Working as a Parent: Reflections on Acting and Parenthood
Personal reflections on being a parent and a performer in a challenging, unpredictable industry...
By Lainy Boyle
The determination I’d carried with me to make my career work my whole life stepped up another gear, and sure enough, I was pregnant before I knew it. Great! But then the reality of being a pregnant actress hit hard. Castings. Just. Stopped.
Technically, since becoming parents, both my husband and I could add ‘Proficient in Juggling’ to our Spotlight pages. OK, so I’m completely cack-handed when it comes to juggling actual balls, but logistical and emotional management has become the forefront of my skill set.
Before we became parents, I was petrified of what would happen to my career. I wasn’t exactly turning down jobs left right and centre, but I was in the best place I’d ever been. I’d just left a full-time job that helped my husband, fellow actor Nigel Boyle, and I get a mortgage, secured my old freelance work again, and was booking a handful of acting jobs a year that we’re actually bringing in money and moving my career forward. But the wrong side of my 30's was looming and after nearly ten wonderful years of relative freedom, we wanted to try for a family.
Having a baby would almost immediately rule out all touring options, at least at the beginning whilst breastfeeding. Oh god, would I even be able to get to auditions? Will I be able to do jobs if I get them? Will I be able to work non-acting jobs, whilst managing a child in order to keep myself free for auditions? These questions felt so much more pertinent being the female in the relationship. That was partly self-imposed, but also influenced from the outside.
Whilst the movement created by ERA50:50, amongst others, has started the shift towards better representation, four years ago there were certainly more roles in favour of men. It made more sense for my husband to be readily available for acting work, especially as he was better placed in his career. Which also meant his jobs were often better paid. I must state though, luckily this was not the thought process of my husband! If anything, he was also feeling the pressure of supporting a family as an actor.
Most women I knew who had started families had stopped acting, but some were obviously able to make it work - I just didn’t know any personally. The determination I’d carried with me to make my career work my whole life stepped up another gear, and sure enough, I was pregnant before I knew it. Great! But then the reality of being a pregnant actress hit hard. Castings. Just. Stopped. The last one I went to was a commercial recall with a foreign shoot, wearing an outfit with cleaver ruching to disguise my growing belly, and panicking at the (now rightly defunct) “Are you or your partner pregnant?” question on the form.
I looked the least groomed, but the most natural and, more importantly, relaxed, despite bawling with frustration on the way there. I simply didn’t have time to overthink during the shoot as I had done so many times before.
Fast forward a while, and I was blissfully happy with my new 3 month-old baby, although all those box sets during night time feeds had me desperate to be working on a script again. I phoned my agent and within a week started to get commercial and corporate auditions again. This was perfect as I was able to take my baby with me – although always asking the studio/casting director if it was okay in advance. The support I received in those waiting rooms was invaluable. Other actors offering to babysit whilst I was in the room, producers offering to hold him INSIDE the audition room, all created this wonderful extended network of support I didn’t expect to have. It meant my husband didn’t have to take the day off for me to have a ten minute casting, or use money we didn’t have on childcare.
I surprised myself, booking three commercials and two corporate jobs in the first five weeks! I could only put it down to a change of focus. Now something was way more important than booking that job - yet doing so seemed a bigger achievement. I had new headshots, and despite a nightmare journey with a pushchair and cancelled trains, it was the best session I’d ever had. I looked the least groomed, but the most natural and, more importantly, relaxed, despite bawling with frustration on the way there. I simply didn’t have time to overthink during the shoot as I had done so many times before.
My husband continued to book jobs too. We were making it work. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if our little one grew up to be a train spotter with amount of time he’s spent at Charing Cross station, as we swap him over between our auditions or work.
Thankfully the resources available to us parents are growing daily. Parents In Performing Arts launched whilst I was pregnant and within four years have become a force to be reckoned with, offering advice for parents as well as carers for elderly relatives – something we also take full advantage of. Raising Films have been fighting the good fight for those working on screen projects, Mothers Who Make is great for all forms of art. Each company work across the board for cast, crew and creatives, ensuring we’re all supported.
One aspect we struggle with is not getting to the theatre as often as we used to, but this is also changing. Missmanaged Theatre recently provided an onsite creche for two Sunday matinees of Rattled at the Old Red Lion, with discounted childcare available for other performances. Stephen Joseph Theatre trialled a similar scheme for a show last year, and only last week an innocent Twitter comment created the first ever West End relaxed baby performance! When writer Morgan Lloyd Malcom offered to babysit for a mum who wanted to see ‘Emilia’ but knew it would be feeding time by the interval, I commented that this kind offer filled me with joyous emotion as I knew the struggle too well. Morgan replied saying we need to find a way and sure enough within 24 hours she had done just that, arranging a matinee in April that’s now almost sold out.
I now have many actress friends asking, “How do you both do it?” Short answer: you just do! If you have retired grandparents near you, well, that’s invaluable. We don’t, but have a couple of amazing friends. You also need a partner, in the industry or not, who is fully on board with juggling. A charged device showing muted cartoons is a must for self-tapes and casting waiting rooms. Know your financials - women get Maternity Allowance if you meet the criteria. Shockingly, self-employed men get nothing. But most of all, as with anything in this business, stay positive. There are still barriers – a casting director recently tried to get me seen for a small part in a well-known series, but the producers wouldn’t go for it due to my pregnancy. Despite this, last month I did my first theatre show in nearly 10 years at the VAULT Festival thanks to some forward-thinking souls at Right Mess Theatre.
As I sit here on my way to an ADR session, only days – possibly hours – away from meeting baby no. 2, I feel safe in the knowledge that, though it’s hard, it is POSSIBLE, it can be FUN and no matter what happens, we’ll have our babies to cheer us up at the end of the day.
Oh, and I must start packing a spare top for auditions again.
Lainy has performed across various UK stages and internationally too, with tours of Oman and a season with the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. TV Work: Trollied (Sky1), Eastenders, (BBC1), and played music icon Frida Lyngstad in Abba: When All is Said and Done (Channel 5). She is next due to be seen with Vinnie Jones in feature film Vengeance 2 (2019).
She is one day hoping to complete a Bronte hat-trick as she has played both Cathy in Wuthering Heights (Wycombe Swan) and Jane Eyre (Birmingham Old Rep), so anyone staging The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, do get in touch!
Image credits: Alex Wood/Lexplex, Anna Hull