Opening doors: Ensuring parents can access employment in the performing arts

Opening doors: Ensuring parents can access employment in the performing arts

Musical Director Dan De Cruz and his son Noah with childminder Vicky Smith at Mercury Theatre's creche
Musical Director Dan De Cruz and son, Noah, with childminder Vicky Smith at the Mercury Theatre's crèche

by Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director of the Mercury Theatre.

Date Published: 12 July 2017

Self-selecting out: Three innocuous words that have a profound but often quite hidden impact on our industry. 

Thanks to a gradual culture change in the arts many organisations are now more conscious of the diversity of people applying for jobs – be that gender, sexuality, ethnic background, disability or any of the 9 “protected characteristics” defined by law. 

But what about those who never apply?  The enormous body of potential talent who don’t get as far as filling out an application form, because they assume they don’t stand a chance – those who self-select themselves out of working in the arts.

The Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) campaign has been set up to make our industry more open and accessible to one such group– parents and others who have caring obligations.  With a recent UK Theatre Workforce review showing that 24% of offstage workers left the sector due to inflexible working arrangements and parenting duties, it’s never been more needed.

We want people from all walks of life to work with us – to create outstanding theatre with our support, and to continually challenge us as an organisation, so the Mercury was one of the founding members of PIPA, and the campaign has served as an excellent space for creating action and real change. 

Thanks to PIPA, we now ask all newly contracted staff, creatives and performers if they have caring responsibilities – opening up a conversation about bespoke support we can offer that person. One visiting director working on a recent Made in Colchester production received financial support to bring her young daughter with her to Colchester, and mum came along too (providing vital childcare) for the duration of rehearsals.

For our latest round of open auditions I was keen to ensure parents felt able to take part – so what better way than to introduce a crèche?

We decamped to Kesed, a multi-ethnic town centre church equipped with spaces suitable for auditions, but also with its own fully-equipped crèche space.

To our surprise the crèche instantly caught the attention of the acting community on social media, with Twitter in particular going crazy for a few days.  This was picked up by the industry press – generating a huge amount of interest from across the country, which not only meant that parents had clear and confident access to an audition opportunity, but also served to ensure we saw an even broader range of talent than ever before. A win-win!

Over 200 applications were received for the two days of open auditions, of which more than 30 initially asked to use the crèche facility. In the end, with many auditionees choosing to make their own childcare arrangements just six crèche places were used - we ran the crèche twice, for four hours at a time.

Vicky Smith, a former member of our Stage Management team who herself left the Mercury shortly after becoming a mum, came back to run the crèche. Vicky is a registered child minder, so this was a great fit – Vicky was brilliant with the kids, and got really positive feedback from parents and youngsters alike.

In recent years the Mercury has doubled down on our responsibility as a regional producing venue to find and nurture the next generation of theatre talent. Under a new brand, Make It, we’ve introduced a new scheme for Associate Artists, an Early Career Training Programme, Playwriting Prize, digital summer school and range of training events – bringing on the next generation of skilled people from all backgrounds is vital to the present and future of our industry.

So would we run another crèche? You bet.  While the drop-out rate was higher than we expected, just holding the crèche sent a powerful signal to budding parental performers that they are welcome at the Mercury, where our ambition is that no one self-selects out of the opportunities we offer.

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