Juggling…

Following on from our last blog Boobin while you work this week  SDUK member Poppy Burton-Morgan, shares her career-child-juggling journey from four years down the road….


Nobody said it was easy. Still, 4 years in to juggling my directing career with caring commitments (two boys aged 4 and 2) and it is at least getting easier. With the 4 year old in school and the 2 year old in pre-school there’s a semblance of routine to our lives that means I can carve out time for writing funding applications (a massive part of my job in running my own company – Metta Theatre) and meetings – especially when I can persuade people to meet me near my flat (such a game-changer or deal-breaker depending on your viewpoint). And finally – argh I don’t want to jinx it – finally they’re now [mostly] sleeping through the night and [mostly] getting up no earlier than 6am. So with a little more sleep my brain, and more crucially my heart, feels like its doubled its capacity.

Poppy and Noah in 2012 credit jane hobson

 Pre children I was a super prolific freelancer directing 6 shows a year, juggling my own company, freelance directing jobs and the last remnants of an Associate/assisting career that had kept me financially afloat in my early twenties. Post-children with the meagre fees offered to freelance directors at anywhere less than the National or RSC insufficient to cover the childcare costs for two children under school age my output of work narrowed to just directing for my own company where I could set my own appropriate fees and crucially control my own working practices to facilitate my new role as a mother. In the very early days we had our babies in meetings – famously at 12 weeks there was an infamous poo-mageddon incident at the Arts Council (luckily I run my company with my husband and he was the one left to deal with the literal and metaphorical fall out that time). We had them in rehearsals – strapped to my chest – or more often breast – while developing some new combination of circus or street dance or puppetry. In general I’ve found that the rehearsal room for text-based work requires a level of quiet and focus less conducive to accommodating a small child’s presence. That said I did have one of them present during rehearsals for As You Like It with the great support of the cast who spent many an hour singing to my then 4 month old. I lost track of all the professional occasions I breastfed through – meetings, rehearsals, a Q&A at the NT (I was definitely breastfeeding when I asked Rufus my question), a press interview, a job interview (I got the job), a post show discussion I led for an audience of 17 year olds.

Going from directing 6 or more shows annually to 2 or 3 per year over these last 4 years has really distilled my vision and my artistic priorities. In a good way. It’s actually a huge gift to have something else that feels [I mean is!!!] more important than the work and to say no to things on that basis. Pre-children I used to assess whether to accept a job based on three criteria:

 Does it feed my soul?

Does it feed my wallet?

Does it feed my cv?

 Two out of three and I was good to go. Now it’s three out of three and even then it’s not a given that I’ll say yes. But now that they’re both that bit more independent I’m attempting to resurrect my freelance career – I’ll be directing a Shakespeare for a big regional theatre this summer which will mean being away from the boys for 5 weeks. I can’t wait (all those lie-ins) and I will see them at weekends but it’s going to be a culture shock for us all. I’m going to negotiate a late start on mondays and early finish on fridays so I can squeeze in the school run and be back in time for bedtime respectively, but still. It’s a big deal for the whole family, especially for my husband – the designer William Reynolds, who’ll be [for the first time] the one staying behind. Unlike me his freelance career has thrived alongside our company work, even with the complications of children, partly because designers are much better paid than directors, the time commitment is much shorter so they can be more prolific generally and also because much more of their work can be done at home while a child sleeps or is watching Paw Patrol (ahem!!) Before we embarked on parenthood we’d thought that looking after the kids would be more equally divided but the pattern that’s emerged over the last four years has not quite reflected that. In 2016 he was away for 9 weeks consecutively opening shows in New York, Leeds, Bristol and France.

 So this year is the start of a new parenting chapter where he now steps back a bit in his career to allow me to step up in mine. We’re both excited (well, more so me than him) and both a little apprehensive. Undoubtedly there will be moments when I’m away when I’ll feel a pang of guilt – when the 2 year old has an ear infection and I can hear him over the phone asking for his mummy. But I’m also thrilled beyond measure at the jobs I have coming up over the next 18 months – projects that will take me away from the family, but projects zinging with rich possibilities to feed my newly awakened heart and mind, and of course my soul! Let’s just hope that my absence isn’t too soul destroying back home…

 Poppy Burton-Morgan is Artistic Director of Metta Theatre which she co-founded in 2005 with her husband Motley trained Designer William Reynolds. Www.mettatheatre.co.uk