“Yesterday was a complicated day. It was the day of the voluntary termination of pregnancy and I postponed.” Nuria (not her real name), actress, is faced with a “choice cornelian”. She already has a 14 year old daughter. At the time, she had to wait until she was four years old to be able to go on tour again. “Am I ready this time, will this time be able to never sacrifice my professional life again? I no longer want to choose between my career and my child.”
Nuria’s distress, certainly acute, echoes that of many other performers and creators who have chosen to be parents. The status of artist is precarious, the life of a mountebank little adapted to family life. Stéphanie Mangez, actress, author and director, summarizes: “While the performing arts sector sees itself as an avant-garde and trendsetter, the parenthood of artists is “an unthought”.
Lhe cultural world is always more likely to trust an alcoholic man than a healthy mother.
Or (specifying that the punchline is not hers): “LThe cultural world is always more likely to trust an alcoholic man than a healthy mother.”
A “children admitted” artist residency
With her company (Compagnie MAPS), she has launched a residency for “children admitted” artists. Talking to us about it, she remembers this writing residency where she was refused the possibility of going back and forth to see her children. A residence where another actress tells us that she attended a serious discussion around an actress who had her child sleep in her cell, while the regulations prohibited it.
“We have set up a pilot project, which allows each parent to bring a child, says Stephanie Eat. It is a one-week residence in the countryside, with a building for artists and another converted into a nursery, with two childcare workers.” A caterer delivers the meals: the idea is to avoid any mental burden. And the sauce took: “We experienced an incredible week of solidarity between parents and at the same time of artistic emulation, which is the very essence of a residency..”
This time, being a parent is an opportunity, not an obstacle. “Yet this is what you are made to feel from the conservatory. When I got out, a girl was pregnant, my teacher told me : ‘that one, she’s toast, it’s over for her’.” (Note that if in schools and other conservatories, 60% of students are girls, the proportion is then reversed with regard to programming , and theater management).
That one, she’s burned out, it’s over for her.
The issue of the difficult combination of professional and family life does not only concern the performing arts sector. But the living conditions mean that it arises there in a more acute way.
salary for babysitting
There are the shows that take place in the evening, and upstream, the shootings. In the business, many people come from France or elsewhere, and have no family available to help. It’s resourcefulness, between friends and babysitters. The institutions do not provide for anything. “The only time I received concrete helpsays Janie Follet, single mother and actress, ct is for a creation that I did at the theater in Liège. I was housed in an apartment next to the theater and I had my child looked after by a babysitter. It was my colleague Véronique Dumont who insisted that I be reimbursed for the childcare costs. It’s the only time, and it was thanks to her.”
Added to this are the tours. Foucault Falguerolles is circus, like his wife, Vanina. They take their 5-year-old and 17-month-old daughters with them. It costs them dearly in childcare. “There is a salary that leaves for babysitting. We tell ourselves that when we both work, there is one who does not really work. It quickly comes down to 400 euros a week, and we also have to continue to pay for the crèche in Brussels!”
It quickly comes down to 400 euros a week, and we also have to continue to pay for the crèche in Brussels!
According to Foucault, festivals are reluctant to participate in this type of fee. “People who are sedentary tell us that they don’t come to the office with their children either. They don’t understand that, for us, it’s not the same, we’re in another city, another country.”
The body as a tool
Another difference compared to office workers: the tool of circassiennes, actresses, dancers, is their body. Three months of maternity leave after giving birth, thank you, but what to do before, to go on stage with a round belly?
Anne Cécile Chane-Tune is a dancer, she has a 3 year old child. “I did not have access to certain creations because I was pregnantshe says. I understand that, but it’s questionable. I still rehearsed until I was 8 months pregnant, but it was with a choreographer I’m close to, who was ready to take the risk, not all choreographers are ready to take it.”
I did not have access to certain creations because I was pregnant.
Elsa Poisot, company director, actress, director and author, and mother, found herself on the other side of the mirror, when she was a project leader. “His” actress got pregnant. “It was a 45-minute stage single, and the body of a woman seven months pregnant wouldn’t have matched the drama.” We had to train someone else, and provide a budget for it, that could have weighed down the company (if the assistant director, also an actress, hadn’t been able to take over the role so quickly).
It was a 45-minute stage single, and the body of a woman at seven months pregnant would not have matched the dramaturgy.
After pregnancy, it also takes time to get back into shape. “It took me two and a half years to get my body back”, says Anne-Cécile Chane-Tune, the dancer. However, according to the testimonies we have collected, many are those who resume very quickly, too quickly.
This is the feeling of Stéphanie Mangez, who put her daughter in the crèche at 2 and a half months: “I started again too soon compared to what would have been right for me, for fear of being sidelined. We are in a hypercompetitive environment. There are too many of us actresses, so we know that if we’re not on stage, there will be someone else to take our place.”
There are too many of us actresses, so we know that if we’re not on stage, there will be someone else to take our place.
Beyond being on stage, being an artist also means creating. And who says creation says need space for thought, readings, daydreams, spiritual nourishment. Nuria is also hesitant to keep her child for this. For all the practical questions, precariousness, the cost of babysitting, the fear of putting your current project in danger, the fear of putting your body to the test, but also for that. “How do you get back into mental availability, because there’s a lot of mental load, especially if you’re a single mother. How do I leave the space to be able to create? To be available, a space must be empty at some point !”
A crèche in Avignon?
A window may be opening. Emmanuel de Candido, actor, author and playwright within the MAPS Company (he also participated in the “admitted child” residency) wants to believe that things are changing. “There is an upheaval from one generation to another, he said. At the same time, we have the MeToo effect, the refusal of a director with an execrable authority, we have a questioning of North South projects so that it is something other than a director who goes with his own text to play Congolese or Chilean actors, we have smoother work processes, more respectful of the realities of each and everyone that fall into place.”
To find solutions, you will have to be… creative. The “child admitted” residence is a first track. Stéphanie Mangez evokes others, drawing inspiration from other sectors: “Dbaby-sitting vouchers, no meetings on Wednesday afternoons, no evening rehearsals except when performances are necessary, …“
Emmanuel De Candido thinks of “children admitted” rehearsals (“It doesn’t always work, but it can even be a plus!“) or at a nativity scene at the Avignon festival. He has just spent a month there without his son. “Kindergarten kids could even go to see shows ! There are plenty of things to invent!”
And precisely, to invent new avenues, the Maps Company is organizing a day of reflection on the theme “Being an artist and a parent” on October 4 at La Bellone, in Brussels.