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Dear West End Producer: ‘Why doesn’t the theatre industry do more to support parents?’

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Theatremakers should put theatre first at all times. I don’t care if they have a child – it’s not important. Theatre is the hardest and most important profession in the world, and if people want to choose family instead of their craft, then it’s their fault. Theatre, if done correctly, will become like your child. And the community will become your family. You don’t need anything else. Particularly if it keeps you awake at night and wants you to wipe its bum all day (to be fair, some directors insist on that too). Family, children, love and life must all come second.

I jest, of course – although sometimes actors and other theatre workers are made to feel like this. The truth is, I don’t think the industry really knows how to support parents at the moment, and while some companies are attempting to make changes, the rest of the industry needs to take note. In reality, it all comes down to companies not wanting to lose money. For example, if they have an extra actor on the payroll due to job-sharing, they clearly have more outgoings (albeit only a small amount). Job-sharing in principle is just like an actor having an alternate – and this is obviously commonplace. So, in reality, it shouldn’t take much organising – particularly for bigger, more established producers and productions.

42nd Street performer becomes first in West End history to job-share

The pressure on anyone working in theatre is hard enough – but add a child into the equation and it gets even harder. Auditioning and interviews can be a nightmare, rehearsals impossible, and performances expensive with childcare costs. And this is hard for all theatre workers – not just performers. But there must be a way to make it work. Times are changing, and with lots of West End stars speaking out about this, and support from the campaign group Parents and Carers in Performing Arts, there is a good forward momentum.

The first example of job-sharing in this industry was to help a performing parent (after a lot of pushing from the actor) in 42nd Street last year – bravo to Charlene Ford. She managed to make the producers properly look into the job-sharing model, and they realised it could work – with Charlene performing three out of eight shows a week. The touring show of CBBC’s Twirlywoos Live has also just committed to the same, so things are looking up.

Companies have also started being flexible in other ways – London’s Royal Court organised childcare for Noma Dumezweni, and Hadley Fraser was given paternity leave when at the Donmar in Saint Joan (it also opened up rehearsals to workers’ children last year). Meanwhile, outside London the Birmingham Rep has a family-friendly digs list for touring theatre workers, and the Mercury Theatre Colchester provides a creche for actors and theatre workers during their interviews.

Theatre, like other businesses, has to move with the times and become more family-friendly. Theatre professionals shouldn’t have to choose between having a child and having a career. It’s about making small shifts, and over time these shifts will make other companies follow.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

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