Thoughts on Other People’s Children – Amanda

Blog Post by Amanda Goldberg, Nov. 4, 2018
Hannah Moscovitch’s play, Other People’s Children, was not created with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences. It is a deep examination into the lives of three people that end up in a dynamic, that is unfortunately an all too common occurrence. It is a reflection of the damaging choices we make, and the consequences that we displace onto those less privileged than ourselves. This is not to say that this play hasn’t turned into something entertaining. Watching three characters, that exist in our own backyards, trying to navigate their daily lives while continuing to make choices relying purely on impulse is nothing short of thrilling.

One of the core topics this play brings to the surface is the treatment and exploitation of migrant care workers. In order to understand not only the history and logistics of this situation, but the emotional toll that Sati experiences, we continued discussing a book that Moscovitch acknowledges in her research: Global Women: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. This book is a collection of personal accounts from migrant workers worldwide. It was through these shared stories that we were able to recognize the expectations (or what I’ve been calling: the tricky unwritten guidelines that caretakers must follow). Asha Vijayasingham (the actress playing Sati) felt these stories of personal experiences helped when trying to uncover the expectations her character must meet in order to achieve her objective. She explains: “Sati wants to support her children in all the ways, I believe. Financially most of all so that they can have everything they need and that’s why she has come to… that’s why she decided to be a nanny – because it seemed like the best option to give her kids the basic necessities of life and also the support to thrive.” While these objectives seem obtainable, the expectations for migrant workers are beyond unreasonable. Sati is expected to be everything her employer needs: a mother to Eva, a support system for Ilana, a distraction for Ben and of course when necessary, Sati must be completely invisible. Invisibility happens to be a common expectation for people in these positions, “Immigrant women are easily cast into roles that require invisibility, because they already belong to a category that is socially invisible.” (Ehrenreich, Hochschild. P 76)

The problem isn’t only how we (in the western world) demand care in exchange for a fee (and a helping of emotional abuse) – we bring other women into our homes to care for our children, and want them to love our children with every fiber of their being, but simultaneously expect these women to remain unattached. “She (Dominique) doesn’t like dealing with parents’ jealousy of the bonds that she forms with their children. “They want us to be mother and father to these children,” she says. “They’re the ones who brought the kids into the world, but then they don’t have time to raise them. So the kids get attached to you, because you’re the one who’s always there. Then the parents get angry.”“ (Ehrenreich, Hochschild. P 35) In many ways, money changes everything, especially when you are paying someone who is willing to do anything for this fee. Taking advantage becomes an all too familiar situation when the victim has no protection.

The portrayal of these characters held a great importance throughout the rehearsals. The story is reliant on these characters being recognizable to our audiences. It was essential that each character be treated equally within our approach. Sati is introduced to us as a caretaker, but, as Vijayasingham expressed: “she’s more than one thing: she herself is a mom, she’s an engineer, she’s a wife, she’s a sister and she’s a nanny, for the time being.” Acknowledging these realities humanizes the caretaker, as well as the problems we are contributing to (but also ignoring). In an article written by Susan McClelland about Filipino caregivers, she highlights the damaging effect left on the children of migrant workers: ““In the shantytown tin homes, single mom Karen Marita, 19, says she speaks on behalf of children across the country living in the slums. “We had no childhoods. Our moms were looking after other people’s children in countries we couldn’t even visit.”” (McClelland) Within this process, it became clear to all of us that it would be a huge disservice to try and deduce these characters to a mere label, or archetype or status. When asked who she believes the antagonist of this play was, actress, Kathleen Stavert answered: “I think they all are – and they’re all protagonists”.

