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Leading theatres look to ‘change landscape’ of industry for parents

Photo: Brian Martin Photo: Brian Martin
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Leading venues across the UK have launched a major year-long project that aims to identify barriers faced by parents in the sector and has the potential to “change the landscape” of theatre.

For the project, led by campaign group Parents in Performing Arts, venues will trial initiatives aimed at reducing the obstacles faced by parents working in the arts.

It follows a call from Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd last week, who said the industry needed to “get its house in order” and make better provisions for working parents.

PIPA’s 12-month study will lead to the creation of a best-practice charter to help organisations look at how they “support and nurture their workforce”.

In total, 15 theatres are taking part in the project, including the Donmar Warehouse and the Old Vic in London, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, the National Theatre of Scotland, and Bristol Old Vic.

Cassie Raine, co-founder of PIPA, told The Stage the research project had come about from “joined-up thinking” in the sector.

“People are becoming aware it’s an issue but nobody quite knows how to tackle it, so anything that is moving in that direction has a lot of support for it,” she said.

She explained that the first part of the project would involve gathering qualitative and quantitive data in a survey of current employees at each participating venue. Freelances who have worked at the organisations over the past six months will also be interviewed.

For six months after this, possible solutions to the barriers identified will be trialled, and discussed at three symposiums around the UK.

Raine said there would not be a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

“Within the parameters of their own remits and needs, the theatres will go away and see what they can do and trial it, to see what works what doesn’t work. It will become a big think tank,” she said.

Raine added: “We are not imposing ideas on organisations as it has to come from them – it has to be financially viable in order to be sustainable.”

The result will be a best-practice charter to be embedded in Family Arts Standards, which are guidelines on how to make organisations family-friendly.

“The theatres on board are leading theatres, at the top of their game and they are the policy makers. This has the potential to change the landscape across the theatre industry,” Raine said.

“It has the potential for organisations to reevaluate how they support, nurture and develop their workforce – and look at how this leads into gender equality and keeping more women in employment, helping to keep their career development going throughout starting a family,” she added.

The project has been jointly funded by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Actors’ Children’s Trust, the Family Arts Campaign and UK Theatre.

It is being led by Raine and PIPA co-founder Anna Ehnold-Danailov with Tom Cornford, a lecturer from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Welcoming the study, Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus said: “This highly necessary project will help us all to understand better the reality of managing that balance across this varied industry and, I hope, inform practical steps for the future.”

Speaking last week, Mamma Mia! director Lloyd called for more action to support parents in the sector.

“We have got to get our house in order and go: ‘How do we accommodate the mothers with kids when we are working on these plays every hour god gives?’ We have to look at what we are doing in a different way, but believe that it’s actually still possible to create work of the greatest excellence and accommodate the needs of mothers,” she said.

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