This week’s welcome news that a group of the UK’s leading theatres will work with Parents in the Performing Arts  to investigate how employers can better accommodate staff with children reminded me of an interview with Sarah Frankcom  that we ran in September.
It’s worth quoting what the Manchester Royal Exchange artistic director said in full, because it’s an insightful observation.
“It’s almost impossible to run a building and have kids unless you have an amazingly supportive other parent. There’s still a culture in the theatre where we behave as if life isn’t important – that only theatre is. And that’s why loads of gay men have been significant [in the theatre industry]: they’ve not had families. I wonder whether there’ll be a cultural shift now there are more women running buildings.”
Antisocial hours are often blamed for the struggles parents face when working in theatre. And yes, that is absolutely part of the story. But there are plenty of other professions that require working unusual hours: medicine, investment banking, taxi driving. It strikes me that the principal difference between theatre and these other professions is one of attitude.
As Frankcom observes, in theatre there is often a failure to acknowledge that there is a world outside. There is sometimes a feeling that the rules of normal life do not apply ‘because it’s theatre’. It’s an attitude that can have some hugely beneficial consequences for the sector, but also negative ones.
I was also reminded of a 2011 report by Anne-Marie Quigg that found bullying was more common in the arts than any other sector.
Quigg observed: “I think in some ways those of us working in the arts have ourselves to blame. Often, there’s a passion attached to the kind of work we do, a commitment to it and great admiration for good art. So, I think we actually tolerate behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in other sectors, because we are committed to the end result being great… Part of our issue in the arts is that we don’t like to think there is a problem. We subscribe to this notion that we’re all really nice people and we embrace diversity and inclusiveness. So, the idea that we are actually able to behave in this way is not one that we would welcome, I suspect.”
Sometimes there are more important things than theatre. PIPA will need to get this simple message across to employers if it hopes to change attitudes across the industry and improve the lot of working parents.
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