For Two Professors, Radical Commuting is the Way to Work

By Alex Ates

Photo Credit: Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

UPDATED INTRODUCTION

Since this article was first published in the Spring 2019 edition of AATE’s Incite/Insight, there has been a redefinition of the relationship between workers and their workplace. The Covid-19 pandemic reset society’s assumptions about the necessity of conducting certain tasks in person. Many companies, for example, have shifted to remote work permanently. In theater and education, the logic of such a shift is less cut-and-dry.

Still, so much of the meaning of our work relies on being in a room with each other. The lag of a Zoom room cannot keep up with the speed of collaboration, the necessity of coordinating digital meetings demeans spontaneity, and the screen, an ever-enticing siren of browser tabs and pop-up notifications, extinguishes focus and presence. However, in the pause of the pandemic, the American theater sector reconsidered a lot of the arbitrary labor practices we once considered inherent, like ghastly twelve-hour tech rehearsals, for example.

So, are there opportunities for us to rebuild a theater and education landscape that is less reliant on the labor, time, and travel that we once considered mandatory? Can paper techs, advisory sessions, office hours, or department meetings become permanent Zoom endeavors? Does Zooming in (when we can) allow theater educators to have more flexibility with their schedule, thus enhancing their home life in a field notorious for its undue demands on the work-life balance? Do remote modes of collaboration actually cut down on the carbon footprint (this claim is highly variable; after all, internet infrastructure produces its own pollution)? As I look back on this interview with professors Diane DiCroce and Sariva Goetz, I consider these questions and I reflect on my epic commutes in my pre-pandemic predicament.

When I first typed up this interview, I was bouncing between Boston (where I was directing), The University of Alabama (where I was grad school-ing), and New Orleans (my hometown). Now, I live in faculty housing on campus and my commute is a ten uphill-minute walk or a four-minute bike ride, depending on the weather. My epic commutes did add something beneficial that I no longer have — it gave me an adventure, outside of myself and my order, to navigate, it gave me time to reflect, and it gave me space to transition from my work frame of mind to my home frame of mind. And yet, in the absence of an epic commute, I have been able to reclaim some time: sometimes productively, sometimes not. And maybe being okay with that is the mindset shift to carry forward.

— Alex Ates, April 2022

Photo Credit: Lance Anderson on Unsplash

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ORIGINAL INTRODUCTION

It is certainly no abnormality for workers in Boston to commute from the suburbs. For a work-obsessed culture, the routine of commuting is an American ritual. At Emerson College, within the small school’s musical theatre faculty (with a ratio of one faculty member for every eight students), there are two professors who have extraordinarily long commutes to work. Diane DiCroce and Sariva Goetz commute hundreds of miles weekly from the New York City metropolitan area into Boston to teach students at Emerson’s downtown campus — which is only a few blocks away from the Amtrak stop at South Station. I asked DiCroce and Goatz about the lifestyle of teaching theatre at a university in a different state from where you reside — what are the benefits and the challenges?

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THE INTERVIEW

Where do you live?

Sariva Goetz: Yonkers, NY.

Dian DiCroce: Maplewood, NJ.

How do you get to work?

SG: I drive weekly between Yonkers and Boston — I have a Prius which is great on gas mileage!

DD: From New Jersey to Boston on Amtrak! I consider myself an Amtrak Diva. I am finishing my third consecutive year commuting for this wonderful job with these wonderful students, faculty, and staff and have earned Amtrak “Select Plus” status — V.I.P!

What does your weekly schedule look like?

SG: I am usually in Boston Monday through Thursday during the academic year and in Yonkers Friday through Sunday. I travel to Boston on Sunday evenings, and back to Yonkers on Thursday evenings. My schedule at Emerson is crazy busy — teaching two or three classes per semester, music directing one show per year, coaching students several hours per week, holding office and advising hours, attending faculty meetings, and serving on two college committees. Additionally, I try and see as much student work as possible and stay current on what is going on in Boston’s theatre community. And finally, I try and socialize with friends and colleagues when I can find the time. When I am in Yonkers, I am prepping for class, working on outside creative projects, spending time with friends and family, and keeping current on what’s going on in the New York City theater community. Life is busy!

DD: I leave my family in New Jersey right around dinnertime on Sunday evening during the academic year and teach-and-live in Boston Monday through Thursday, on average. I’m in Boston Monday through Friday when in production with Emerson Stage (which is the department’s producing entity).

What are the challenges of epic commuting?

SG: Traffic, exhaustion — and sitting way too much!

DD: First, family: having a family and knowing that my husband and daughter are shouldering a lot more responsibility at home, work, school without me physically being present. Second, always having to pack a bag.

What are the pros of radical commuting?

SG: On Thursday evenings, I find that it’s a good way to decompress after my workweek. And on Sundays, it gives me a chance to have some quiet time and think about the week ahead. Sometimes, I put in my Bluetooth headset and catch up on phone calls. Other times, I put on my very lengthy favorites playlist and listen to music for three hours.

DD: First, focused work time on the train — I get a lot of office work done! Second, living the “single life” here — I’m not responsible for anyone other than myself so can work long hours if need be. I don’t have to worry about carpools, meal planning, or cleaning up after anyone. Third, professionally, I’m still able to have regular, in-person connections with friends in the industry and be able to see shows in both New York City and Boston.

Photo Credit: Erik Torres on Unsplash

Where do you stay when you’re in your work location?

SG: I have a great house share in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. I’m very lucky because I found a place that I can rent during the academic year only. And during the summer months, they allow me to store my stuff in the basement and then move back in September. It’s a great house and the best part is that it’s the last house on a dead-end street. I love quiet!

DD: In a fab sublet!

How do you keep your routine sustainable?

SG: What makes it work for me is that I’ve made sure each home has all the supplies I need, including clothing and personal items. When I travel back and forth, there is literally nothing to pack. So there’s no pressure to remember anything. Also, if I travel after rush hour, the driving time is barely over three hours. I find that commute very easy. It’s working out even better than I had imagined!

DD: I try to exercise when I can — long hours sitting on the train aren’t really healthy. When I’m home in New Jersey, I try to focus on that particular routine and get my family set up for success during the week there as much as possible. When I’m in Boston, I focus on work, students, and my colleagues here. On the train, I try to get as much work done as possible so I can have quality time with family and friends in New Jersey. I make food at home to take on the train so I feel like I have a taste of home when I travel. During the summer and holidays, I am home in New Jersey for four to five months. So it’s almost an even split!

Top 10 Questions to Ask When Considering an Epic Commute:

  1. Which mode of transportation would be the most time and cost-efficient?
  2. Do you have time budgeted in for delays?
  3. How can you use your travel time productively?
  4. Do your colleagues know about your epic traveling? How can they support you?
  5. How about your students? If students know, how might this impact the empathy they have for you as the instructor?
  6. How do you plan to stay in touch with your family while you’re away?
  7. Do you have a plan for navigating rehearsal weeks?
  8. Do you need to budget extra time during production or exam weeks?
  9. How will you make sure you’re always eating healthy?
  10. Where do you want to register to vote — in your home state or your temporary state?

ALEX ATES is the incoming director of the visual and performing arts at Westtown School.

Now it’s your turn! What do you think? Comment, react, share.

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