Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) campaign launch

Report Back: Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) campaign launch
16 Oct, Young Vic Theatre, London

Domestic Labour by 30 Bird, produced by Claire Summerfield. Photographer: Sogand Bahram

Last month, halfway through the R&D of a new piece, the two Artistic Directors of one of the companies I produce announced the fantastic news they were both pregnant. I’m used to handling artists throwing me ‘curve balls’ part way through a project, but their impending status as parents requires a re-evaluation of not only how the company creates its work but also how it then distributes it. As we started to explore rehearsal room options (such as working 15 days over 5 weeks rather than 3 weeks, ‘tag-team’ directors working half days each), and have tentative conversations with partner venues about alternative touring models, news of a campaign called Parents In Performing Arts (PIPA) landed on my desk. With such a pertinent subject matter I had to attend the launch at the Young Vic on 16th October. Here’s a summary of the event:

Despite the 10am start (a hurdle in itself for most parents - let alone those that live outside London), the Young Vic was packed - mainly with women, women with bumps and women with small children (with a free crèche provided). Actor Laura Wells set the scene by presenting the findings from her recent survey of over 500 parents working in the performing arts (which can be found here!research/c1n0f ). Unsurprisingly, it’s a pretty bleak picture of unreasonable working hours, Sunday performances disrupting family life and wages not covering average childcare costs. When the average wage in the creative industries is £16,575 and the average cost of a full time nursery place (in London) is £14,750 it comes as no surprise to discover that over 74% of respondents said they had missed out on work opportunities. Laura’s research supports PIPA’s aims of ‘raising awareness and support for parents working in stage and screen, and to achieve lasting and meaningful change’.

Next, a discussion chaired by Annelie Powell (assistant Casting Director at the RSC) with panellists including Stephen Unwin (Theatre Director), Romola Garai (Actor), Rakie Ayola (Actor), Poppy Burton Morgan (Director) and Adam Burns (Stage Manager and Equity Rep) reflected on personal experiences and then encouraged the audience to find solutions and propositions of change. Ideas included: :

  • The end of last minute castings where finding childcare is nigh on impossible
  • An end to a culture of working all hours: Stephen Unwin pledged to rehearse performers with children from 10.30am to 2.30pm on shows he directs in the future
  • Job Shares for both onstage and backstage roles (when working with child performers it is a legal requirement to have 2 casts, could the model be applied to parents?)
  • A call for producers to take more ownership in enquiring whether performers are parents and what their needs are
  • A ‘parents handbook’ issued by producing theatres containing details of childcare options, alongside the usual Digs lists and Gym membership details
  • A code of best practice
  • Tax deductible childcare for people with self-employed status who currently struggle to gain the benefits of Childcare vouchers
  • For theatres to follow the Royal Shakespeare Company in having a crèche for employees
  • More representation of pregnant women on stage and screen

PIPA is gaining force and is now supported by a range of key industry bodies and unions including Equity, the Family Arts Campaign, Stage Directors UK, BECTU (Technicians’ Union), The Musicians’ Union and the Stage Managers’ Association. Although there were a smattering of dance professionals present, it would be good to see this campaign further represent the dance, circus and street arts sector alongside the more traditional producing theatres (National, RSC etc). Artists and performers from these sectors have their own artform specific issues to contend with such as the need for a highly technically-trained, physically honed body. And I suspect the independent sector might also be more flexible and accommodating of non-traditional models of working. 

However, what really stayed with me was the irony that a campaign launch for parents working in the performing arts - where the majority of the sector leadership is male - was overwhelmingly attended by women (on a rough head count only about 5% of attendees were men). 

My own experience, and the evidence, indicates this is a timely debate, and I applaud the efforts and accomplishments so far. The suggested actions above are all practical steps that will help – although some are more immediately realistic than others. My feeling though is that in order to achieve long-lasting, national impact, the campaign needs to gain momentum outside of the arts sector, and further afield than London.  It needs to be embraced by government and industries beyond the performing arts: a real societal and political shift is required to enable tax breaks for childcare, more affordable childcare, shorter working hours, recognition of experience prior to parent ‘career breaks’ and the end of rewards for long working hours. And the voices of performers based in the regions would bring a necessary national perspective to the debate.

In terms of affordable childcare provision it might be useful to look at models of good practice in other countries: In Finland childcare is basically free while in Sweden the monthly cost of childcare is capped at £100, in Norway it’s capped at £250 and in the Netherlands employers pay one third of childcare costs… In 2007 my childcare costs were nearly £800 a month, more than my mortgage.


Claire Summerfield

Claire Summerfield is an Independent Creative Producer with over 20 years experience of working within the arts, initially as a practitioner then as a Project Manager and Producer, developing and presenting theatre, dance, cross-artform and collaborative projects ranging from one person shows to site specific multi-disciplinary productions, national and international tours. Artists and companies she has worked with include: 30 Bird, Tom Dale Company, Second Hand Dance, Maison Foo, Michael Pinchbeck, Arts Council England and The Almeida.

Join the debate on the Troop Facebook group: Troop @ Cambridge Junction

Further info:

Troop News goes out every month to Troop members. Send your ideas for articles and opportunities, and your production photos for inclusion, to Catherine Willmore by the third Wednesday of the month. (No issue Jan 2016)