how to survive

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to survive, as an artist (specifically Director/Producer of a small theatre company), as a mother and as both an artist and mother at the same time. So here are my top five tips. For each.

HOW TO SURVIVE AS AN ARTIST

  1. Make the work for your ‘audience’. If you work in the subsidised sector and on the small scale your main ‘audience’ is your funders (sad but true) so dream up ideas that are in line with their funding priorities. Wellcome want science theatre. ACE want touring work, especially for diverse and/or young audiences. Also make it for your actual audiences – that doesn’t mean selling out – just take a moment to really interrogate whether there is an audience out there for aerial-dance-theatre about arsenic poisoning (there wasn’t!) or how you might frame the work in terms that would appeal to the audiences that are out there.
  2. Make work that makes your heart sing. Do the other stuff as well (that maybe feeds your wallet or your CV more) but if it’s your own work then do the stuff you want to do (whilst also aiming for 1.)
  3. Learn to love marketing. It makes you a better artist to understand how to present (sell) your work (to audiences, to funders, to venues) and sometimes it even shapes the work itself. That’s a good thing – it means you’re making it for your audiences and not for your navel-gazing self.
  4. Ask for help. There will always be people willing to advise – especially producers/marketing/fund-raisers within larger organisations – no one ever writes to them, everyone’s too busy writing to the Artistic Directors who have no time to reply.
  5. When you write budgets (again specifically within the subsidised sector) a) budget for what things will cost first, think big, be ambitious, dream. Also properly work out the number of days you’ll spend managing/administrating/fund-raising for it – really properly and in great detail. Then aim to pay yourself at least £100 a day x however many days that is. Then work out how much money you need to raise (from box office, ACE, other funders, begging, crowd-sourcing). You can always cut things (and of course paying yourself for the management of it all will be the first to go though do keep a note of the days/in-kind work somewhere in the budget) but start from what you feel the project needs rather than how much you think you can raise.

HOW TO SURVIVE MOTHERHOOD

  1. Ask for help. Don’t expect it but don’t apologise for needing/wanting/asking for it. Lots of people love babies and will happily hold one for an hour while you sleep/wash your hair/have a meeting. Or they’ll come round with food and wine and hugs. Whatever it is you need – just ask (especially through Facebook/Twitter where people can choose to ignore or engage on their own terms).
  2. Cleanliness is not a priority. Babies don’t need washing very often (every 3 weeks is fine, apart from bums, and they get washed when you change them so that’s enough) and embrace the greasy-haired/vomit-stained look yourself. Then on the rare occasion you have a shower/wear make-up you’ll get loads of compliments. Also houses don’t really need to be kept very clean and if you’re lucky enough to have family close enough to visit every now and again then they’ll probably pitch in when they see you’re living in a cesspit.
  3. Bad sleepers are all geniuses. Console yourself with this fact (good sleepers can also still be geniuses). And if they won’t nap then walk them in a buggy with a cover over (like a parrot) and they’ll go eventually, plus they’ll be strapped in so they can’t escape.
  4. Streamline your life. Children eat up time and energy which makes them great for forcing you to prioritise. So let go of anything in your life that doesn’t bring you joy (see Number 2.) including relationships. Especially relationships. Equally trust that the relationships that do matter will endure even if you don’t have lots of time to put into them. One of my best friends I only see once a year – he’s still one of my best friends.
  5. Fish fingers can be cooked in the fat bit of a Dualit toaster in 6 minutes (and you can get cheap-ish second hand reconditioned toasters on Ebay for not silly money). It’s also fine to feed them fish fingers for dinner 5 nights in a row.

