As most parents know, quality childcare is hard to find. With most modern households now operating on two incomes, the need for trustworthy support is greater than ever.
This need only grew more urgent in the wake of the pandemic, as professional parents found themselves working from home, performing the demanding roles of full-time worker, tutor, playmate, and care giver, all while trying to manage the logistics and anxieties of the Covid-19 world.
Thankfully, when it comes to responsible and engaging child care, every day parents and professional artists with families of their own need look no further than the Broadway Babysitters.
Founded in 2015, Broadway Babysitters is an in-home childcare service made up of arts professionals. In addition to providing parents with carefully vetted sitters, Broadway Babysitters offers qualified artists consistent work and flexible schedules as they chase their showbiz dreams.
What puts Broadway Babysitters a step above the rest, however, is that BB artists are putting their training to good use, offering in-home instruction in various disciplines to their young charges. Being made up of show people, the team at BB also understands the many challenges faced by working artists, offering important resources for parents with non-traditional work schedules among their many programs.
Though their in-home business was curbed by the pandemic, BB quickly found a way to turn it all around, offering virtual and outdoor programming, including musical meetups and cooking classes.
BroadwayWorld spoke with Broadway Babysitters founder, Jennifer Malenke, to learn more about this exciting endeavor to bring quality child care and arts education right to your door, while creating opportunities for artists and broadening the horizons of the next generation.
How did you come up with the initial idea for Broadway Babysitters?
I started Broadway Babysitters in 2015 after moving back to NYC, finishing up eight years in LA. I needed a job, and my friend Jenna Leigh Green added me to a text chain with lots of moms and actor-sitters on it. They would all trade off watching the kids and sub for each other if someone got an audition or gig. I said, “Jenna, can I organize this idea into something?” She said, “Go for it!”
When did you discover that there is a market for arts-based child care services? How did you build the business?
I realized that actors needed flexible work so they could leave to do a gig and then come back, and the parents not only needed trustworthy artist sitters in their homes, but also ones who could sub for each other if something came up.
I also saw the need for good, affordable childcare for the theatre community. With the current state of the industry and the lack of job security, many artist parents have to choose between their careers and having a family. I started doing market research to see what parents needed in a caregiver, and the attribute that was 100% across the board was referrals. If one of their friends referred a sitter to them, they would use them. So I based our company on referral-only sitters, an element that has become one of the most important parts of our business.
One day while babysitting, a mom had a piano teacher come over to give a lesson to one of the girls. It turned out to be someone I knew! She paid him an extra $100 for the lesson, and I thought, well, I could’ve just given the piano lesson for much less while I was sitting! So now, our sitters all offer lessons on the side, our ‘extras,’ while they are there.
What impact did the pandemic have on your business and what steps did you take to remedy this?
As one can imagine, being an in-person child-care company at the start of the pandemic was a scary place to be. Many of our families began canceling their memberships and so we very quickly came up with ideas to pivot and sustain the company and income opportunities for sitters. The Playhouse was just one example, and we really started to see our families come back when we found ways to make them feel safe with our sitters again. We of course implemented a strict COVID-19 policy, but through our buBBles program we also started matching families with sitters who live nearby to reduce exposure and public transportation use. With this method we saw parents return, still hesitant but with a small sense of relief.
Other programs we have include Music Time at McCarren Park and our Virtual Children’s Cooking Classes! Our Park Music times are an opportunity for the performers to bring in-person music and joy to the families, all with safety in mind. The sitter wears a guard and the families wear masks while everyone sits socially distanced. Our Children’s Virtual Cooking Classes are a collaboration with Backstage Bite and BroadwayWorld’s Katie Lynch, and have been a wonderful opportunity to bring a new activity and experience to kids, especially during the cold winter months when outside time was harder to come by.
The most important thing to us was to continue to provide more opportunities to keep our sitters employed and with a source of income, so we have also added the ability for them to offer virtual lessons of all different kinds, as well as hosting Broadway Zoom workshops for groups such as Girl Scout troops.
All of this has kept us going as much as possible, and we have been so thrilled to see that as more vaccines are being distributed, our families are beginning to return. As childcare providers, our sitters were eligible for the vaccine early on, so we made sure to try to get as many of our sitters vaccinated as soon as possible.
What specific services do you offer for families of professional artists? How do you think your services will be vital as Broadway and other arts industries resume operations?
In 2016 we started the Audition Drop-off at Pearl Studios where parents could drop off their kid(s) for $25 for 3 hours while they auditioned. Although we soon realized it was not financially feasible to continue on our own, we knew it was an invaluable service for actors. Since then we have collaborated with our non-profit partner PAAL (Parent Artist Advocacy League) to work with theatre companies and create Audition Drop-Off Services!
We are working with PAAL to create a more sustainable model for the Audition Drop-Off, so actors and artists with families have more accessible and affordable care to attend auditions and book the jobs that bring income. .
We give discounts to artists with families, both discounted memberships and hourly rates, and we also are working with our partner PAAL to provide more financial assistance and resources to them in the future.
Pre-pandemic, we were excited to work with PAAL and theater companies to provide on-site childcare for families at rehearsals (for the cast, tech and team) and even performances (including the children audience members). For many working artist families, especially ones with infants or young-children, on-site care can be essential in maintaining a work-life balance, providing the necessary care for them to even be able to accept a job.
Starting March 29th we will be launching our Helping Hand Campaign. The impetus behind the campaign was to find new creative ways to further support theater artists who will have been out of work the longest. For every non-artist who signs up for a new membership we will give a month of the same membership to an artist family, as well as a membership with our partner organization, PAAL. The two memberships will provide not only access to book our sitters and a team of childcare providers to support them, but also resources and guidance through their PAAL Membership. As Broadway and the theater community prepare to open back up, our discounted services and campaigns are important to not only the artist families looking to get back into the business and who have not had a source of income for over a year, but also our artist sitters who need a source of income to sustain them as they audition to get their next job.
As other industries open up and families look for childcare, hiring an artist babysitter through our service not only helps provide a job that can support them during this uncertain time in the theatre industry, but also bring the artistic energy, joy and creativity into the homes of those who may have struggled to provide artistic education for the kids from home.
What positive feedback have you gotten from parents on the effects of arts-based child care? What positive changes has your team observed in your charges as a result of arts-based instruction and care?
We have gotten so much feedback from the parents, artists and non-artists alike who have loved our services and sitters. We hire our friends, and our friends’ friends, and they all love children and are some of the most fun, reliable and loving people around. For many of these parents, the sitters become a part of the family, and they know that the kids are having fun and being inspired by these artists.
The impact our sitters have on them is always amazing to see. We have had kids inspired to become artists themselves, excited to attend the theater (and get to see their sitter perform), and those who have extended their passionate creativity through their day to day lives by carrying themselves with compassion and a renewed curiosity and care for the world around them.
Looking ahead, are there any other exciting programs or services you’ll be rolling out in the future?
We are excited to be launching our Helping Hand Campaign to encourage a community of support for artists, and are working with our sitters to prepare for more Music in the Park events to provide more artist exposure opportunities for families all over the city! We are also building our sitter networks in other cities, such as LA, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston, with the goal of eventually launching in these regional cities.
We are also working with PAAL to continue developing our model for Childcare Matinees (where theatre patrons can drop off their children to a designated childcare space while attending the show, making theatre more accessible) and Audition Drop-Off Childcare for when theatre returns.
Learn more at BroadwayBabysitters.com