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ON STAGE | with Charlotte Cox

THEATRE - Charlotte is an English Actor and Director, she recalls her life back in 1983 when she became pregnant, a single mum and homeless. Young, creative and with a positive attitude to life she talks about her life back then, touring in a Panto with her daughter, teaching dance and drama, friend and government support and lots about her life. What's your name and where do you come from and where were you born? My name is: Charlotte Cox, I am from England. I was born at home, in Windsor.

What was your occupation or what kind of work you did around the time you became a mum? While I was pregnant, as a single mother, without the support of my family, I sold items of clothing and things I had at home that I could sell at the market. During the first year of my daughter's life I became officially homeless and felt incredibly helpless! I did not work as I was the sole carer of my baby girl. This was in 1983! However I kept up with my acting via workshops and community projects. Where do you live and work at the moment? At present I live in a house in Hampstead. I am a qualified Teacher/Lecturer and work as a freelance Facilitator while trying to get my own Theatre Company, NoNameProductions off the ground. No Name have just put on Apple Core at the Lost Theatre's 5 Minute Festival. We did well and I am hoping to get a very rare Dario Fo Project off the ground. It will be a Premier Piece, never performed in English or in Europe at all!

I am passionate and in the process of applying for funding, a continuous struggle for those of us working mother's without the support of family I think! When did you start thinking "I am ready to be a mum" ( or maybe not yet) ? I always wanted to be a mother and when I was 12 I imagined that if it was a girl I would call her Natasha as it sounded romantic, intriguing and foreign, which would enable her to be , to my mind, fabulously exquisite and of interest to others. In deed I have been blessed and my daughter is called Natasha! When did you find out you were expecting and how old were you? I found out I was pregnant when I missed my period. I was 22. How long did you work for during your pregnancy and after how long did you start again? I was poor and knew I could get a job which was not creative but I chose to stand by my creativity and went to Chelsea College of Art. I got in because my friend had died and I decided to use the beautiful statue in her garden to make masks from.

I would stick paper to it and leave them to dry. Then I would turn my masks into whole scenes. One became the sky with clouds and moonbeams over it. Another 2 became death bride and groom and I covered them with netting having painted their faces in dark purples and greys. I kept one eye open but covered the other one with a tip of a peacock's feather which also looks like an eye. I then roughly used lipstick and placed it on top of the netting over the bride's mouth. I made a mask out of leather and another out of rich velvet.

I saw an advert in the evening standard asking for creative people to come along to an interview as the new Fulham Studios were about to open and they wanted a grand opening. Andrew Logan and Zandra Rhodes were in charge. So I went with one of my masks, told them how much it would cost to make more and then let Andrew know that I could also sing. So I sang to him and was asked to sing at the opening too. I wore a Pierrot costume made out of pure satin which I found while looking through my dear friend who had died, things. I felt that this was a sign, after all, how many women stock Pierrot Costumes in their wardrobes?! My masks were hung next to David Bailey's photographs which was all very exciting added to which I got asked to make an album for a French Producer and his wife but sadly lost their card! It was while I was at Chelsea College that I decided to give Drama lessons in the evenings and my fellow peers came. I charged whatever they could afford which was funny as I could hardly afford the travel and was often left earning nothing.

One of my friends studying fine Art with me, came and decided that rather than pursue a career in Art he would try his luck at acting....his name was Ralph Fiennes!! After Chelsea, still pregnant, I joined a dance troupe while auditioning at the Dance Studios in Soho. I was as poor as a church mouse without enough for food and travel so I chose travel and did without food, all the while not knowing that I was pregnant!! Once I found out I rushed to the doctors as I had been performing the splits etc and was reassured that the baby was safe! I began on my quest to re start my career when my daughter was around 3.

And how much control did you have over when you stopped working and started again? There was never any control. If I was lucky I found work and if I was lucky I believed that I would pass the auditions. However with a young baby, living on my own, I often lacked the confidence to try. Did you get support with maternity pay? No, acting freelance you didn't get maternity cover. How was your pregnancy? Fabulous! I loved being pregnant except when I was scared that my baby wasn't kicking or when I got a tummy pain.

I felt very feminine and attractive. Highly recommend it! What were your thoughts about work and did you have something planned, did you stop, for how long? I think with the Arts you cannot plan. You have to be spontaneous and ready to take risks, go with your gut feeling etc and hope that everything will sort itself out to enable you to work! I had to be practical so joined forces with two friends on different ventures. The first was my best friend who'd just come back from California where the craze was aerobics and Calenetics. Natasha was one. We decided that my friend would teach Calenetics as I hated it, feeling that it was not an art form but a set of exercises for women in particular to tighten up and lose weight. I taught Dance and Drama and the mix of class seemed to work.

Natasha would always come, happily bouncing away in her chair! There was no question of my leaving her at home for this was my class,my business and I and my friend, both decided that my daughter would come! Next I set up a Company called Aunt Charlie's, which ran children's parties. I chose this because of the age of my own and have in fact changed jobs according to my daughter's age group. As she got older I would teach students her age and always she would either come along or take part. During her infant school days she went to so many birthday parties of children she did not know that I think it has made her confident in public when meeting new people etc. Plus it was a way for me to have her spoilt by other people when I could not afford to myself. It has to be said that during the time of her baby years, we became homeless and so it was my job to make sure that she was not aware of it. How was the birth? I was in love with the father who ran away once he heard I was pregnant so although the birth itself was as fine as it can be without pain killers or gas and air, I was so sad that I could not share such a joyous moment with her father.

