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Libby Liburd: PIPA becoming a company is great news but it has to reach out further | Opinion

The decision by Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) to go from a campaign to a limited company is a welcome move.

Seriously tackling the issue of childcare and support for parents in theatre is long overdue. I’ve been slogging away for 17 years in the performing arts industry, juggling childcare, last-minute or late call times and long hours, so I appreciate the vital work that it is doing.

The fact that PIPA is working with some of the biggest players in the industry, such as the National Theatre, is to be applauded. However, it’s worth noting that many actors with children don’t ever get to work with such sizeable organisations.

Many parent performers struggle for their rights and negotiating working hours with much smaller companies that often have little money or flexibility themselves.

Many actors, myself included, start their career on the fringe, or doing theatre in education or short films.

If you already have a child in the early stages of your career, as I did, it can be impossible to do these low-paid jobs while living on a fluctuating income and supporting a child.

To bring long-term change, I’d like to see PIPA reach out to the smaller companies, too, and look to support younger/early-career parents to address the drop-out of this demographic from our industry.

As a single parent, I’m particularly interested in how we support those who are parenting alone in the performing arts.

Lone-parent families are twice as likely to be in poverty as families with two parents and are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis and cuts to state support.

Therefore the issues faced by parents within our industry are often hugely amplified for single parents.

I have missed out on, turned down, or simply did not go for many jobs because of the huge stress I knew I’d endure trying to negotiate it all. My day job became my priority for years because I simply had to concentrate on making ends meet.

Finally, we often think of childcare in terms of very young children but your child’s needs, and your needs, will change as your child grows – a ‘one size fits all’ childcare scenario doesn’t work.

Later rehearsals didn’t work for me while my child was young. A few years down the line, later rehearsals were better as I could collect my son and have him with me after school.

And a few years later than that, after school rehearsals stopped working for me again due to supporting my child with revision and exam prep.

As a single parent, sometimes I desperately wanted to have my child with me during rehearsals so he was close by and at other times we frankly needed space away from each other. Childcare needs evolve, by their very nature.

I wish PIPA the very best with what it’s doing, and hope its influence can spread right to the fringes of the performing arts world.

Libby Liburd is the writer and performer of Muvvahood, which tours to the Park Theatre November 3-4, Poplar Union November 11, Mirth Marvel and Maud (November 23) and Pleasance (November 30-December 1)


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