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The Green Room: How can the business be made easier for parents?

Parents in Performing Arts, which campaigns on behalf of parents working in theatre, protesting parental pay at the House of Commons earlier this year. Photo: Blake Ezra Parents in Performing Arts, which campaigns on behalf of parents working in theatre, protesting parental pay at the House of Commons earlier this year. Photo: Blake Ezra

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​

Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, RSC, in the West End and on the road

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in Oscar-winning film, BAFTA-winning TV, and at the RSC and National Theatre

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film

 

Jenny Rubbing my hands together for this one.

Adam I’m not a parent but I have watched the struggles of my friends who are when they try to work (especially in theatre) and it’s heartbreaking.

Gary I don’t think parents need any help from the business, to be honest. I’m a bit of a Tory on this one.

Adam Empathy, listening, creating an environment where parents (or indeed carers) feel able to raise the issue without prejudicing their chances of getting work.

Gary To be a parent is enormously energising and stimulating – a blessing – it helps make life and work better in every way. If performer parents of disabled or ill kids aren’t getting help from Equity/employers, that should be looked at, of course – that’s different.

The industry is still in the dark ages regarding flexible working in the business

Jenny The industry is still in the dark ages regarding flexible working in the business. It needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the light. Not just for parents but for carers and people returning to the industry.

Vivian Also for pregnant women. Why are parts automatically restricted because you are pregnant? Pregnant women continue working until their third trimester, quite often, and work in every facet of society (more or less). That needs to be reflected on stage and screen.

JonYeah, usually when a character is pregnant it’s made into a plot point – nobody ever happens to be pregnant in a play or on TV.

Vivian Being pregnant historically has meant not telling the agent until you have to, then not telling industry people, then disappearing for a year and re-emerging with a fully grown human beside you. Pregnancy isn’t a trick, a disaster or something to be hidden. Pregnant women are still your female characters.

Jenny It’s a balancing act when both parents are in the business. Lots of help from grandparents and adaptable childminders. Also I’ve found some theatres especially are really helpful with hours. Sometimes if you ask for help you’ll be amazed how keen people are to give it.

JonI’ve heard so many examples of couples with kids having to decide which one gets to work. Really hard if one has been offered, say, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the other a big TV job.

John I’ve heard exactly the same. I think we all know the same story about one half turning down an Olivier-winning part so the partner could go and do a dodgy show.

Jenny Job-shares or part-time work is something Parents in Performing Arts is working hard on – a kind of extension of the alternate system for big West End shows.

Theatres across the UK bolster childcare support as part of PIPA campaign

JonSwings all the way up, kind of thing?

Jenny It could be workable. Sharing wages and work. No one will make any money, because childcare is so expensive, but it will at least be a toe back in the water of the industry for parents and carers who feel forgotten.

JonIt certainly sounds workable. It would be important to make sure it was universal. I’d worry that management would allow a job-share for, say, their Viola and their Orsino but not for Curio or Fabian.

Jenny I’d worry about the opposite.

JonThat’s because you play much better parts than I do Jenny…

Jenny I would be a bloody great Fabian.

John How understanding are casting directors and agents? Surely they get it?

JonI think with casting it can often be very similar to how things are in the corporate world – people have to pay lip service to discrimination law, but in practice do what is most convenient.

Jenny The RSC has become a partner of PIPA and it is keen to get something in place.

JonI can’t really see a good reason why a big subsidised building (there we are again) such as the National Theatre shouldn’t have a creche. There probably is one, hidden at the end of a corridor.

Jenny A creche would be amazing.

John That would be brilliant. Although the poor buggers would certainly turn out to be actors as well.

JonIt doesn’t feel as though it would be expensive, or not prohibitively so.

John A West End after-school club, too? I’m sort of amazed it isn’t already in place. I wonder how easy it would be to set one up…

Adam It makes sense from a casting point of view too. There are actors who would jump at the chance to work there if there were a creche, who would normally be taking time off.

Jenny Becoming a parent is like entering a whole new realm of crazy. People need to be more aware of it, but how can they be when the parents can’t work and spread the news?

Adam I heard a story about a director who used to have ridiculous rehearsal calls (most famously 10am on New Year’s Day for a full day’s rehearsal for a play that had been open for weeks) and then after she had a child everything changed and she became much more understanding and accommodating of other parents’ needs. So real empathy is often where the change begins.

JonWe’ve not touched on weekends – any thoughts, about Sundays in particular, before we move on?

Jenny If you have children in school when would you ever see them? It’s a real problem. Any parent would be concerned. Sunday shows would have to be a no from me.

John I’ve always wondered how parents see their kids when they have three shows on a weekend.

Jenny You’ll usually find their kids aren’t school age yet.

JonI love Sunday shows. Maybe we should get Equity on to a ‘Sundays for the childless’ campaign.

Jenny Opportunities for all.

John That sounds strangely bleak, Jon. I must admit, I love Sundays because you get paid more and can get to the pub earlier.

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