Thursday, 10 October 2019

Why Mums might not go the distance as actors...

I interviewed for an usher position at a theatre today. It pays £10 an hour.

It’s a lovely job. Nice people. I get to see some theatre for free. I can walk there in half an hour. I love the building, the ethos, I’d like an actual acting job there. It’s a job I can do without paying for childcare. Which is just as well, as childcare costs £12 an hour.

I’ve had many day jobs in my time. Some temporary, some part-time, some full-time and permanent. I was good at them. I worked hard at them. The last full-time EA job paid me £40k a year. I have a brain and skills and a good work ethic [I think! You’d have to ask some former bosses to be sure]. But, I want to act. And any day job, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed it or felt a sense of satisfaction from it, doesn’t engage my heart or my soul. Doesn’t make me feel alive. Isn’t where I’m meant to be.

And so. I guess if you’re in work fairly regularly as an actor, you can get by. Or if you partner has a steady, well-paid job, then you can get by. But if you’re both creatives, both juggling the need to pay the bills with the need to keep your talent and your soul alive, and your light shining (and that’s a biggie), and you’re not getting that much work, and you have 2 kids, what do you do? Does one of you take the hit for a few years and then you swap? I’m not sure the acting industry works like that....

So my options, as they seem to me currently (and bear with me but I think the actual practicalities/options are worth stating), in lieu of a well-paid acting job appearing forthwith, are:
  1. Work from home doing PA / typing stuff. Which is theoretically possible, but baby has a max 2hr nap a day, not guaranteed. Evenings are busy and in a 2 bed flat, there isn’t really a place I can hide from the kids to try and do some typing without them coming to assist with the “button pressing”.
  2. Sign up for temp work as a PA etc. But the joy of temp jobs is that they are mostly short notice, which I can’t do with school drop offs/pick ups and a 13 month old. Without paying for childcare. And I'm genuinely not sure I have any more space in my brain to do this sort of work currently!
  3. Get a job I can do out of office hours with minimal impact on family life, which may not pay as highly as options 1 and 2. See above usher job.
  4. Jack it in and find an alternative career, one that doesn’t require paid study or training, because no grants/loans are available if you’ve already got one degree, and CHILDCARE, and I have enough organising to do on a day to day basis with a husband and 2 kids, without going to work to organise some more people, no matter how well paid.

So those are the logistical, financial issues at play. And I haven’t even touched on managing on a touring wage when you need to find digs suitable for yourself and a baby (and childcare, that old chestnut), and indeed husband and older kid(s), at a weekend, or the travel. Or even just managing the logistics and finances of arranging or cancelling childcare for little ones at short notice when the call sheet for any given day in rehearsal / tech / production week, gets sent out late into the evening the night before... 

Let’s move to the emotional and mental issues for a mum who is also an actor.

Parenting, it seems to me, for all its many joys and hilarity, is also a daily exercise in how you deal with failure. And guilt. Which are by no means the lion’s share of the day, but are a very present and daily occurrence. Managed to keep calm for 90% of the day despite repeating every request at least 3 times, but focused on the 10% where I raised my voice? Managed to get them out of the house, clean and dressed and on time, only to look in the mirror and realise I have some crumpet squashed into my boob and a sliver of ham in my unwashed hair, as I navigate the hedge-fund mums in their floaty dresses and coiffed tresses who have their nanny in tow at the school gates? Remembered to write half the thank you’s for their Birthdays from 2 months ago, but haven’t posted them or written the other half? Managed not to crack open the wine before 5, but have moved on to 3 coffees a day to keep my eyes open? Tick.

It’s a tough gig. Rewarding. Joyful. Enlightening. Hilarious. Infuriating. Exhausting. And then there’s the acting. Which, as we know, is a world of excitement and anticipation and rejection and failure and excitement and anticipation and rejection.... that ever spinning wheel of emotions. Much like buying a lottery ticket. With only moderately better odds.

Life has felt tough of late. And in part that is due to the kids ages - Hector has just started school and Arno is crawling like a madman. And having no family nearby. It’s the toughest point. I know that. Deep down, I know. But I have genuinely wondered lately how people survive it. Not just in terms of their own mental and emotional health. But how they weather the storm of parenting and trying to carve out a career which feels so hard. And out of reach.

The hardest thing, is knowing that you are good at what you do, not that I’m Meryl Streep, but I have a whole fucking world of parts I know I can do, and wondering if I’ll ever actually get to do them. Because work begets work. And if we live in a society where there isn’t enough support for parents (and for mums especially), where family aren’t as involved, where childcare is exorbitant, and the economy is about to go fully tits up, then you perhaps find yourself in a position where you have to do some other work. To survive. And then you’re not free for the acting work.

And the other hardest thing, is knowing that you can stand on one leg with one baby on a boob and a 4yr old “helping” you cook, whilst noting down what shopping you need and singing along to your repertoire playlist so you can fit in practicing your songs, whilst texting the PTA, and remember *some birthdays and learn a scene in one evening and work out some way to film it and send it at the crack of dawn without having a breakdown, and saying NO, I don’t already have loads of West End runs on my CV but I fucking should, and YES I can - just look at HOW MUCH I am doing, all at the same fucking time, so give me an audition and give me a fucking job for the love of God. Actually. Just look at how much I am doing. How much Mums are doing. Which is not to take away from Dads. But Mums. Mums are on fire and putting out fires at once.

I don’t have any answers. I can’t currently work out how anyone with more than one child, gets to bed before midnight. I’d be curious to know how people do that. How couples manage to have sex without paying a childminder to take the kids out so they can actually find the time and not be keeping an ear out for a plaintive cry. I haven't even managed to start reading the books on Motherhood that I want to read as research to write a play on Motherhood.What jobs parents do in between acting or other creative jobs. How you cope. How you pay your bills. How you sleep. How you keep your light shining. Tell me. I’m all ears.

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