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Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Why we’re supporting Hull theatre workers to Recover, Restart and Reimagine

By | Artist Development, Artistic Director, Blog, Uncategorised | No Comments
Recover Restart Reimagine Artwork

Artwork by Joseph Cox

By Paul Smith, artistic director

This time last year I wrote about how Middle Child were going quiet for a bit so that we could make more noise in future. A lot has happened since then, with more uncertainty crammed into a 12 month period than I can remember at any other point in my 34 years. During that period Middle Child, like all of us in the arts, have had to try new things, find new ways of working and try to keep hold of our purpose as the world twists and turns. It has been, without doubt, the hardest period in our company’s 10 year history as we – a company who exist to bring people together, celebrate liveness and fight for the underdog – lost projects, lost our home and, truthfully, lost everything we knew how to do. Speaking personally, the year has taken its toll, leading to a crisis of confidence, of purpose and of “is theatre really the best way we can put something good into the world?”

But with this introspection and amidst all of this uncertainty comes a unique kind of clarity. A clarity around values. Around why we do what we do. Around the decisions we need to make. And it is these core values that have guided the way for Middle Child throughout this entire pandemic and which have led us to each and every decision we have made along the way. They were central to our decision to start a fundraiser for freelancers who had lost income, our choice to introduce flexible working to our organisation and our decision to continue employing freelancers and investing in people throughout the pandemic.

They are also the cause of areas of hesitancy, caution and nervousness. They tangle us up in knots as we try to navigate complex issues and they dominate our conscience as we try to grow as a company in a way that feels “us”. Our values are what we return to when balancing creative ambition, financial sustainability, politics, morality, health and safety, work-life balance and straight-up uncomplicated ego. They are there when we consider whether to apply for the Cultural Recovery Fund, whether to put the panto online, whether to take over this new building or that one. When all else is dark it is these values that light the way and lead us onwards. And so, in deciding what to do next and how we ‘re-emerge’ from the pandemic we must do so guided by our values. 

As a company whose guiding vision is for a fair and equitable world, where anyone’s story can be told and heard, it is clear that we simply cannot stand by and risk losing a generation of theatre workers either as a result of a pandemic or because of an industry that continues to be built to work only for a select few. And so we got to work.

On 11 March this year we hosted a day online, which we called Imagine the Future, that brought together a group of brilliant freelancers from theatre and further afield to help us consider four questions:

  1. What do you need post-pandemic?
  2. How do we better support freelancers?
  3. How can we be more inclusive as a city and a sector?
  4. What should an arts hub look like, feel like, what should happen there?

It was an incredible day, full of brilliant ideas, generosity and a conviction that things can be better. We listened, learnt and were left with an overwhelming number of great ideas for what the future could look like. We felt the weight of those conversations, and also of those that weren’t had, of those who weren’t there. We felt energised by the potential of our action and tired by the thought of its scale. We were inspired by possibility and overwhelmed by choice. We looked at the list of suggestions with optimism and then at our budget with pragmatism. A few things became clear:

  1. We can’t do everything. Not yet anyway.
  2. We can do something. 

And so, what we are announcing today isn’t the “Middle Child 20 Year Action Plan for a Better World”, it’s simply our next “something”. It’s a something based on the listening, learning and reflecting we’ve been doing over the past year, and we truly believe it will make a genuine difference and is gently radical in its own way. And then one day soon we’ll announce another something, and another something and another something

Recover, Restart and Reimagine

From both our Imagine the Future day and some of the wider reading we’ve been doing, such as from Freelancers Make Theatre Work, it’s clear that there are calls for deeper, more meaningful engagement with freelancers, a call for more equity and power to be distributed to freelancers, and a call for an investment in people, rather than projects. Our Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme is built on these three pillars and designed in response to an acknowledgment that the past 12 months have led to a loss of confidence, income and opportunity for freelancers across the sector. 

Everyone at Middle Child is determined to contribute to a sustainable reimagining of our industry following the impact of the pandemic, and our first offer to this end is a partly-curated, partly-self-led programme, which will last for three weeks, paying 12 Hull freelancers £1,500 each to come together to rebuild confidence, develop skills and take stock. 