HOW TO SURVIVE AS AN ARTIST/MOTHER

  1. You can get maternity pay as a self-employed artist. It’s only £100ish a week but adds up to over £5000 which, let’s be honest, is about half of what I earn in a year, and I imagine that’s the case for most young-ish freelance artists. So claim it!
  2. It’s much easier to network with a baby. No one likes networking – we’re all shy really, but (almost) everybody likes babies (the newer the better). A lot of people remember us now as the ones with the baby (ies) – and you suddenly discover huge swathes of the arts community are also parents and they in particular will support you more, knowing you are parents. Because they know how cocking hard it is. So take babies to parties/meetings/conferences (while they’re still small enough) and if you’re writing to someone you know has children too there’s no harm in including a picture of your new-born baby. Why not!
  3. You can take a proper break/gap from making work and the world won’t forget who you are (this is obviously not advice I’ve followed but I want to put it out there – if you choose to jump straight back in, great! If not, also great).
  4. Crowd-source your childcare. On Facebook. See Number 1. of HOW TO SURVIVE MOTHERHOOD. If you’re still young-ish/emerging-ish then childcare will cost more than you will earn. Trust that other people won’t break your baby (they won’t) and just ask for help. Start when they’re little and the babies won’t mind or even notice – it’s particularly useful for short meetings in town and you’ll be surprised by who and how many people want to hold a baby for an hour. It gets harder as they get older but by then you’ve hopefully built up a core group of people who know the child and will take them for longer stretches of time. Plus it makes your children really confident with adults.
  5. It’s totally fine to put them in front of YouTube videos of tractors or Disney for several hours when you have a deadline/funding application to write. So long as it’s not every single day. You can even have them on your lap with one tab open with YouTube and another with your document/email/work. Cunning.

And once you’re out of the survival stage (or even during, if you can summon the resources/energy) be the one to offer help or respond to people’s requests for it. That’s how I’ve survived the last 9 years of being an artist and 2 and 1/2 of motherhood.

Advertisements

the year so far…

So it hasn’t been quite as quiet as predicted. ALICE toured in the spring and received some amazing reviews so that’s touring again from October. We spent several weeks over the summer developing a new hip hop circus and dance-theatre adaptation of the JUNGLE BOOK and we’re also just about to premiere a short circus piece about DNA/twins and epigenetics for a very glamorous party next month – rumour has it both Boris Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch will be there, among others. That is a lot of glamour!

Also been busy having another baby – little Finn who was born 6 weeks ago and has already attended two conferences (one on circus at the Lighthouse in Poole, one on science theatre/public engagement at the Wellcome Trust) and acquitted himself well at both. Admittedly he almost hit someone from the Arts Council with his epic projectile vomiting and he soiled himself so badly over the lunch break I had to throw his babygro away but crucially, bar a few minor squeaks, he slept quietly throughout both – long may that continue! And even the academics and policy wonks at the second conference were very supportive of and receptive to the tiny human being in their midst and I was waited on hand and foot over the networking lunch. I didn’t get much networking done – sat in the corner breast-feeding – but I was brought lots of food by helpful delegates!

a very busy year

Oops, fell off the blogging train in spectacular fashion. In my defence after we got back from Morocco I opened a show in June (MONKEY & CROCODILE), another in September (WELL), another TWO in November (ALICE plus a cheeky little 10 minute one called BREAD as part of Theatre Uncut) and one more in December (DUSA, STAS, FISH & VI)! So it was a busy old year.

Meanwhile Noah has learned to talk – am teaching him ‘To be or not to be’ – he’s currently got most of the first line down and then the last word of the following 5 lines. I’m hoping he’ll have it all down by his second birthday at the end of May. I mean what’s the point of kids if you can’t plaster your theatre company’s logo all over them and teach them Shakespeare speeches to show off at parties.

This year looks set to be a little quieter with ALICE going out on tour in the spring and then just a few things in development for next year. But who knows, maybe by next week several more shows will have sprouted…

a story-telling odyssey

We’ve just returned from Morocco. What bliss. But also hard work with an 11 month old baby. We visited 8 cities over 15 days (including a tiny village in the desert and a Donkey Sanctuary in the foothills of the Atlas mountains) all in the search for Moroccan stories and story-tellers which are sadly an elusive (and dying) breed. We also met with the National Theatre in Rabat who are really interested in the project and potentially interested in co-producing (watch this space). It was a huge success both artistically and strategically and Noah had the time of his life – especially getting lost in the souks of Marrakech and Fez where he would have happily stayed for days.

Full of stories and tagine, and a little bit browner than when we left (in Noah’s case a lot browner) now all we have to do is create some sort of show from the experience. And quickly! On June 8th we’re showing a 10 minute scratch performance at the Battersea Arts Centre for their Scratch Festival so we’d better have something to show by then!

