Welcome to my latest guest contributor, the fantastically talented Danielle Jordan. Danielle is a self-employed theatre practitioner and so are all of her family including baby Scarlett. She has agreed to share the unique challenges she faces as a first time mother working as a self-employed person in the arts.
Life Choices by Danielle Jordan
“Umm…I think she might have been a bit sick?”
“No no she’s just dribbling in her sleep, anyway, before you learn how to strangle each other, let’s go through that last scene…”
My day-to-day life is not what you’d call conventional. I spend a lot of time with cast members and students rehearsing shows, devising pieces of drama or running courses and workshops, the closest job title is theatre maker or theatre practitioner. My husband Tom is a Fight Director, Director and Stage Combat Instructor. Aside from our own pursuits, together we run The Action Emporium (through which we run Stage Combat courses and Tom can be hired for Fight Choreography) and Tatterdemalion Theatre Company.
Oh yes…and the dribbler? That’s our baby daughter Scarlett. At nearly 5 months old, she’s spent more time in theatres up and down the country than most her age! She has spent a fair proportion of her life so far being carried around, napping or cooing at rooms of people whilst Daddy teaches how to safely punch someone and Mummy helps them understand why their character wants to punch everyone in the first place!
As first time parents, we often get asked what it’s like working in such a field on a self-employed basis whilst having a baby. Wouldn’t we prefer a more stable lifestyle for her? Does she miss out on other things if we spend so much time travelling around the UK for work? And when we found out our own little cast was about to increase to three we thought long and hard about these oft-asked concerns.
As any self-employed person will know, you can never really switch off and as much as your income isn’t as capped as say, someone working in an office, you’re not protected in a quiet month. Therefore we decided two important things, we would now prioritise a bit more regular work as much as possible; my husband has taken the position of Lecturer in Stage Combat at the local University, to ensure at least some regular money is coming in. The other big change is that we have decided to be closed, as people, for two weeks each year. Before, booking a holiday was always impossible because you never know when some work may come in, or an opportunity may arise and although you may have a quiet week here and there that you can make the most of by going on day trips and things, you’re always on stand by, just in case.
However, with a little girl in tow, we wanted to ensure there’s at least two weeks where we are officially off the clock, and family comes first. Christmas week will always be sacred, and one week in Spring/early Summer time. These two weeks obviously don’t include other exceptions that are much more important than work, we’ll always block certain days out like Scarlett’s birthday, and other important family events but the worst part of the job is that if we don’t work, we don’t get paid and we therefore do sometimes have to miss out on the odd thing that we’d like to go to.
Although it’s a lifestyle that needs a lot of self-management and discipline, instead of having a baby and thinking we should settle down and maybe get a more ‘sensible’ job, it has on the contrary made us realise how important it is that Scarlett is part of this life. We are incredibly lucky to do jobs that we are passionate about, we thoroughly enjoy our day-to-day and our baby gets to take in that enthusiasm. Likewise, she is more than comfortable around other people, she can sleep anywhere and she is already turning into a confident, independent, incredibly happy little girl. And now she’s becoming more interactive, we’re also ensuring that before heading to the theatre, we also take her to designated baby groups or make sure she gets to mix with other babies her age. In fact with the hours we tend to do, we’re often able to attend more of those than we would be able to with an office job.
Is there the occasional tech rehearsal that inevitably goes on till 1am that causes us to get a disapproving look from my Dad when we finally make it back to collect our sleeping baby? Yes there is. Are there times when we finish late with Scarlett sleeping in her basket when it seems almost impossible for us to then wake up the next morning? Of course! If it was an easy lifestyle it wouldn’t be quite so rewarding!
We are both typical creatives – we’re dramatic, passionate, chaotic and always looking for things to create. If Scarlett takes after either of us, it’ll be a fantastically fun upbringing. And if she grows up craving a more sensible lifestyle, we’ll support her (with flair and jazz hands but support is support..!). Every set of parents saturate their child with their idea of the ideal lifestyle, we make the choice of what to expose our kids to. And we have made the very definite and thought out decision to bring up our daughter in the bright and often ridiculous world of theatre.
When she goes to school, we will have to make sure she has a stable routine and early nights and all the rest that goes with school-days and as a priority, we will ensure she gets that. Does that most likely mean with some assistance from Grandparents? Probably; like in any job, we will need to make certain arrangements. And with school drop offs, we’ll no doubt have a fair few mornings where we regret staying up into the small hours making that scene we’re working on just so.
But that’s life, it’s our life, and for all its tough days and hard work, we love it!
She’ll have the best homemade costumes for any school theme days and no doubt she’ll get embarrassed at our insistence on getting too involved with the school play. Her friends will come over to see scripts all over the place and some of them will probably see us and our lifestyle as a bit ‘weird’. But she’ll have the confidence to ignore those people and we will be passionately determined to help her flourish in whatever fields she has the most enthusiasm in, whether that be lighting, international rugby or accounting.
Now she’s that bit older, it becomes less practical to carry her around so we co-ordinate and one of us works whilst the other looks after Scarlett. In the main we’re still able to travel around together and like to treat a few days away working as a mini holiday. While travelling about, we’re often able to drop in on family members and friends who live further afield, which often turns a day of workshops into a weekend away.
Every family’s lifestyle is different, one of the most common lifestyle frameworks is the 9-5 Monday to Friday and for a lot of people, that’s the best way of doing it. Routine has never really been for me or my husband and a creative life is the only one that fits us. The most important thing for any family is to live a life you love; when bringing up a child, if they can see you living a life that makes you happy they will follow your example. It’s an ethos, this is our path, when she can walk on her own she can discover her own pathways and have the freedom to pick out her own shoes to travel in.
Working in theatre and raising a young family is not the easiest journey, but one thing is for certain, we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Be sure to check out Danielle, Tom and Scarlett’s various projects