Boobin While You Work #WorkingMum
This is something I actually wrote back in January 2017 for Stage Directors UK, and realised I never put it here! Also reading Tamara Harvey's brilliant tweets #workingmum and Kate Golledge's fantastic blog on being a #workingmum (read it here) inspired me to took this up and re-post it here. Given my little one is now TWO (gulp!) i definitely need to write another, but for now here is a look back to when Poppy was only 6 months old...
Trying to financially survive as well as artistically as a theatre director is near enough impossible. Whether your starting out, or somewhere further down the line, it takes time management, constant networking, a bank of resources to call on as well as much ‘alternative’ paying work as you can find to fit in around a directing job as and when you have one on.
A few years ago I made the decision that if a job wasn’t paid or paid well then it had to fulfil my creative needs; it had to give me an opportunity to create the work I wanted to and test the skills I wanted to. This personal ‘code’ has served me well over the last few years as Artistic Director of Epsilon Productions and directing for a variety of other companies and universities/drama schools around the UK.
Now I need to add to that code. Now I am a Mum. Can I be both director and Mum? How will it work?
My bills are larger, my responsibilities greater and so the work needs to respond to this but not only financially (though that it is my main worry at the moment). Creatively I can feel an inner change happening. I want the work I make to mean something, to affect change, to be detailed in its beauty and in its precision. I want to make work that one day my daughter will be proud of.
Any job I take on now will mean time away from Poppy. This is something all working parents have to face. But on such low pay in the Arts childcare is difficult to find. Should I be asking for higher fees? Do I have the right to ask for adaptable hours? As a director we are needed before rehearsal begins and well after it ends each day, but can this be flexible too? With my own company can I budget for childcare? Should I have always been doing this for other company members, for my actors? It seems an obvious now, but like much in life, it is only once something affects us personally that we begin to take action.
I am constantly looking to others in the field for inspiration. Director-Designer Melly Still, Poppy Burton-Morgan Artistic Director at Metta Theatre, new Mum Sarah Punshon the soon to be new Artistic Director of Dukes, Lancaster, Tamara Harvey the Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd, are just a few that astound me with their quality of work, drive and awesome working ‘mumness’. Either through reading their blogs or talking to them I have leant that partners, friends, family, colleagues all factor in making it possible. They have built or are building a strong village around them. It does, after all, take a village to rear a child.
I am lucky. My husband as a freelance creative himself is also around so we co-parent, though equally as an actor and voice-over he also needs help with last minute jobs. Dads in the Arts need help too.
My choice to breastfeed does also need to be factored in. Can I boob Poppy at a meeting? Can I pump if I need to? With a constantly changing ‘office space’ there is no precedent at most places I go to. I have to set it. When I was heavily pregnant Tamara Harvey gave me the advice, ‘normalise it.’ ‘If you don’t make a big deal of it, and just get on with it, everyone else will too.’ And so this is what I have done and she was so right. I have never felt prouder, more supported then when I needed to feed my then three-month old Poppy at an SDUK board meeting. (Or need to change her nappy on the table at the end !)
I’m sure the answers will come through trial and error, to be met with more questions as Poppy grows older and hers and our needs change. It should feel natural as a director’s job is finding questions/ problems and trying to solve them, (I hope). Wonderfully there are groups who are challenging the status quo. This is a massive conversation currently happening led by groups such as Prams in the Hall, PIPA and Stage Directors UK. The Arts should be leading on supporting families and ensuring working parents are able to continue to create. We can’t afford to lose people to being forced to choose between being a Parent or an Artist.