Support for new parents in the arts sector is often lacking. Rachel Harper explains how a new show has introduced a range of measures to create a less stressful, more inclusive working environment.
© Ali Wright
I founded Missmanaged Theatre Company with Catherine Chalk two years ago with the aim of championing an all-female-identifying creative team behind every production. After a week of research and development on my first play ‘The Edinburgh Test’, which brought to light issues faced by new parents, it became apparent that there isn’t enough support for new parents, especially in an industry where schedules can be gruelling and finances so unpredictable.
Every production meeting has been in a child-friendly space where we more than welcome the energy and change of pace a toddler provides
The director was Jemma Gross, mother of a two-year-old daughter, Poppy. I saw the trials and tribulations of how she had to balance her work and family commitments, and as a company we wanted to create some support for Jemma and other parents like her that is currently lacking in our industry.
I’m working with Jemma again, this time in a one woman show called ‘Rattled’ at The Old Red Lion Theatre in London. It explores how we process childhood trauma in later life, through the eyes of a woman on her darkest day, as well as the important but sadly under-reported issue of post-natal mental health.
We are making sure that Jemma has the stress-free work environment she deserves. We started by asking her what would make things easier, such as at-home childcare, a child-friendly rehearsal space and child-friendly schedules. We quickly realised it’s a mix of everything.
We have booked a child-friendly rehearsal space and have two team members with the necessary criminal checks (DBS) who are taking over childcare on the days where Poppy (our youngest associate artist) will be attending. Every production meeting has been in a child-friendly space where we more than welcome the energy and change of pace a toddler provides (seriously, I highly recommend it).
We have also partnered with Bea & Co, a creative childcare agency, which will be providing at-home childcare for Jemma on press night.
We are also supporting any parents attending the show who might not be able to afford the high cost of childcare, or bear the stress of finding a reliable babysitter. Bea & Co will be providing care at our Sunday matinees in a bid to make theatre more accessible and reduce the loneliness that can be faced in new parenthood.
Bea & Co exclusively hire creatives to provide this care. This means not only are they caring for your child, they are also providing creative enrichment – who better to captivate a child’s attention or tell a story than an actor? Another aspect of our free childcare is that you get some child-free time after the show for a chat with friends for a debrief and a drink.
We hope that by starting this initiative, we will encourage others to do the same. The industry is on the cusp of change when it comes to accessibility and it’s great to be a part of that.
All in all, support is about having understanding – not just of the needs of parents, but of the whole team. Everyone works better in a stress-free, inclusive environment, and when we are working on a production that puts mental health in the spotlight, it’s important for us to champion that both on and off stage.
Rachel Harper is Artistic Director of Mismanaged Theatre.