Like most widows, I didn’t see it coming. Had you told me when we walked down that aisle that I would be spending the majority of my nights home alone, I would have laughed at the absurdity.
Well, a decade and two kids later, I’m not exactly laughing, but I’ve learned to enjoy my many evenings at home alone (after my kids go to bed).
The good news is that my husband isn’t dead. He just owns a theater. A start-up, non-profit improv theater, the demands of which rival any marriage. This means that we both work full-time, but only one of us gets a paycheck.
His flirtation with improv began innocently enough. First he became a student at the Brave New Institute (a hobby!), which then morphed into a job at the Brave New Workshop. He was gone several nights a week, but also got a regular paycheck and kept fairly predictable hours that left him somewhat available during the day. I don’t remember exactly, but I think he left the BNW because we (I?) wanted him to work daytime hours to see his pre-adolescent son (my stepson) more and possibly have a career path (yes, I’m laughing about that one now).
Over the years, there have been various day jobs and various nights spent performing improv, but it was never enough. For my husband, improv passed the point of being a hobby and evolved into a calling of sorts. And it became increasingly obvious we needed to find a way to allow him to follow this calling, win or lose. So at the end of last year he signed a lease on a big empty building and made the leap to theater ownership.
Now, to an artist – to my husband – owning a theater looks like an amazing, dream-come-true adventure. And I get that. But to the spouse of the theater owner, it can look a lot more like endless hours away, unpaid bills, and a household to-do list that keeps getting longer.
I’m sure the long hours and countless demands of a theater are not dissimilar to that of any new entrepreneurial venture. What I think is different about theater is the social nature of it. Anyone can come in off the street and see my husband at his theater. It’s fun! It’s entertaining! Which begs the question: Why don’t you hang out with him there?
I have been asked variations of that question countless times. I guess for many people, it appears that my kids and I have lucked into a fantasy where, thanks to my husband, we have free reign at the most fun place in town.
The reality is, this is his job. It might look like my husband is just hanging out, but he’s actually running a theater (yes, there’s a difference), which leaves little time for chatting with me or playing with the kids. Sure, we’re welcome at the theater any time, but we actually have more fun hanging out at home where we’re not in the way and can watch TV.
Also, improv isn’t really for elementary age kids – not unless it’s billed as such. Some people have this notion that I’m raising the most hilarious kids in the land due to all the improv they must attend. (They are hilarious, but not thanks to the improv.) Yes, I’ve dared bring them to a few shows to see their dad perform, and I’ve sat on the edge of my seat the whole time, wondering what inappropriateness might come out of the performers’ mouths – that’s no way to enjoy improv.
And finally, for the group of hold outs who, after all of that explanation, still wonder why I don’t just get a sitter and come to shows every weekend without the kids: Babysitters are expensive and, as I mentioned, we’re living on one income. Plus, if I’m going to pay someone to watch my kids, I’d like to actually go out on a date with my husband, not go watch him work. Because yes, I still like the guy, even though he’s never home.
I admire the passion my husband has for improv and the way he and his partners have energized the community to support it. He is happier at this job than I’ve ever seen him and, most importantly, he is giving our kids the invaluable lesson that anything is possible with hard work.
None of that stops me from being frustrated and completely, utterly sick of hearing about the theater from time to time, but in the long-run it makes it worth it. Hard, but worth it.