The programme, which runs four days per week, 9am – 6pm, from 15 June to 2 July, represents a space to think, breathe and play without the pressure of coming up with an output. It is designed to inspire, stretch and develop participants in a safe space, which acknowledges what we’ve been through and the impact on our work and our practices. Everyone involved will be paid for their time and also benefit from a wide range of free workshops, masterclasses and training alongside group time, individual time and free time. To partially quote one of our Imagine the Future post-it notes, it’ll be a bit like Byker Grove meets a Rocky montage, but with a spa soundtrack.

The first week will be dedicated to recovery with a focus on wellbeing, self-care and reflection. Week two will focus on restarting with time to refresh skills, make plans and try something new. Week three will be all about reimagining, with time spent envisioning the future, dreaming about what it should look like and putting actions in place to make it happen. Alongside all of this run a number of recurring events, from group play readings and coffee mornings to skill sharings and open discussions. We’ll create our own haven fuelled by respect, curiosity and care.

Our ambition is for these three weeks to be transformative for all who take part with participants leaving feeling ready for the battles ahead but not burnt out by deadlines or pressures of output. 

We would love to hear from people who live and work in Hull and who contribute to making theatre in any way, be it through acting, directing, designing, stage managing, producing, composing or any other role you might find in a show programme. We want applications from those we know and those we don’t, from people at the very beginning of their career to those who’ve been around a while. We welcome and encourage applications from everyone regardless of their age, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, disability or nationality.

We are a PiPA (Parents and Carers in Performing Arts) partner and are always happy to discuss solutions that allow people to balance caring responsibilities with working lives, for example through sharing a place on the programme or a flexible attendance arrangement.

You can apply because you know exactly what you want from life, or because you have no idea. We’re as interested in chaos and confusion as we are in clarity and certainty. Our application process is simple and straightforward, and all we ask for is honesty and for you to be yourself. In line with ongoing efforts to decentralise power and decision making in our organisation, choices around selection for this programme will be informed by an advisory panel of freelancers. 

This programme is representative of our ongoing desire to offer practical solutions, and take action to return with renewed energy for an improved theatre industry. We believe this radical programme, which invests in people, rather than projects, represents a good first step in doing so locally and is a meaningful investment in the freelancers upon whom our work depends.

We will continue to listen, take stock and lead necessary action across other areas of our company to improve what we do, and how we do it. There is much more happening in the background that we will talk about when we can, but for now we hope this programme is an exciting offer, which is proof that we will turn words into value-led action as we build a better future together.

Four performers on stage, posed as a band, singing into microphones, bathed in pink-red light

Cutting BTECs will hold back working class theatre makers

By | Artist Development, Blog

In January the press reported that the Department for Education was considering proposals to cut performing arts BTECs from the curriculum. These qualifications were critical stepping stones into the arts for both our artistic director, Paul Smith, and general and production manager, Emily Anderton. Here, Emily writes about her experience of BTECs and why they are so important to working class theatre makers.

  • Listen to an audio version of this post, right, read by Sophie Clay.

My education

Growing up in Hull, I was one of eight children and lived with my mum and stepdad in a council house. Safe to say I come from a working class background and I didn’t have savings in the bank to go to drama school, not that I was keen on being out of my comfort zone and leaving the city. My journey into the arts, then, was different to many.

I went to a local mainstream school and school was school until year 10, when you chose your options. Not really knowing what to do, but also not really wanting to get bogged down in more desk-based learning, I chose the only other options that were available: GCSE PE, art and drama. I hated exercise and was more interested in the lights in the rig than performing in my drama class, but I looked forward to my art lessons.

My art teacher designed and painted the sets for the school productions under the watchful eye of the drama department. That was something I got involved in quite quickly, painting the sets and stage crewing for the BTEC drama exams and Rock Challenge. It soon became an extracurricular activity, doing it most evenings and weekends.

When my secondary school became Northern Premier winners of Rock Challenge, we raised the money to perform in Australia. Rock was a performing arts competition that started in Sydney in 1980, in which schools and colleges brought an eight minute long devised dance piece to the competition and were eligible for a number of awards. Australia felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity and that’s where my passion for the arts began. Those of you who know me will know that I’m not the type of person to conga around the arena on finals day, but the buzz from the whole experience made me want to forge a career in the arts. Behind the scenes, obviously.

Careers days at school always followed a formula. You would go on an away day to Hull College, where girls would be put in childcare or hairdressing demonstrations and boys in mechanics and engineering. You were programmed into thinking these were the only options available. When it came to enrolling in college, I did what most people did at school and signed up for a childcare course.

