ON STAGE | with Julie Rose Bower
LIVE ARTIST - THEATRE
Fresh from returning on stage just last month with a wicked work of her own, Julie tells us about what her journey through motherhood and returning to work was like, a long maternity leave, working with new skills, and many resources on how to keep proactive about making...
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Tell us about you. where were you born? what you do? where do you work and live?
I was born in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, England. I am a live artist, making and performing my own performance work, and I trained for two years at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris. I live in London.
When did you start thinking ‘I am ready to be a mum’?
I always had it in my heart that I would become a mother. My partner felt differently and actually didn't want kids. When he told me he had changed his mind, things went very fast.
I was concerned that I wanted to be in a stable position professionally before I had a child but it was the right moment for us in our relationship and at the age we were to take this step. Professional concerns were not the only things to consider, in other words.
When did you find out you were expecting and how old were you?
I was 32 years old and just getting the hang of how to pitch my work. I discovered I had secured a commission and did a pregnancy test before accepting it. It was negative. Three days later, the test was positive and I still had go ahead and do the commission.
It wasn't ideal; I was performing in a feminist festival a piece called Upskirt/ Downskirt where I would project onto the floor with two pico projectors attached to my legs and then expand my dress til it was the size of a large tent and host the finale of the performance up my skirt with the audience beneath. I was perched on top of a ladder with disorienting concentric projections whirling below me on the surface of the skirt.
It was still a good moment for me artistically; it's important for pregnant feminists to keep on keeping on with experimental performance work. I'm developing ideas I made for that piece now, actually,
How long did you work for during your pregnancy and after how long did you start to work again?
I worked as an artist throughout my first trimester.
I was Assistant Director on a large-scale site-specific performance trail around a heritage site but as soon as that project ended and I started to become heavier I took a research job.
I couldn't cope with the emotional and physical demands of performance work as the pregnancy advanced; I turned work away because it was not suitable for a heavily pregnant woman e.g. one-on-one performances leading blindfolded audience members around a binaural sound environment in a sprawling museum, eight shows a day without proper breaks. It just wasn't possible. Also, I needed to earn as much money as possible so research work paid a decent day rate was a much better way of taking care of my future self. It turned out that I got much better maternity pay because my earnings were consistent throughout my second and third trimesters.
I took my first performance job when my son was a year old but it was just a one-off. I made my own performance work for the first time when he was 2.
And how much control did you have over when you stopped working and started again? Did you get maternity pay?
There is a huge gap between childcare and the erratic schedule of artistic work. It is something I partly opted out of by taking a long maternity leave; I knew I wanted the majority of caregiving to be done by me and the rest to be other family members but I don't have any family nearby!
I breastfed my son until he was 18 months and could only bring myself to look around nurseries once I was no longer breastfeeding. I also did baby-led potty training which isn't something that mainstream childcare offers; it involves offering a child the potty from birth rather than relying 100% on nappies.
These two choices meant I was more intensively committed to being his main caregiver and that had consequences for work. I didn't commit to childcare until my son was 2 and then it was just 2 days a week. This enabled me to begin my artistic work again but of course there's a lag between planning/ applying and then getting actual paid work. Things will get easier when he turns 3 and the state offers 15 hours free childcare. In the meantime it's a struggle because my artistic work is not part-time or regular.
I made my first show after becoming a mother by planning visits from family months in advance. It was a huge change to not make spontaneous decisions about how and when I would work, but we managed.
I have a supportive partner so working evenings is not a problem though there is a danger that you form a tag team and live your lives in parallel, rarely seeing one another.
I would also say, the work I have made post-natally was radically different from the style of work I had made before. I made an audio piece using Foley sound and looping technology and told stories.
Giving birth is very empowering because it's so hard but also manageable. I literally thought to myself directly afterwards 'if I can do this, other things will seem easy' and so it was.
The idea of fostering a new set of skills didn't feel daunting; I felt confident that I could do it.
Have you got any practical tip, web link, for mothers like you for example maternity pay, support groups etc...? Please add it here.
I recommend reading the LADA resource on Live Art and Motherhood: http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/uploads/documents/Motherhood_and_Live_Art_A_Study_Room_Guide_.pdf
I also recommend looking at the Artist Residency in Motherhood work of Lenka Clayton. She devised the idea of an artist residency based out of one's own home. This is politically potent and a conceptual art piece in itself: http://residencyinmotherhood.com/
I am part of a group of performance artist mothers who complete a weekly assignment to create a piece of art which we share digitally on a weekly basis. It is on a basis of being whatever we can do given our caring responsibilities and resources. I was invited to participate by US theatre artist Emma Crane Jaster and the project is inspired by Lenka Clayton's at-home residency. You can see my contributions on my Instagram: julierosebower