I am a theatre director and am currently 6 months pregnant with my first child. When asked write a blog exploring the empowerment of women, I thought I would use this space to think about what it means to be a pregnant woman working in the arts.
Being pregnant is strange, all encompassing, terrifying and awesome – as is directing. The pressure you become accustomed to in one doesn’t translate to the other so unfortunately, you find yourself carrying the weight of both. I directed a couple of shows whilst in my first trimester and found that it was both incredibly hard due to the exhaustion, sickness and worry, but also clarifying in terms of not wasting time, suffering fools and making sharp decisions. I have watched other women make some of their best work while pregnant and I wonder if somewhere in that is a voice telling you that, if you are away for 6 months, the industry will forget about you. It won’t, but the concerns are very real.
It also highlighted to me the often impossibly high expectations of time and energy in the theatre, TV and film industry. I find myself thinking: How am I going to do this when I have a small human to feed and raise? I wanted to use this space to not simply regale the worries and bad practice of our society and arts culture but wanted to find the good practices and figure out how I can help make it better for the next generation of parents and carers. As directors, how can we better support actors, other creatives and stage management teams who are parents and carers?
I also want to use this space to celebrate some of the excellent work and attitudes that I have experienced so far. When working at The Old Vic Theatre they welcomed my news. Both Trafalgar Studios and Theatre Royal Bath have embraced, supported and adjusted contracts and duties to make me feel incredibly safe and empowered. As a freelancer you’ve got to get back to work! Maternity allowance (and the form is a nightmare) is £148.68 a week, so we need to make working possible or the industry will continue to be over-populated by the privileged and financially supported. As a new parent with no financial safety net, London becomes a very scary prospect.
The references above and many others are all working to improve conditions for parents and carers in different ways but I wonder if we need some joined up thinking, so that we are not relying on good will or being lucky that a company, institution or person “gets it.” Flexible-working models should be allowed to cascade to all those working in the arts with a range of commitments – not just caring. Perhaps we can use this to learn about accessibility that could support those struggling financially and socially to engage and sustain work in the arts. We’re missing out on so many important voices.
As an adopted woman who didn’t have an easy road to pregnancy and, I do not take the decisions around parenting for granted. I salute all women, parents, expecting parents, adoptive and foster parents, those trying, those struggling, those who can’t, those who have chosen not to and all the variables in between. Being a woman takes courage and we bring that to our work as artists. Let’s alleviate the pressures where we can to make this industry as accessible to women as possible. Want to talk about any of this – personally or professionally? My door is open.