But during the holidays, abroad with family and away from my friends, I had a realisation: I didn’t need to follow the crowd, but look for something I actually wanted to do instead. So I went through clearing onto the BTEC Stage Management and Technical Theatre Course at Hull College, a course that wasn’t offered to me at school or even openly advertised.

Three performers dance with hands in the air on stage, in the round. A female bassist is silhouetted in the foreground.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything in the Paines Plough Roundabout, 2017. Lighting design by Emily Anderton.

My career

I had to fight my way into the theatre industry via the only pathways that were available to me at the time. After the BTEC I continued at Hull College with a BA Hons Degree in Stage Management and Technical Theatre, graduating in 2012.

Whilst studying I worked freelance for various production companies in and around Hull and, in August 2012, I was appointed the role of technician at Hull Truck Theatre. Whilst in post I continued to work freelance as a production assistant and lighting designer.

Whilst working at Hull Truck I had my first child and, due to the demands of the role and parenthood, I decided to move on, as the late nights and weekends didn’t work well with family life. In 2018 I joined Middle Child on their journey of becoming an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and became general and production manager.

Aside from the touring aspects of my career, I managed to graduate and remain in Hull. This is quite unusual in the arts, as people often migrate to London to start their career, because that is where most opportunities are perceived to be.

My question to the Department for Education is, if BTEC courses cease to exist in the arts and you are unable or simply don’t want to take an A Level, where do you begin in the arts industry?

How do you get the credentials to get into university? Consider an academic subject at A level you didn’t want to do at GCSE level, drop out halfway through because it isn’t what you actually want to do now you have a choice and not secure a place at university?

I strongly believe that the uptake on such BTEC courses in the arts isn’t as popular as others due to the lack of knowledge they exist, but none the less they are still a pathway for many.

When secondaries in Hull became academies, subjects such as music, art and drama were among the subjects cut in both time and budget commitments, with schools seeing them as less favourable. In 2018, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman even said academic subjects were the best route to higher-level study, particularly for working-class children. The result cuts access to the arts at one of its earliest and most accessible sources.

Performing arts isn’t just for the qualification; it is about expression and personality of the individual, whether it be performing, painting or writing, it is so much more than just learning the syllabus and putting pen to paper.

Four performers on stage, posed as a band, singing into microphones, bathed in pink-red light

Weekend Rockstars, 2016. Lighting design by Emily Anderton.

Plans to scrap performing arts BTECs

Recent media coverage has suggested that the Department for Education is planning to “reform” qualifications for 16–19-year-olds. The alternative options would-be A Levels, T Levels and apprenticeships. Other qualifications at level three and below, such as BTECs, will only be funded if they are high quality, are necessary, have a clear purpose, and lead to good outcomes”.

A BTEC is an alternative qualification to an A Level, based around practical rather than academic study, with course work taking the place of exams. BTECs can be done alongside other GCSEs and A Levels in school and college. Some schools offer BTECs depending on their values in relation to the subject and capacity, as the courses usually require attending college. Similar to an apprenticeship, a BTEC is a great way to do work-based learning, but a better option for theatre, as there are fewer apprenticeships available in Hull.

On the stage management BTEC I took, modules were studied and then applied in live productions. We learnt all the roles associated with making a production and what they did, we set up production teams, took on those roles, teamed up with other courses and made shows. Everything was learnt by applying the skills practically and being able to make mistakes without being failed by a teacher. The course work was paperwork that needed to be completed as part of the role; for example a deputy stage manager would submit their prompt script.

Working in the arts you are always learning on the job and there is always something around the corner that you haven’t dealt with before, so a BTEC is a good place to start. I imagine that the A Level equivalent would be very history based and not as interesting to the practical mind.

People who work in the arts will know that you don’t need qualifications to be good at what you do, but it certainly helps with your CV, in the early days, whilst you build your portfolio. Some employers are also still setting quite ambitious requirements in their job advertisements, which require higher education.

What should Middle Child do?

In the long term we have identified, along with other organisations, the lack of technical and production graduates based in Hull. Most creatives and freelancers are brought from London to work with local companies on a show-by-show basis.

Middle Child offer a programme of freelance training opportunities, taking unnecessary higher education qualifications out of essential job requirements. We have a great artist development programme, and are currently looking into how we can incorporate production and technical opportunities into this.

