Theatre world needs a 'culture change' for parents

By Huw Thomas
BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

Media caption,
Tamara Harvey explains the challenges and joys of being a parent in the theatre

The theatre world needs a "culture change" to improve conditions for working parents, the artistic director of Theatr Clwyd has said.

Tamara Harvey said her own return to work after having her second child had made her more aware of the difficulties for parents in the performing arts.

Ms Harvey took her baby to rehearsals in Mold while directing the recent critically-acclaimed play Home, I'm Darling.

It later transferred to the National Theatre in London.

She said she had "a tonne of support", but juggling family and work commitments had been "incredibly tough".

"It does need a culture change, otherwise we are losing huge swathes of wonderful, creative people who have really important and interesting life experiences to talk about," she said.

Ms Harvey has discussed her concerns on social media, where she has posted updates about her return to work using the hashtag #workingmum.

She said the public response to her tweets had surprised her.

"People were tweeting me back saying, this means a lot that you are talking about this."

Image caption,
Tamara Harvey with her baby son in her office in the theatre

An organisation called Parents in the Performing Arts was established in 2015 in response to an "endemic" lack of support for parents and carers.

A survey it conducted in 2017 found that 81% of self-employed people and 57% of employed people in the performing arts had turned down work as a result of a caring responsibility.

Ms Harvey said that having children had made her "infinitely more aware" of situations where she had been in charge of staff facing similar challenges.

"It makes me feel very guilty, actually, that I must have been working with people who were doing these insane juggling acts, encountering huge challenges, and who didn't say so.

"The responsibility that I feel as the artistic director of a theatre is to make sure that people know they can speak openly about those challenges."

Image source, Theatr Clwyd
Image caption,
Tamara Harvey in rehearsals for Laura Wade's play Home, I'm Darling at Theatr Clwyd in Mold

Ms Harvey is one of a number of women running Wales's biggest theatres, but she said the discussion balancing work and family life should not focus simply on mums.

"What's really important is that the conversation is taken up not just by women but also by working dads, and by people working in our industry who don't have children."

Image caption,
Sharon Morgan with Ronnie Barker in 1984 in the BBC sitcom The Magnificent Evans

Welsh actress Sharon Morgan - who first came to prominence in Grand Slam and has been performing for 40 years on TV, stage and film - called for a "revolution" to improve conditions for working parents in the theatre.

She has two children, Steffan who was born in 1980 and Saran who was born in 1995.

"When I had my son, I really didn't like to mention to anybody that I had a child," she said

"You are supposed to be obsessed with your work. You are looking for perfectionism, you are frightened of failure, you are being judged all the time and so you want to put everything into it."

Ms Morgan, set to feature in the upcoming Netflix film Apostle alongside Michael Sheen, said there had been little improvement for actors with children.

"Things really haven't changed since I had my son in 1980.

"Public success is seen to be the most important thing, and therefore you should put everything else aside in order to achieve that success."

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