A performer in musical 42nd Street has made West End history by becoming the first to take a role on a job-share basis.
The news has been hailed as a “landmark moment” by campaigning body Parents in Performing Arts, which has put job shares into its best practice charter.
Charlene Ford gave birth to her son, Jenson, six months ago. This week she returned to the West End production on a job share in the ensemble, and will appear in three out of the eight shows each week.
Ford told The Stage that producers had initially refused to consider her idea of a job share, claiming she was met with a “flat no” at first.
However, she said she continued to press for it, and was eventually successful in getting the producers to allow her to share her ensemble role with Jenny Legg, the performer who had covered Ford while she had been on maternity leave.
Ford told The Stage: “There has been so much talk about it, and I know so many performers who are now mums. I found myself in a situation where I am now a mum, but I also love my job. So I thought to myself: ‘Why can’t this happen?’
“I feel there is no reason why this [job sharing] can’t continue to happen. So many performers of my age still want to do the career they love. When you become a mum you don’t lose that or who you are. I feel this has just made me more determined to continue my career.”
Ford said producers had initially met her with resistance because they wanted 42nd Street to be performed by the same company, eight shows a week.
“We all know that never happens, due to holiday and illness. So I was like: ‘I am fighting this’ – that reason alone was not good enough. My costumes were still there, and financially it wasn’t going to cost the producers any more, so I knew I had to fight it, and I dug my heels in,” she said.
Ford said she hoped job shares would be applied across the West End, regardless of whether a performer was playing a lead or appearing in an ensemble.
“I think things need to keep moving in this direction and hopefully they can,” she said.
News of Ford’s job share follows calls from leading performers, including Caroline Sheen and Gina Beck, who raised concerns that actors were being forced to leave the industry once they became parents.
PIPA has also highlighted the need for job shares.
PIPA co-founder Cassie Raine told The Stage: “This is a landmark moment for the theatre industry. It is a great sign of progress that a performer is empowered to negotiate for a solution that enables her to continue working while raising a family.”
She added: “It demonstrates how far the industry has come in its willingness to embrace change and work towards supporting carers and parents. As highlighted in the PIPA Best Practice Charter, this is a welcome step closer towards becoming a more family-friendly industry.”
A spokesperson for the production said: “Following the request from both artists, we are pleased to have abided by the ACAS [Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] code of practice.”