We are under no illusions that the skills do actually exist in the city, but performing arts graduates tend to move on and people in other fields don’t know their skills are transferable into the arts. Maybe arts employers could help by considering where they advertise and make their job advertisements clear that desired skills could be a conversation point. From personal experience Middle Child know that you don’t have to have five years’ experience to be able to do a good job.

The plan to scrap BTEC courses would mean that arts-based courses, like the one I took, would no longer be available, putting a roadblock in the way for anyone from a less academic or working class background to gain arts qualification for their CV.

What else can Middle Child – and the wider theatre industry – do to protect BTEC qualifications and similar routes into the arts for young working class people?

A finger points at an illustration of Cinderella on a computer screen

How we animated #Pantoverse with My Pockets

By | Blog, Panto, Shows, Uncategorised

Middle Child have asked me, Peter Snelling of My Pockets, to write a blog post on what it is like to create the digital content for their Christmas show, Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse. They have also said that what whatever I write, to be honest.  They have, to be honest, asked me this more than once. In fact, it might even be eight times. I don’t really know why I am resisting doing it. I don’t always like unpicking a creative process: I’m sometimes a bit lazy and sometimes I feel weird about putting things on the internet that will be there forever, like the terrible photo of me taken in 2004 that never goes away.

Anyway, I am going to do it now. I’ve made a cup of tea, I’ve got a salted caramel Hobnob snack bar, I’m going to keep writing until it’s done. Hello, if you are still reading; this is everything I know about making a piece of digital content for a Middle Child panto.

Animator Peter Snelling holds up a hand drawn picture of Pattie Breadcake

First of all Paul [Smith, artistic director] rang me up. I think it’s weird how people get to a point where they ring each other up. I met Paul at one thing somewhere, then somewhere else, then saw a Middle Child play and emailed to say I liked it, then asked him for a favour on something, then he rang me up to ask if I could animate a panto.

Over the years as an organisation that only wants to make creative work we have had times when we’ve been on the brink of running out of money. So I find it almost impossible to say no to creative projects. As My Pockets has become more established it’s something I need to address. I know that Elvis had the same problem with food. He’d been hungry once and so when he reached a point in his life where burgers were freely available, he found it impossible to not eat them all.

Not that Middle Child is just another burger that Elvis is stuffing into his mouth. Paul ringing felt more like an invite to a gastro pub. So we started to think about how to turn the panto into something that would work online. Our animations at My Pockets take ages to make. We create about 10 seconds a day. The conversation was in November and the panto needed to be the length of a play, so there was no way we could make it in the normal way. This year we have been experimenting with software that tracks your face and moves a kind of animated puppet along with it, then you wiggle the arms and legs with a mouse and the animation is made. It’s much quicker than the conventional way of doing it and felt like the perfect solution.

A pen in a hand, drawing all of the various panto characters on white paper

Next we needed to design the animated puppets. For me this is the fun bit. I’ve always loved drawing; I like the way it is so quick, that you can do it anywhere, that it needs no technology.  I also don’t think I’m very good at it, which is liberating. I think wanting to be good, or thinking you are good can be really limiting to creativity. It can get in the way of just saying what you want to say. Why is it that those blokes that joined Oasis after Bonehead left are much better at playing guitar, but somehow can’t make the same noise?

I think it’s because being good is not as important as… I’m not sure what it’s not as important as, but I know that if you ask me to draw a vase of flowers with a 2B pencil, the results are always very disappointing. But when I drew Pattie Breadcake in 10 seconds after reading the script I was like, “Yes, that’s her!”

In fact almost all of the characters were drawn first time in seconds, immediately after reading the script. I felt guilty about it and drew each one a few more times afterwards to try and justify my fee, but the first ones were all the best.

A finger points at an illustration of Cinderella on a computer screen

I know that the Middle Child panto is loved by lots of people and that it has this kind of anarchic energy. It’s alive and so the quick drawing seems right. It seems like a performance.  We made a few adjustments. Cinderella went from being in a pink princess dress to a tracksuit with headphones, while her face also went from being pink, to green to orange. But really I think that the spirit of the drawing and the spirit of the panto were so well matched it was pretty easy. I think finding creative people who share your spirit is the key to making things that work.

