Recently at a chic, happening party on the drizzle-soaked school run, a new acquaintance asked me what I did for a job. I replied: “I’m a theatre director. Well, sort of. I run a youth theatre. And make theatre for children.” I’ve felt crap ever since about describing my work in that way as it felt like apologising for my work and for myself.
I do run a youth theatre. It is called the Carriageworks Young Theatre Makers and specialises in making new work collaboratively with young people. If anything I need a wider skill base than traditional directing – in that I jump between creating and facilitating workshops, co-devising, writing and then directing (not to mention the admin and safeguarding side of the whole shebang). So why the need to apologise?
I’ve always apologised. During my brief stint as an actor I always qualified it with “in Theatre in Education”, not because I didn’t appreciate the quality of the work and great companies I was lucky enough to work for, but because I have always been afraid of the pretention police. I thought they would have me bang to rights for claiming the same job title as Maxine Peake whilst in a drafty school hall. Maybe I was scared that my new school run acquaintance would think I was an arse. I am trained and have trained myself to apologise.
I apologise for not living up to my idea of a ‘proper theatre director’. It’s taken me an obscenely long time to be at all comfortable with calling myself a theatre director. I felt it was a title for someone else: someone louder, posher, older and probably male, someone who shouts at actors about his genius vision and has an impressive quote at the drop of a hat. (Where the hell has this come from? I’ve never met any director matching this description at all!) I’m not that confident a speaker. I never remember quotes. I hate networking. Even writing this blog has seen me wallow in self –doubt. Surely that’s not what a ‘proper theatre director’ does?
I often apologise by prioritising the practical benefits of the work. CYTM has allowed me a huge amount of working flexibly: planning sessions at home from under a sleeping baby or two and then running rehearsals at weekends and evenings when my partner can take over at home, thus minimising crazy childcare costs. It’s also flexible and part time enough for me to take on other interesting projects as they come along. CYTM is ongoing work across an academic year and has given me a level of security and continuity. So youth theatre work has been very useful. I am grateful. But that is also a form of apology: I’m so sorry but yes I’ve had children and attempted to continue a career, but it’s ONLY youth theatre and theatre for children.
I think that’s the core of it. I apologised for myself to this other mum because youth theatre has formed most of my work whilst I stumble through the soft-play and sleep-deprivation years. Coming back to work after, however short, a maternity leave is tough. Coming back to work to an area that isn’t valued as highly as it should be, such as Youth Theatre and TYA can be downright depressing. Apologising for myself as a working mum and for my work and as only for young people simply adds to that lack of value.
So screw you pretension police, it’s time for me to stop saying sorry. I am a theatre director. I am as boringly insecure as the next person. I am not loud, I am not male and I did not go to private school. I am a working mum. And yes, the work I make is for or with young people. They are awesome. The Carriageworks Young Theatre Makers are so skilled and generous in their devising process they put professionals to shame. We get to make interesting work and we get to make a lot of it. I hope this will be the start of a few blogs about how I devise theatre with teenagers. If my kids nap for long enough, that is.