As a director, I feel it’s important to empathize with every character. This doesn’t mean that I condone all the decisions made by each character, but I believe that if I can find the humanity behind these choices, the audience can as well. This is not always an easy task, but I am interested in plays that challenge audiences to reflect on our individual ignorance in a realistic sense, and this play does just that. I’m not only speaking to the inherent privileges we carry daily as Canadians, but in addition, this play speaks to the way we treat each other. From an outside perspective and even upon first read, it is easy to point out the abusive and toxic problems between Ilana and Ben. However, beneath their petty grievances and combative behavior, we found a lot of love. Brett Donahue shares his thoughts on this duality of intimacy in the context of violence: “I’ve talked about this before but I think this play is great in the way it portrays how we deal with loved ones – how in the relationships which allow the most intimacy allow the most cruelty or destructive behavior. It’s a really weird thing that love and intimacy can provide so much of a positive experience but then also allow such cruelty or carelessness towards each other. And feeling expectant of something from your partner in a way you wouldn’t treat someone you’ve just met.”

The needs of these characters continue to blind them from their objectivity – finding themselves repeating and repenting for the same mistakes. As a witness to this play, I have continued to reflect on the act of forgiveness – watching each character struggle to find this, both within themselves and through others. The actors shared their thoughts about this:

Asha Vijayasingham (SATI):

“I also think that these three people are extremely… there’s a lot of heart in all three of these people and to a certain extent a lot of heart in these choices that they are making, but there’s also a lot of despair. With her (Sati’s) choices in the play, I mean initially, I don’t know some people might find the choice to leave your children questionable, but that’s spoken from a place of privilege; to not even have to consider leaving your kids to support them financially. Her choices come from this deep seeded loneliness and desire to just connect because she’s isolated from everyone and everything, you know a life she once had. In this life where all she is is a caretaker.”

Kathleen Stavert (ILANA):

“Who am I to say what choice isn’t forgivable? I don’t think that anybody is inherently bad. We’re all a product of our environment, our education, our upbringing, our experiences – our whole being, our whole body and being is like a storehouse of our experiences. So one thing leads the other and we do not reflect enough. We don’t really take the time or have the time to sit back and reflect on the next step, the next choice we’re going to make. I’ve made some pretty questionable decisions in my life and they led me to where I am, and these characters have done the same thing.”

Brett Donahue (BEN):

“To a certain degree humans are humans and we make mistakes, and those mistakes are: how you judge a relationship, how you mold a relationship, how you grow a relationship. And I think real growth can come from that. Yeah. It’s hard to say. But I look at some of these instances that happen and I go oh my god, it’s just insane, insane, but also it’s so plausible of where we go when our emotions are heightened, when we’re not thinking, when we don’t have the time to go [takes a deep breath] and just take that inhale before your body is in motion. It’s startling, but also very realistic and I think that’s the power of this piece. There’s nothing that happens that you go “oh that’s just impossible!”. It’s all, it stays in this realm of possibility. Which I think is for the audience, what they can see and be moved by, they can recognize the situation, or go “oh even though it hasn’t happened exactly like this for me, I can recognize that situation, I know that anger, that grief, that guilt.” So I’d say there are certain aspects that are unforgivable and it’s the reason they can’t go back and they have to go forward, for better or worse.”

 

In rehearsal, we explored the controversial choices made by each character. In trying to understand the psychology behind her character, Stavert noted “I’ve been reflecting a lot on (because I’m not in their lives) the humanity… the whys of their choices or the reasons behind their choices that are not necessarily choices that I would make but then again… Maybe? But I’m not in that situation, so this has really been sort of creeping up on me and creeping under my skin.”

The word “humanity” surfaced many times within our rehearsals and now within our talkbacks. These characters aren’t inherently bad people (no one is). This play simply acknowledges that all people make questionable decisions. While this play doesn’t give us any answers to help us do better – it does leave us with this conversation.

“I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me” – Maya Angelou

(Origins: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” Terence, 170BCE)

Ehrenreich, B. and Hochschild, A. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York, N.Y.: Holt Paperbacks. 2004.

Susan McClelland. Susan McClelland on Nannies from the Philippines: Suffer the Caregiver. National Post, 24 Jan. 2014.