So the fun part was now over. Now I had to bring in the drawings, colour them in Photoshop and make them work with the animation software, against the backdrop of Natalie Young’s set design: photographs of an actual model box! Then I had to perform the whole panto, wiggling my head around in front of my webcam to capture all the movement, lip syncing to the audio files recorded by the actors over Zoom and mastered by Ed Clarke, with music composed by James Frewer. And then export it all, which took a whole weekend of checking the blue bar creeping across my laptop screen. Don’t waste your life watching the blue bar.

A screenshot of the animation software, with a picture of the Evil Queen being motion captured by Peter Snelling in another image box

I’ve finished my cup of tea. I’ve eaten my sugary snack. Now I’ve got to do some terrible Zoom call on a project that I’m not entirely sure I really want to do. Maybe this will be the one I’ll say no to. Maybe now is the time to make a break for freedom.

Working with Middle Child has been a real pleasure. It’s been fun and creative. And they have been so supportive, it’s a breath of fresh air. I can see why their shows are so great; it’s because the people and the company are great. I hope that our animated show helps to plug the 2020 gap of panto anarchy that people will be missing. I can’t wait to see what people think of the Pantoverse.

Pattie Breadcake and four animated panto characters are sucked into a vortex, against a pink background. Text: "An Interview with Finn (Age 5)"

An Interview with Finn (Age 5)

By | Blog, Panto, Uncategorised

Five year old Finn, the son of Middle Child’s general and production manager, Emily, is a regular fixture behind the scenes at our annual, rock’n’roll panto.

You can often find him sat in the middle aisle during tech rehearsals, making his way through a bucket of pick and mix while his mum works on the show.

Finn is as much a part of our panto as having a dame is these days, so we’re missing his beaming little smile as we work on an online, animated Christmas show this year instead.

Who better then, we thought, to speak to ahead of the release of our panto-inspired YouTube production this Saturday – Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse.

Give Finn a listen, right, as he’s interviewed by his dad, Matt, or read the transcript below.

An Interview with Finn (Age 5)

Matt: What’s your name?

Finn: Finlay

Matt: And what do you do?

Finn: Go to school and play with my friends and play with Lego.

Matt: What’s your favourite thing about Middle Child panto?

Finn: Watching shows.

Matt: Why do you like watching the shows?

Finn: Because they’re funny.

Matt: Who’s the silliest character?

Finn: Pattie Breadcake

Matt: So you get to see behind the scenes, what do you like about that?

Finn: Playing with the light and sound. And playing with Paul.

Matt: Can you describe what Mummy does on panto?

Finn: Bosses people about!

Matt: What are you missing about panto this year?

Finn: Watching the shows.

Matt: Anything else about watching the shows?

Finn: Playing with the light and sound.

Matt: So if you could be any panto character, who would it be?

Finn: The crab

Matt: Why would you be the crab?

Finn: Because he’s funny.

Matt: What would you like to say to all of the children who might be listening to this?

Finn: Come to Middle Child, it’s good.

The Little Mermaid - Hull Pantomime - Sarah Beth

Christmas, coronavirus and… panto in Hull?

By | Artistic Director, Blog, News, Panto
The Little Mermaid - Hull Pantomime

By Paul Smith, artistic director and joint-CEO

Somehow it’s already that time of year. You know the one? Where we dust off the rat puppets, cobble together an under-rehearsed yet well intentioned finale and let our dame, Marc Graham, run wild on Hull audiences. But it’s not quite the same this year, is it?

Nothing’s quite the same. Instead of excitedly planning this year’s family Christmases or work parties we’re sat wondering what’s going to be left

It’s just Christmas” some people say, but really it’s about more than that isn’t it?

It’s about seeing family and friends. About seeing kids’ faces light up. About belting out some Wizzard with strangers on Whitefriargate, while dressed as a Christmas pudding. And for us at Middle Child it’s about panto. Usually it is, anyway. But not this year. This year we haven’t said a word about panto.

Panto.

That much loved tradition that is, frankly, a bit odd, but a lot special. Where else in this stressful, anxiety-inducing world do adults and children alike come together to share in such unbridled joy? To cheer and boo, laugh and cry, hope and dream together, all while watching a dame dressed as a milk bottle tearfully sing to two actors bent double in a cow costume? 

We love panto. 

For us it’s what all theatre should be: totally devoted to its audience, woven into the fabric of local communities and able to magically transport us away from the real world, into one of magic and wonder. 

