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On Friday I spoke at a meeting of Parents in the Performing Arts. They are a group which has come together to confront the issues faced by actors and others in the profession who happen to be parents – which is a large percentage. All of those attending were women which tells you just how much this issue is tied to female representation in the arts, particularly for those aged between 30 and 50.
PIPA has accomplished an awful lot in a short time. It has launched a best practice report and a survey and is working with a range of partners, from theatre companies to the actors’ union Equity. It wants to set up a best practice charter that employers in the performing arts can sign up to. A lot of this is very similar to what Workingmums.co.uk does and my role was to represent cross-sectoral best practice. Are there elements, for instance, from industries ranging from rail to retail to events management that PIPA could take on board and tweak for their industry? Surely there are.
The women attending laid on the line the kind of things they were struggling with. Firstly, discrimination. One woman spoke of how she had lied about her pregnancy. It’s not an uncommon occurence. Others spoke of agents who stopped ringing with casting opportunities after they became mothers or of signing up for a tv series only to find they were asked with little warning to come in to do an all night shooting. One woman had been called for a job in Milan. She said she was thrilled to win the job, but at the same time terrified and incredibly stressed because what was she going to do with her baby? In the end, she had to get her mum from Spain to join her in Milan so she could look after the baby.
Many mentioned the stress of having to attend castings and leave children with babysitters or bring them along and how this impacted on their ability to perform to the best of their abilities. Most actors are on low wages and can’t afford emergency childcare and have to rely on friends and family. One woman showed a picture of her performing with her baby attached to her in a baby carrier. The baby seemed to be singing along with her mother. It was quite an image.
The session was interesting because the arts are generally thought to be open and progressive, but it was clear from the discussions how behind many other industries they are even if, as PIPA says, there is tremendous willingness to discuss the issues within the industry. “The problem is that we are sole traders,” said one actress. That meant they were all isolated and unable to organise. Their colleagues were competitors for roles. That was why organisations such as PIPA were needed to act as a bridge with employers and to represent the challenges they face.
They wanted advice on what they could do and on their legal rights. It was suggested that they needed strong agents who were willing to argue for them and to ensure that their contracts included certain stipulations around things like last-minute changes to hours. They also needed affordable childcare support so they could attend castings. PIPA is looking at all of these issues. This is vital not just because of the links with diversity in the acting profession but because the images we see in plays, films, comedies and musicals are an important part of creating a world that is inclusive of all experience.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.