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Meet the theatre dads - and their children

Ahead of Father's Day on Sunday, we chat to an actor, director and journalist to find out what it's like to be a dad in the theatre industry

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Being a parent is by no means a walk in the park, add to that working in an industry that demands unsociable working hours and periods of unemployment and it can become very tricky indeed.

Ahead of Father's Day this weekend, we thought we'd celebrate all the dads who manage to juggle family life with this business we call show by chatting to three industry professionals and their children. Actor Aaron Sidwell and his daughters Matilda (6) and Isla (3), director Jamie Lloyd and his son Lewin (8), and WhatsOnStage's very own editor Theo Bosanquet and his daughter Helena (1).

Lewin - "I want dad to do Jurassic Park the Musical. I would love to see a singing raptor!"
© Darren Bell

What is it like to be a dad and work in the theatre industry?

Jamie Lloyd: The main challenge is that the hours we work are long and erratic. There's no other way of creating the work, though - I don't believe in half measures. That's hard work on the family and I've started to build in longer breaks in between productions to spend more time at home (and to steal all of Lewin's ideas for my productions). My wife [actress Suzie Toase] is the most incredible mother in the world and I can't thank her enough for everything she does for our family.

I think the cost of childcare is prohibitive for so many who want to pursue a career in theatre. It is time for a subsidised theatre crèche or childcare scheme. Surely the National Theatre should be providing such a service for the theatremakers that work there? Unless we address that issue, it will contribute to the increasing concern that theatre practitioners may only come from more privileged backgrounds in the future.

The truth is that having children has made me a less self-conscious director. Lewin and his brother, Georgie, have such an infectious sense of humour and a vibrant imagination. That's very inspiring and addictive. I try to be as impulsive and as playful as them when I'm in the rehearsal room. It makes it all much more fun.

I love sharing everything I do with Lewin and he gives me brilliant feedback. As long as he thinks what I've done is interesting and exciting, it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks! If he gets bored when watching one of my productions, I know I've done something wrong.

Lewin: It's great to have a dad that works in theatre because you get to meet casts and go behind the scenes. It's amazing. I even got to go in the giant drum outside the Palace theatre before it went up.

I have seen some of my dad's productions. I think they are all really good but my favourite is probably The Commitments, but I also really loved Urinetown, which was funny and also dark. The cast of The Commitments are so cool and so talented.

I was disappointed when he didn't want to do the Back To The Future musical anymore but I think it would be great if he could make Star Wars the musical or Jurassic Park the musical. I would love to see a singing raptor!

What would you say if Lewin wanted to work in theatre?

Jamie: He's just started auditioning for some acting roles. I wasn't too sure what I thought about that at first - and I'm definitely not a pushy parent - but he's really enjoying it. He's also really good! He makes me laugh a lot. He's a real pal, so it's great to help him out with scripts and to share the whole experience with him. It has become good way for him to express himself creatively and to channel his abundant energy. That's increasingly important as primary school is becoming more and more concerned with "outstanding" results and box ticking - facts and figures, with an overwhelming emphasis on literacy and numeracy. It can be so rigid and lifeless - it's depressing. I worry that it stifles kids' sense of adventure in learning.

Lewin: I've been auditioning for things. It's great to learn from people like Jenna Russell, Nathan Amzi and Killian Donnelly who have been in my dad's shows before.

Isla - "I want Daddy to learn Frozen on the guitar"
(© Darren Bell)

Aaron Sidwell: Being a dad in the theatre industry is not easy. Work takes you everywhere. I just spent five months in Germany for work and it was incredibly tough not having them there with me everyday. On the flip side you get to see their faces light up when they watch what you do. Matilda was a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz when she was three and she loved watching clips of the girls on Over the Rainbow. I worked with Lauren Samuels a few years back and when Matilda met her she was a little star struck. It's stuff like that, makes me think, 'how many other kids get these experiences'? Isla doesn't quite get it yet but she has come to watch me with my partner Tricia and sits on her lap and gets really excited when I come on stage. It's a tricky business to juggle but we make it work.

What is it like to have a dad who works in theatre?

Matilda: Great because I get to see all of his shows.
Isla: I want Daddy to learn Frozen on the guitar.

Have you seen your dad perform on stage? What did you think?

Matilda: I've seen Daddy playing Aladdin and Tricia [their step mum] playing Jasmine and that was my favourite.
Isla: I saw daddy playing guitar and dancing (Aaron: Blockbuster: The Musical)

What role/character would you most like to see your dad perform?

Matilda: I want Daddy to do Loserville again and I love Hairspray! I also want to see Auntie Lucie [Jones] playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

What would you say if your girls wanted to work in theatre?

Aaron: I wouldn't want them to. It's a tough life and as a Dad, particularly of girls, I want security for them. I worry about them 24/7 and that will only increase as they get older. I love 'the arts' but it's an incredibly scrutinised industry where you're picked apart to the bare bones. I wouldn't want the heartbreak for them but if it was what made them tick as a person then who would I be to stand in their way?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Isla: I want to work at Harry Potter World with Dobby.
Matilda: I want to be a vet because I like horses.
Isla: My like cats.

What do you think of the show Helena? "Gaga, goo, dada..."
(© Darren Bell)

What is is like to be a dad and work in the theatre industry?

Theo Bosanquet: As a journalist time management isn't too big a problem as the hours are pretty fixed, though I can't get to as many press nights as I used to. My wife's a doctor so the balance works quite well - I get more time with Helena in the mornings while Kate generally looks after her in the evenings. And sometimes I can combine work with parenthood - the Unicorn stage some great shows for babies, which has opened my eyes to a whole genre I didn't even know existed before.

Helena: Gaga, goo, dada...

What would you say if Helena wanted to work in theatre?

I wouldn't discourage her if her heart was set on it, but I'd make sure she was doing it for the right reasons and had realistic expectations. I trained as a director and I have a lot of friends in the industry, so I know how tough it can be. I'd probably sleep a little easier if it turned out she wanted to follow her mum's career path!

Helena: babababa...

What advice would you give to fathers looking to work in theatre?

If you're looking for stability there are many careers in and around the industry that do enable you to have to security of a 9 to 5. But that said, if your heart is set on being an actor/director etc then you probably have to give it a go for the sake of your sanity. Just try to make sure you have a back-up plan and, needless to say, always put your children first.

Helena: hehehe...