But this year it is the very nature of panto that makes it so challenging to realise. The things we love about it have become a barrier to it happening at all: being together in a space with loved ones and strangers, being noisy, being close, singing along, dancing together, avoiding the dame’s eye contact, being dragged up on stage, flashing our wands, rustling our sweets, elbowing granny to wake her up and reliving our favourite moments together in the interval.

It’s about connecting with other human beings through a story that is ridiculous and silly and soppy, but full of searing hope and belief.

It’s everything we’re already missing.

So why haven’t we said anything about panto? Why haven’t we been bombarding you with posters and trailers and ticket offers?

Nigel Taylor dressed in yellow with a blue baseball jacket and fish hat with his hands on his hips

I guess you know why.

In every good panto there’s a moment where all looks lost and we have to dig deep to believe we’ll get to the ending we’re all hoping for. 

We’ve been stuck on that plot point for a while now, hence the silence. Honestly? We didn’t want to say it out loud. That panto can’t happen for us how it usually happens and has happened for the last eight years, from our beloved Fruit to the last two brilliant years at Jubilee Central. 

We’ve had an inkling for a while now.

The nature of our show is proudly intimate. It matters that you (yes, you) are there with us. If you shout out we will hear you. We will respond. Your voice matters. You being in that chair matters. So, frankly, right now a live panto simply isn’t an option for our humble show. The production usually ‘pays for itself’ and without your support, there is no panto. We don’t use celebrity casting to bring in audiences. We rely on word-of-mouth. We rely on the hard work of our incredible local cast and crew. We rely on you, coming together and having a great night out. 

So I guess this is us saying it out loud. 

Panto can’t happen for us how it usually happens.


But that’s not the end of the story. Like all good panto heroes we’re refusing to accept defeat when the odds seem stacked insurmountably against us. We’re trying to find a way up the beanstalk, to the ball, through the enchanted forest. But there are challenges lying in wait and the ending is truly uncertain.

So what we want to do at this point is be honest with you. Tell you how it really is.

We aren’t going to be able to bring people together in a space to do panto this year.
We’re really sad about that.
Like, really sad.

But, we’re trying to do something else. Something digital.
Which, as I’ve said before, isn’t what we do, so we’re linking up with some brilliant people who do.

It’s something that we think could be really special.
It won’t be the same.
But we really do think it could be really special.

Thing is, we’ve never done anything like it before.
And we’re excited about that, but we’re also a bit scared.
Will it work? Will you like it? Will the internet be able to handle Pattie Breadcake?

Marc Graham as Hull panto dame Pattie Breadcake, in a sparkly top and pink dress, with blonde wig and crown.

And then there’s the virus, which is making it even more difficult.
Giving us even more to overcome.
Causing unpredictable twists and turns at every stage and in every detail.
Making us ask what happens if we tell you what we’re trying to do but then, for whatever unforeseeable reason, it can’t happen like we hope it can happen.

So this is where we are. 

We would like to make three promises to you:

1/ We are trying really hard to bring you something special this year to combat the gloom. Something you can enjoy for free from the comfort of your own home which will help us celebrate Christmas together again.

2/ We are doing all we can to make it happen, even if we don’t know what is around the corner. 

3/ As soon as we can, we will tell you more.

All we ask, is that you keep the faith and don’t give up hope. In us, in panto and in being together again.

This story isn’t over yet.

Big love and stay safe.

Paul x

Lindsey Alvis, in a stripey top, holds her daughter on a bright day at the seaside.

Returning to work from maternity leave in a pandemic

By | Blog
Lindsey Alvis, in a stripey top, holds her daughter on a bright day at the seaside.

By Lindsey Alvis, executive director and joint-CEO

I haven’t written like this before: put down my thoughts and feelings in a blog post for others to read. And I am not really sure why the urge to do this now, but I wanted to try to articulate how the last few months have been. Perhaps as catharsis for me, and also to share with those who’ve found themselves in a similar position.

When the pandemic hit I was nine months into maternity leave after having my first child. Let me be straight up and say that growing, birthing and raising a child has been one of the hardest things I have ever done: physically, mentally and emotionally. Women do not get enough credit. There, I said it.

Anyway, I was just starting to emerge from the cloud of the newborn stage, finding myself slowly and surely. Being at home on maternity leave has been a strange experience, as I am used to being part of public life. It’s work but not as you know it and requires a whole different skill set. In actual fact, I was barely at home, filling my time with groups, play dates, NCT catch ups and basically anything to get me out of the house.

