The average wage in the creative industries is £16,575. The average cost of a full-time nursery place (in London) is £14,750. Parent and performer Lucy Trodd was therefore very intrigued by what PIPA, the campaign for Parents in Performing Arts, had to say at its launch.
As a mum, I don’t often get to see grown-up films in the cinema. But I made time to see Suffragette and managed to refrain from sobbing – until about 10 seconds in. I continued to blub long after the credits, until I was convulsing with tears by myself.
The simultaneously uplifting and utterly devastating nature of the themes is what got me: that sense of LET’S DO IT! Cool. But… but how?
There was a similar mood (and definitely some welling up) last week as the winds of change blew a gale down at the Young Vic, where the inaugural meeting and launch of PIPA, the campaign for Parents in Performing Arts, was set in motion.
The auditorium was swelling with hundreds of parents, mums-to-be and interested folk with children hanging from the rafters and filling the silences, liberally scattering crumbs and drool into the mix. At the start of the meeting, Laura Wells said: “You are all welcome here – even your children,” which is not something I’ve ever heard or felt before. And so it began: starting the conversation about what it is to be a parent in the performing arts.
“At six weeks into being a mum, I took a job on a sitcom and was hiding in a toilet at the BBC, pumping milk on my tea break while pretending to be like everyone else in the rehearsal room. Why didn’t I speak up?”
A Choose Your Own Adventure-inspired presentation from Wells summarised the research findings that inspired the campaign, boosted with spoken testimonials from directors, actors, casting directors and dancers, all with one thing in common: the feeling that they were invisible and being discriminated against for being a parent.
My son is now five, so some of the creche chat no longer resonated. Rewind those five years: at six weeks into being a mum, I took a job on a sitcom (how often do they come up?) and was hiding in a toilet at the BBC, pumping milk on my tea break while pretending to be like everyone else in the rehearsal room. Why didn’t I speak up?
People at the PIPA meeting talked about how we shouldn’t have to feel grateful that childcare requests have been met, or feel as though leaving on time to pick up a child rather than staying unpaid extra hours was somehow slacking. There were also positive stories and solutions as to how we can make childcare work, such as a scheme for drama graduates to trade childcare for industry experience.
I’m sure all actors (childfree or otherwise) feel they have to drop everything at times. But with a child to think about, you may have to turn down meetings and therefore not even have a chance of getting the job. I’ve never thought about this being a form of discrimination before – I just thought it was normal, and that I wasn’t dedicated or focused enough on my career. And it’s not just an issue for artists, but also for any parent or shift worker, particularly in the healthcare sector.
Annelie Powell of RSC casting (where they have a creche!) chaired a panel discussion with testimonies coming from, among others, actress Romola Garai (most recently in Suffragette; read her article for The Guardian here) and straight-talking stage manager Adam Burns, who orated like he was leading us into battle – which he is. There was much chatter about unions and organisations rallying together to have their collective voices heard. It felt like the beginnings of something huge.
Perhaps inevitably focus fell on women, on the mums. I was there with my husband/father of the aforementioned five-year-old as we are both performers. The speakers had to keep rephrasing “mother” to “parents” and when they said, “Let’s not forget the dads in the room,” I squeezed my husband’s hand. We also realised that we’re already piloting something they proposed: job sharing in theatre, as in Showstopper! we’re splitting the West End run.
The performing arts is apparently the third largest wealth creator in Britain. Isn’t it time the parents within it united and became visible? Let’s continue the conversation. I’ll make the banner and have a cry over it, and when all the talking’s done, arguments aired and codes of best practice drawn up, let’s make some change. DEEDS NOT WORDS. Mrs Pankhurst was all for being militant, which hopefully won’t be necessary. But this is just the beginning.
For more information, please check out http://www.pipacampaign.com/
Lucy is in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical currently at The Apollo Theatre, West End and touring. http://www.showstopperlondon.com/4633 Views
Lucy Trodd is an improviser, comedian, actor, writer and the long half of double act Trodd en Bratt (series two airing in November). As mother to Albert, she has developed a new knowledge of dinosaurs and Tintin, which will one day be useful.