I cried for two reasons but the main one was for the miracle that happened when I gave birth to my beautiful daughter! How was your post natal experience? I was spoilt by my lovely neighbours who would fuss over us. They were working musicians and often came home in the early hours of the morning. They could tell we were awake and would always invite us down for hot drinks and a good natter. Any excuse really, in order to cuddle my baby. I would often hear a knock at my door, which was a bedsit and be given a cooked breakfast, by them too and was instructed to eat it in bed! So even though my story might be sad in places, home for me was with my daughter and friends and I was so lucky not to get depression. However when my friends moved away and the squatters who sniffed glue, the fumes of which came up into our room, moved in, changed everything and that is why I became voluntarily homeless as my child was now living in danger! After the birth of your baby (babies) did something change towards how you were thinking about work or when to go back? I was always worried about finances and had to go on income support. When we were living in hostels, one of which had excreta on the mattress, rain coming in from the windows and no heating, with maggots on the floor and the constant fear that I would be raped by the landlord, another had no locks what so ever and a local man who had mental health issues which resulted in violence etc, lived there too, my protective instincts came to the fore. After my experiences I began to trust no one in authority. I felt lower than low, beholden to whatever I was given, never asking for help because I was too proud. It was my job I felt to protect my daughter and I had to battle against those who were in a position to offer advice. At one point, while staying in a hostel my daughter suffered a febral convulsion and I didn't have the money for the fare. I decided to go out on to the street and hail a cab, explained the situation and luckily he took me to A&E for free. I remember having £15 one week to live off...dreadful but I managed it. When was the first training you did after birth? Tell us your experience leading to the first show post natal. What you did and how you managed, who helped and how? The first show I did after birth did not happen for about 4 months when I would take my daughter to our workshops. Then all of the above took place which included taking my daughter on tour round the midlands in Cinderella the Panto. I played the Ugly Sister which was great fun as the audience love to hiss and boo at us. I had decided to ask my sister living in Manchester, to have Natasha for a few weeks before Christmas. My Mother had multiple sclerosis so could not help even though she would have loved to. Arrangements had to be made very quickly as the job was offered to me at very short notice.

I missed my daughter terribly and every part of England we visited I would buy her something. It was the day before Christmas Eve and I rushed off from our very successful performance in Birmingham to pick up my daughter and leave for London the next day. To my horror I found my daughter in only a cotton sheet, half folded to double thickness, with no other blankets, fast asleep. Immediately I picked her up and got on the first train home...suffice to say she came on tour with us after the Christmas break. On one occasion Natasha walked on to the stage quite by accident as my friend who was looking after her was distracted, so we improvised and acted as if she was meant to be there. In actual fact we adapted the show to make sure she was taken care of on and off the stage. From then on we decided to include her at the end of the show, when she would enter as a Fairy Princess.

How much support did you feel like you had for combining motherhood with work? (From partners, parents, friends, colleagues, society large, government institutions etc...) I had very little support all round. Most of my friends lived out of London as we travelled a great deal while I was growing up and I went to boarding school which meant we never really lived near are friends as most of the time we lived with them while at school. However my very best friend was/is always there for me. My daughter had a brain haemorrhage when she was 15 which killed her 3 times before she even got to hospital. On the night of her operation as she was on life support, my best friend came down and slept at the hospital to keep me company. We are thick as thieves and I know that without her support during such times I would not have been able to cope. The Government on the other hand have done their best to put people whom through no fault of their own have had to go on Income Support because of a child's illness, while supporting them through very bad times. We are silent carers who are paid nothing and who save the country millions and yet if you listen to channel 5 and watch programs like benefits street you will find that the makers of such programs are making out that anyone needing assistance is a lazy scrounger. My daughter was in rehab for 9 one could ever imagine what it is like to nearly lose a child, to watch them no longer able to walk, talk, eat, drink or remember, to keep oneself going when all you feel is like topping yourself and knowing you would if your child died! All this while having to try and prove to the Government that you are honest and unsupported. If you feel like you could have used more support/less interfering what would you have wanted? I would have loved when my daughter was little to have felt that I knew where to go to get advice. It wasn't until I was in my late 40's that I stated doing my Degree, Ma and PGCE in FE, all because I did not have the confidence to try beforehand. There was no advice about child welfare/support during classes etc and if you were poor as I was, you often felt invisible, worthless and would have loved to have been under some theatre company's wing! An open door would have been nice. Today theatres seem to be more community based which is wonderful. Take the Stratford Theatre for example, so welcoming and committed to access for everyone. Have you got any practical tip, web link, for mothers like you for example maternity pay, support groups etc...? Please add it here. None sadly!! Except let's set one up girls!!!

Charlotte Cox is an English Actor, Teacher and Director She lives in London


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