asked if it's hard to have a kid and be an actor. It's the same for any profession: You don't have as much time, you can't be as myopic, you prioritize. (Don't obsess. Kids won't allow it - unless it's about them.) You get into character at the theater, but it's important that you come through the door as Mom. Is it hard? Yes. The best things always are. The upshot of motherhood, which I succeed and fail at every day, is Will makes me try to be a better human being and that makes empathizing, acting, and telling stories vastly more interesting and deep. He teaches me every day. He keeps it real by humbling me and loving me. I love having that knowledge. He's a great guy. I'm so proud to be his Mom.

Annie Parisse, Clybourne Park
With two show biz folks in the family and a newborn, there were challenges. When I became pregnant, I didn't think I'd have to take a hiatus to be a mom. That was crazy. My first job back after giving birth was Clybourne Park at Playwrights Horizons in 2010. Emmett was 11 weeks old. The only reason I took the job was because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. If I'd known how difficult it was going to be, I probably would have said, "There's no way." It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to do both. Fortunately, my husband, Paul Sparks, was around, because Boardwalk Empire shoots in New York, and he was very involved. I thank God for that.

Tim Sanford and everyone at Playwrights Horizons were so supportive, so I was able to bring Emmett. I was given a space where I could nurse and spend time with him. Tim even found a crib from the previous show. Pam MacKinnon, our director, and Carol Clark, our wonderful production stage manager, organized rehearsals so I could pump and breast-feed. Without their help, it would have been impossible.

When we got to tech, Emmett was at home with either Paul or our nanny, but would be brought to the theatre during our dinner break. After our run, which ended March 21, everyone went his or her separate ways. It was like losing family. I'm so happy we're all together again. It's a testament to what a great piece of writing Clybourne Park is that everyone wanted to do it again.

We may have another actor in the family. Emmett, who's now two-and-a-half, asked me what the Walter Kerr Theatre was like, so I made him a little video. He's also come to visit. He'll either be "I don't want to have anything to do with theater" or "I love it."

NEXT PAGE: Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea Salonga, NaTasha Yvette Williams
Luca, Tommy Costanzo, and Daphne Rubin-Vega
(© Daphne Rubin-Vega)
Daphne Rubin-Vega, A Streetcar Named Desire
My husband Tommy and I found out I was pregnant just as Rent, the movie, was happening. So I wasn't able to do it. During my pregnancy, I was on panels, such as the Obie Awards nominating committee and a juror for the Tribeca Playwrights Festival. While I was big and popping, I thought I'd never get invited to the party again. I had to keep myself busy.

I was going nuts. I needed an outlet. And I had the luxury to write. And since I knew I was having a boy, I began writing songs about him and being a mom. In December, 2004, Luca Ariel was born. I sort of went from the delivery room to the studio to begin recording my album, Redemption Songs

. He was six weeks old, so he was there with me quite a lot. I was holding Luca in one arm while recording. There's a song, "Luca Ariel," about him. We finished when he was six months old!

During the run of Bernarda Alba at Lincoln Center, we were fortunate to find Carmen, an incredible nanny who's still part of the house. And now I'm doing Streetcar at the same theater where I did Les Miz, when Luca was two, and I have the same dressing room. We have some great memories of that time, especially all the fun of trick or treating on Halloween with other Broadway kids.

Luca's bi-lingual, especially when he wants something. He's in first grade and loves playing soccer on the iPad, but he knows that's not going to happen until the homework's done. Theater may be in Luca's blood. He loves to do street beats and sing. In preparation for Streetcar, he ran lines with me! He read to roles of Stanley and Blanche. It was so beautiful and hilarious because it's still so innocent. There was also an upside: it totally expanded his language and his capacity for understanding.

Nicole Chien and Lea Salonga
(© Lea Salonga)
Lea Salonga, Allegiance
On a recent trip, one of my friends babysat my daughter Nicole for a few afternoons while I was off at rehearsal. My friend said, "Without warning, Nic took a deep breath, let out a sigh, and uttered, 'Life's not easy without mama.'" It's one of those things that makes me laugh one minute and sad the next.

Happily, Nic has learned to dial down the drama whenever I leave. My career doesn't make things easy on her, or my husband Rob or my mother who doesn't particularly enjoy my extended stays abroad [from the Philippines] for work. The work opportunities are blessings, but take me away from my family. I'm sent like a missionary to sing in different cities, hoping that I make people happy. As wonderful as that is, there's a sacrifice to be made by everyone. What does help is keeping my family at the forefront. All that I do is for them; every song I sing has their face in mind.

My song in Miss Saigon's Act One finale was "I'd Give My Life For You."

I was 17 when I began singing it and didn't have the experience to understand its meaning. I asked everyone, "How do you know when it's love?" They responded, "You just know." That was true when I met my husband, Rob. The first time I sang it after Nic was born, it was like I got hit in the abs. Suddenly, I understood it to have a deeper meaning. There's nothing I wouldn't do for her.

If there's anything I can do for my daughter besides take care of her and send her to the best schools, it's this: to be an example of living out one's dreams. I want Nic to see me, and think she can conquer the world. I want her to realize that this sacrifice is fleeting and temporary. And I want her to know that she has a mama who loves her, recognizes her for the unique being she is, and wants her to spread her wings and fly in her own way.

NaTasha Yvette Williams, The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess
After 11 years of marriage, Gregory and I decided it was time to have kids. The timing turned out not to be perfect. We hit the jackpot. I had fraternal twins, McKenzie Christina and Nile. They're 13 months old. Everyone says that's the perfect age, but is it? It's certainly a challenging age.

I had them 10 days before my Porgy and Bess callback. I was breast-feeding and trying to figure how I could work, support and spend time with them - and live. We thought we could afford me not working. But twins! This was a show I really wanted to do, but I'd just become a mother. We struck up a deal that was the perfect solution. I asked our director, Diane Paulus, if they could hang out with me at the theater. No problem.

Then it went one better: Diane asked if I'd be interested in their being in the show. I replied, "Absolutely!" But I didn't think they should be onstage during the storm or when we're yelling and screaming. That would have scared them. She worked everything out. The entire company was incredibly supportive. We were surrounded by a very large family. At rehearsals here, we had a room for nursing mothers. The company is full of parents. Audra McDonald has a daughter, Zoe Madeline; David Alan Grier has a daughter. Alica Hall Moran has four-year old identical twins. And it goes on and on.

Then came our tryout in Boston. Gregory was miserable at home. I don't know if he was worried about his wife, but he missed the kids. He came up weekends when we were at ART in Cambridge, so we could be a family. I took turns with having the kids onstage, and they were only in the first act.

The kids aren't in the show any longer. They were small and quiet then. Not anymore! When Mackenzie started to sing along with Norm [Lewis], I knew their stage time was coming to an end. But every mother should have my good fortune!