Edinburgh Fringe 2019: 'It's vital to share our work with new parents'
Producer Becky Barber-Sharp on why she wanted to hold baby-friendly performances at the Fringe
In preparing for our production of Fox at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, writer and performer Katie Guicciardi introduced me to the word "matrescence".
The term, which has the same root as adolescence, refers to the transitionary period of becoming a mother. During pregnancy, a woman's hormones are volatile in the same way that they are during puberty, but the difference is that whilst it's understood that going through puberty is an awkward time, in pregnancy a woman is meant to be happy with changes in how she looks and feels that are beyond her control. These changes continue after the birth, also a period during which there is a lot of societal pressure to be or behave in a certain way as a new mother.
As a mother of two small children, the discovery of this word was a revelation to me. Becoming a parent forces you to examine your identity anew, and dealing with such a life-changing event can leave you questioning what of the old you still remains.
When my son, now five, was a baby, I quickly realised that reconnecting with the activities that brought me joy pre-motherhood was vital to my mental and emotional well-being. In those early days, before your baby can engage with the variety of playgroups, music classes and story sessions that later form the rhythm of your week, getting out of the house and doing something for yourself is one of the best ways to keep sane. But what can you do that provides some stimulation for your sleep-deprived brain whilst also allowing you to breastfeed or bottle feed a baby where it's also acceptable for said baby to scream, cry and noisily fill a nappy that will then need changing?
Here comes another revelation: Baby Cinema. I am lucky to live in an area of North London where I am within striking distance of several cinemas offering baby-friendly showings of the latest film releases. The house lights are kept up and the sound levels reduced to create a welcoming and safe environment for mothers and fathers to watch films whilst looking after their baby. You can feed in comfort, get up and jiggle your baby around if it needs soothing, and with any luck your baby might even fall asleep so that you have some time to relax and watch the movie. Some of these showings also included coffee and cake in the price of the ticket! I quickly became a regular. It was also an opportunity to meet up with other mothers on maternity leave and have some much needed interaction with another adult.
During both of my maternity leaves I watched a lot of films. But how often did I go to the theatre? My passion in life that brought me to my career of a theatre producer was missing from my new identity as a mother, and I went from seeing several shows a week to... zero. That is one of the reasons why, when working as associate producer and general manager on the seminal Emilia this spring, I was thrilled to be involved in the pioneering first baby-friendly performance in the West End. This one-off event was a huge success, with nearly 200 adults and babies attending the Vaudeville Theatre, and I will never forget the sight of the queue of buggies along The Strand, or the sound of babies during the show that then magically fell silent during the powerful final speech.
I knew instantly that I wanted to offer more opportunities like this so set about programming two baby-friendly performances for Fox.
An incredibly moving, very funny and painfully honest account of new motherhood, Fox aims to open up a conversation about the difficulties of becoming a mother and shine a light on postnatal mental health issues. Told by a woman who becomes obsessed by a homeless man who has appeared on the street opposite her house, it is a story of our desire to help others whilst not being able to ask for help for ourselves. It shows how one can feel isolated in a busy city, and the weight of responsibility for another human being.
Having the opportunity to share this work with new mothers is something that Katie, Lisa Cagnacci (our director), The Pleasance and I feel very passionately about. Anyone who buys a ticket for our 11.30am performance on Monday 12 or 19 August will be able to bring their baby under the age of one for free, and also join us for free coffee and pastries before the show from 10.45am. It is a chance for anyone attending the festival as a punter or a fellow theatre maker to mingle with other like minded people whilst their babies will have a safe space to play.
Some people believe that a lack of baby-friendly theatre performances excludes mothers to the point of discrimination. Whilst I don't necessarily agree with the strength of this view, I do believe that for theatre to fulfil its potential to be truly life-changing, it has to be accessible to everyone, and there is a lot still to do in the industry to recognise the needs of new mothers and fathers.
I hope that what we are doing will inspire other companies to offer baby-friendly performances.
Fox is at the Pleasance Courtyard Baby Grand at 11.30