And MONKEY & CROCODILE opens next month. Plus we’re reviving our 2007 smash hit HIDDEN LIGHT for one night only at an academic symposium in York. And I’ve also got to fit in some days with the magicians developing their latest show – which is a full on narrative this time (Morgan & West’s A Grand Adventure). June is going to be busy…

post-show discussions

After a relatively quiet March things starting getting busy again in April. We held a Research & Development period for WELL – our aerial dance theatre piece exploring arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh culminating in a 45 minute showing to industry and critical friends. Mostly Noah was out of the rehearsal room until the post-show discussion when his babysitter had to run for a train. So yet again I spent another post-show discussion breastfeeding. It’s becoming a bit of a trend.

And then we held auditions for the third performer for Monkey & Crocodile – a trumpet playing Crocodile’s Mother. A bit niche. I have so many actors writing to me asking to be seen for Metta shows and I always feel a bit sorry for the straight actor types because unless you’re an opera singing, puppeteering stilt walker you’re unlikely to get a look in.

And now to pack for Morocco – we’re off for two weeks to research and develop a new show HALQA – with Lahcen Razzougui, star of our ARAB NIGHTS last year, which will explore the oral storytelling traditions of Morocco. I can’t wait, and neither can Noah I’m sure – it’s his first trip abroad and his first flight. Finger’s crossed he doesn’t scream the whole way there.

premièring an opera with a baby

January brought snow and a new opera about Locked In Syndrome. Flicker opened at Sadlers Wells Lilian Baylis Studio after a super short 3 day rehearsal (we had planned a semi-staged concert performance but as ever we made something much more finished). It was a huge success with audience and funders so finger’s crossed for the future – which we hope will be a UK tour in 2015. It was a frantic week though,  but much less of a drain than a full rehearsal process – although Noah at 8 months has just started feeling the pangs of separation anxiety so packing him off to several different baby-sitters throughout the week became increasingly stressful. Oh for the days when I could hand him over to all and sundry.

This week to compensate I’ve reverted to bringing him along to all my meetings and interviews – just like the old days when he was a tiny little thging. It’s worked surprisingly well so far – I breastfed through a job interview for a Young People’s Project at the Young Vic and much to my surprise got the job! And then I took him along to a meeting about directing a production of Medea for Actors of Dionysus. Somewhat inappropriate material to discuss in front of your son but he totally charmed Tamsin – the Artistic Director of AOD – who has her own 15 month old.

Then finally we caught up with the Wellcome Trust who have just awarded us another grant to develop a new circus/dance theatre piece about arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh – and again Noah was on good form although he did wander off at one point (he’s on the verge of walking unaided and can travel quite far with an ungainly sort of lame legged bum shuffle) but at least we’ve had no repeats of the infamous Arts Council meeting poo-mageddon incident!

touring with a baby

Turns out touring with a small baby is quite fun – though I’m sure less fun if you’re not also on tour with your husband. But Noah had a lovely time in Stratford – where he made an unplanned appearance in the post-show workshop and much to the horror of one of the cast I proceeded to breastfeed throughout – which amazingly, given the audience was comprised entirely of 17 and 18 year olds, didn’t raise a titter. If my brain were less sleep deprived I’d try and make a witty pun about titters and tits…please invent one yourselves. Thanks.

Manchester was also fun – Noah was recognised in the Royal Exchange green room before we were – his presence on Metta Theatre social media being such that someone from marketing came over and said – ‘I recognise that baby, is that Noah?’ Who knew babies could also be such useful marketing tools? I suppose putting him in a Metta branded babygro has helped…

Bury St Edmunds was freezing cold so we managed to fit in a very frosty but very beautiful walk around the Abbey ruins (with Noah wrapped up tightly in the sling of course). And then finally Exeter, where we managed to fit in a few site visits for playgrounds for the Monkey & Crocodile tour which will tour there in the summer. Then true to form, on the last night of Arab Nights Noah was out partying with us til the small hours, in the Bike Shed Theatre bar and of course flirting with all the women (especially the random hen party. Bit weird.)

And then Christmas and New Year.  A genuine rest from work. Mostly. Though of course with a baby one can’t just slob out in front of the telly any more. Alas.  But we did manage a few lie-ins.

And now – onwards with Flicker – which opens (and closes) on the 24th. Already half full which bodes well. And reaming and scheming of more shows  so watch this space.