I love my child and adore being a mum, but I am a social creature and desperately need adult interaction to keep me sane. I honestly did not think I’d be the kind of person to sit in a circle singing along to incy wincy spider, or spending hours discussing poo, but needs must.

All that changed when we were locked down. Suddenly we were at home all day, every day. I do need to say here that I am aware of our privilege: my husband and I have both remained in employment and we live in a safe and secure home, for which we are incredibly grateful. I understand that the realities of the pandemic are much harder for many people. But it has been a stressful and traumatic time, filled with anxiety about the future, particularly concerned for my child’s grandparents, and with no respite from the routine. With absolutely no breathing space, mental health suddenly had to become a secondary concern.

My husband worked from home too, so we were locked in together in an endless cycle of meals, naps, washing and cleaning. We did enjoy happy playtimes but, I don’t know about you, I found myself lacking in motivation and really fatigued.  Ironically, I missed those baby groups more than I can ever say, and those parent friends who’d often sat with me in shared exhaustion, sometimes too tired to even talk, always with cake to keep us going. The first time we participated in an online baby group during lockdown I cried, sad that we could not just sit in a room together, our babies getting to know each other whilst we exchanged the latest poo drama. The simplest of activities from before.

And then, all of a sudden, it was time to go back to work, albeit on part-time furlough and working from home basis. What an overwhelming and exciting thing. To go back to work. To be a professional. To drink a cup of tea undisturbed. To go to the toilet whenever I wanted. To talk shop. To grown ups. For a living. Again, the privilege. It was exhilarating. It was also really hard. I was sad that my child was no longer a small baby, that we were moving into the next stage of nursery school and independence. That we wouldn’t be together all the time. That I’d miss stuff. Important stuff.

On the first day we had a team catch up via Zoom. Don’t tell them but I was so happy to see their faces and hear their news. I really have missed being part of a small, dynamic and creative team. Then it was straight back up to speed: our landlord was auctioning our beloved building, Darley’s, so we had big decisions to make, and the small factor of a full board meeting. We also decided to apply to the Cultural Recovery Fund – and I am delighted to say we were successful.

All this didn’t really give me the chance to take things in my stride on my return and in truth it’s been a whirlwind of meetings, decision making, funding applications, planning and strategising. All whilst getting my family into a new routine and juggling a seemingly endless list of things at work and home.

It’s been and still is a lot but, time away from work has taught me how much I value the company I work for, the role I do and the team I work with. I have been extremely lucky to have had such great support. Our marvellous general manager, Emily, and I went through our pregnancies together – our babies were born a week apart – so I had someone every step of the way who really understood what I was going through, checking in with me after midwife appointments and picking up hot chocolate on the way into the office.

Our time opening Us Against Whatever at Liverpool Everyman whilst five months pregnant is one of the highlights of my career – the sheer ambition, achievement, and exhaustion of it. Safe to say our digs were well stocked with biscuits. I had a great maternity cover in Rozzy, an absolute star, who has been particularly supportive during our handover and will no doubt take over the world.

I also work for a flexible and supportive organisation that is open to ideas about new ways of working, responding to the needs of new parents to ensure we don’t move away from the industry, and has, championed by our artistic director, Paul, recently become a member of PIPA (Parents in the Performing Arts). Then there are wider Middle Child family who are fellow parents: Mungo, Ali, Matt B, Ellie and Matt P. Between us we’ve had four babies in the space of six months, and they are always on hand with advice, support and care.

I am trying to take it a step at a time. I am trying to be honest with the board and co-chief exec about how I am doing. I am trying not to be hard on myself. I am finding new ways of working. I am listening. I am being flexible and understanding with myself. Time away has clarified my vision and I am bringing that to the table. I am prioritising my passions and the things I want us to take forward, like finding a brilliant new home for the company in our home city of Hull and working creatively with new parents.

Making work in the current climate is daunting to me and the safety of artists, audiences and staff is of the upmost importance. I am seeking advice and asking for help. I am also carving out small amounts of time off, resting my mind, processing, recalibrating. I am running, occasionally. I am sleeping, child permitting.

All of these things are important because none of us have lived through this before. And none of us know what the future will bring. Protecting our own mental health is crucial to protecting ourselves and the ones we love. Speaking of which, it’s time to sign off, incy wincy is calling.

EN PL