Meet the moms behind “A Christmas Carol”

 

By John Moore

Being a working mother is hard enough. Being a working mother when you are an actor living in New York City is tougher. But being a working mother in New York City when you have a job that takes you back to Denver for two months every holiday season is a serious logistical odyssey.

Actors Christine Rowan and Stephanie Cozart are blessed, and they know it. They have both blood and professional families. They have husbands and daughters, and they have a creative home at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts that welcomes them home every November for the Theatre Company’s nearly annual staging of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.

But still … it’s hard. Physically, emotionally and financially. The job only comes with one day off a week. Rehearsal days are often scheduled in 12-hour blocks. And now that the show open and running through Dec. 27, there are a whopping 10 shows a week to perform. A few glorious days each week, the actors don’t have to report until 6 p.m. But up to four days a week, they report to work for a daytime performance as early as 10 a.m., and they don’t get home from the evening show until 12 hours later.

That means almost nothing in their daily lives can be planned in advance. And oh yeah, there is a kid involved. In Rowan’s case, 11-month old Vivian Van Tuyl. In Cozart’s, 3-year-old Gwendolyn Harmsen.

Parenting and performing requires flexibility and creative scheduling. Rowan has her husband, Christopher Van Tuyl, with her in Denver taking the lead role on childcare. Cozart’s husband is Douglas Harmsen, an accomplished actor with a long history at the DCPA who is now a full-time, special-ed teacher back in New York. So Cozart employs a friend here in Denver to help take care of her daughter.

It’s wonderful and agonizing and frenetic and wearying for both couples all at once.

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Q + A

John Moore: So what child-care logistics have you worked out while you are performing here in Denver?

Christine Rowan: For this first year of Vivian’s life, my husband and I decided that we would take turns working. Meaning we take turns accepting show offers. This is our fifth show since the baby was born. Either Christopher is designing lights, or I am working on the stage. The first time, Vivian was 4 weeks old, and we all flew out to California together so he could light Les Misérables for the Sierra Repertory Theatre. It’s working out great. Our thinking was that we would like to take advantage of one year of less income and more joy. We really wanted to spend time with this new baby together. And you only get to do that once.

Stephanie Cozart: The first year of Gwen’s life, Doug was teaching. We spent the second year of her life acting, so we had to have child care. Gwen had really bad separation anxiety at first, so we thought all that travel and change would be good for her – and it was. Then Doug got another teaching job and he has turned down every acting job since. I have continued to take acting jobs. Sometimes I take Gwen with me. Sometimes I don’t. Two months ago, I came out here alone to do The Explorers’ Club at the Lone Tree Arts Center. Gwen stayed in New York with Doug, which was very difficult for me. That first week, it felt like someone had cut off my arm. And then it became this kind of ‘return to my youth’ experience. I had a really good time, I must say. So the woman babysitting Gwen now is an actor herself named Adrian. She called me and asked if I was coming out to do A Christmas Carol this year, and she wanted to offer her services. In fact, that is why I took the job. We were thinking I might turn down A Christmas Carol this year because we weren’t sure who would be her babysitter. And Adrian is someone Gwen already knew. So the cards were just right. Gwen is in preschool in New York three mornings a week, but we took her out of school. She’s 3, so that’s not that big a deal.

John Moore: From a financial point of view, is it worth it?

Stephanie Cozart: We crunched the numbers. It’s hard, because I give up so much of my paycheck to pay for childcare. And I pay Adrian a salary because paying hourly would not be fair to her. Our rehearsal schedule changes so much. There might be a day where I have almost an entire day free, and if I were paying hourly, she would get nothing. So we just agreed on a flat weekly rate, no matter what. We still come out ahead. Also (this being a union show), I get pension and health benefits. So it’s still worth it.

John Moore: What’s the best part about working on the road with your child so close by?

Christine Rowan: I find so much joy knowing that I can have this wonderful job, and also have my family right here all at the same time. It’s sort of a utopia for me.

Stephanie Cozart: Now that Gwen is 3, both parenting and performing are more joyful for me. Having my child around means I am not going to get as caught up in creative turmoil at work because the most important thing to me now is my child and raising her. Not to diminish what we do on stage, but it is just a play. I worry about Gwen much more than I worry about my performance. So I’m freer in my work. I really think being a parent makes me a better actor.

John Moore: And so what’s the hardest part about working on the road with your child so close by?

Christine Rowan: I get jealous of my husband because he gets to spend so much time with her. I say, ‘What did you do today?’ They had this fabulous day at the zoo, and I, well … I worked on Fezziwig. … Which is also great. But still …

Stephanie Cozart: Lack of sleep. I have a great nanny, but she is only here when I am working, so there is nobody to help carry the parenting load at night. Without having my husband here … I don’t get enough sleep.

John Moore: Have your daughters seen A Christmas Carol?

Christine Rowan: Vivian did come and see the Fezziwig dance number at a dress rehearsal. She loved it. She kicked her legs a lot. That’s how you know.

Stephanie Cozart: Gwen saw it for the first time today, from start to finish. She loved it. She told me I was beautiful and that she loves Scrooge. She’s not scared of the ghost of Jacob Marley, but her dolls were. So she protected them and told them it was going to be OK. She loves the dancing, especially. And the music. And she said today for the first time that she would like to be on stage someday.

Christine Rowan: Oh, no.

Stephanie Cozart: I asked her, ‘Wouldn’t you be scared in front of all those people?’ And she said, ‘Oh, no. They’re just playing pretend.’

John Moore: This next one is unfair because it’s a question men are never asked. But some mothers feel it is important to be with their children full-time; while others feel it is important to be an example to their children by continuing to pursue their professional dreams. And then there are those mothers who have no economic choice but to work. What message do you think you are sending to your daughters by continuing to work and pursuing your own dreams at the same time?

Christine Rowan: I like the idea of not having Vivian ever feel like she was a burden to me, because she is nothing but a joy. I am able to do what I love and have a family simultaneously, so I think we have found this perfect storm for now. What you said about being an example to our daughters – I think about that a lot. We both have girls. Stephanie said something really wise to me once about the importance of raising strong, soon-to-be women in the world. They can work, and they can support themselves, and they can find love and fun and family and a job and have it all. And it’s important for me to say that it is also a valid choice to stay home and raise a child full-time, if that’s what you want to do.

Stephanie Cozart: It’s joyful to come home from work and be with Gwen and feel fulfilled in my creative life. Gwen asked me once if I’m beautiful, and I wanted to make a joke and say, ‘Well, I guess Daddy thought so when he married me.’ But I thought, no, I am her first female role model, so I thought the only answer is, ‘Yes!’ And she said, ‘Yeah … me, too. We’re both beautiful girls.’

STEPHANIE COZART

Husband: Douglas Harmsen was an actor for 25 years. He quit the biz to become a public-school teacher in New York City. He teaches special-ed.
Child: Gwendolyn Harmsen, 3 years
Role: Ghost of Christmas Past
Years doing the show: 16 stagings at the Denver Center

Stephanie Cozart with husband Douglas and daughter Gwendolyn

Stephanie Cozart with husband Douglas and daughter Gwendolyn

CHRISTINE ROWAN

Husband: Christopher Van Tuyl is an acclaimed theatrical lighting designer.
Child: Vivian Van Tuyl, 11 months
Role: Ensemble and choreographer
Years doing the show: 9 stagings at the Denver Center

Christine Rowan with daughter Vivian

Christine Rowan with daughter Vivian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol: Ticket information
Now playing through Dec. 27
At the Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
Tickets: 303-893-4100 or go to denvercenter.org