Touring with families – chats and change

13 February 2018
Touring With Families News

In September/October 2017, Moonfish Theatre toured our production of Star of the Sea to America. In addition to cast and crew, ensemble members’ Zita and Ionia’s husbands and babies jumped on board! This was new territory for all involved and we’d like to share our thoughts on the experience.

Zita and Ionia planned to write a blog on the experience whilst we were on tour however we found that (perhaps unsurprisingly) touring whilst caring for a baby didn’t leave much time for blogging!

In place of a blog we conducted a post-tour interview with Zita, Ionia and Moonfish’s producer Jo. We hope that if you’re planning a similar tour, you might find our insights useful!

Jo: Zita, you were in the early stages of pregnancy when the idea of an international tour was being seriously proposed. You therefore had no idea what it was going to be like touring with your baby, as you hadn’t even met her yet! I suppose my question is, what on EARTH were you thinking saying yes to this?

How did you come to the conclusion that touring with Moonfish abroad with a baby was something that you were going to be able to do?

Zita: Great question and one that made me laugh aloud!

To anyone looking in, it must have seemed crazy to say yes to an international tour without knowing a) how my pregnancy would go and b) how I would deal with the massive changes that motherhood brings.

And the truth is before I got pregnant there were talks of a possible tour and I was so excited by that prospect that when I became pregnant I thought, what if I could still perform this show? What if it worked out really well? I had also accepted that it may not work out that way for various reasons. So to get specific to your question…I remember sitting on my couch and talking to my husband Larry and he said from the start: if Moonfish are happy for you to tour and you are happy to tour then I’ll do all I can to support you. So that for me was the biggest factor, that I had support there from the get go. And then I spoke to you, Jo and you asked me if I was considering it and I said that I had support in my personal life so if Moonfish could support the fact that I may have a few different needs then I couldn’t see a reason not to at least try.

I felt, why not try? If it is too much and I can’t do it I’ll know well before the rehearsal process and they can replace me, but I didn’t want to run away from it just because it may not work.

Oni: I think the support we got from our families made such a huge difference to us.

Not only on tour, but like you say, even in the thought processes that led up to the tour. Knowing that we had support in our personal lives and from Moonfish made it seem possible.

Zita: Yes Oni, for me it was the difference between being able to stay with the show and not, or bring able to happily stay with it and fully enjoy what being part of the ensemble brings.

It seems to be very much the case that support from partners and families is a huge part of it, almost a bigger part than support from the workplace.

Oni: Yes, because at the end of the day, you have to go on tour not only with the baby, but with another carer with whom the baby will be totally comfortable.

Jo: When making suggestions to funding bodies etc. about how to better manage this situation in the future, I’m having to really bear in mind that your husbands are self-employed and able/willing to take time out to enable your career to continue. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people.

Oni: Yep, that’s the really tricky part I think. You need someone who is available to come on tour with you, and in reality, happy to ‘work’ for free.

Zita: Yes and it’s a conversation that doesn’t just happen once. You know, for this time in our lives it is working well but I’m aware that Larry may take on work that means it’s not as easy for me to work the way I would like. But that’s why we try to keep current with where we are on projects and what we would like to do.

Jo: The thing is, women so frequently are in the position where they are doing just that; ‘working’ for free so that their partners can work.

Zita: Yes! And I think it’s a lifestyle choice too. Like, my Mum was able to come on tour in Ireland for a while as Larry had some projects he had to finish when we got back from the States. So he was doing his thing and I was doing mine. But he was pretty miserable when we were away on tour without him and thought, in America he wasn’t ‘earning’ but at least we were together and we could have a family life.

Zita: Ionia, Being a parent is a 24 hour job and being a breastfeeding mum has challenges and great advantages of it’s own. How did you find balancing the professional demands and the demands of motherhood while on tour?

Oni: Good question! Before we went on tour we had three weeks full-time rehearsal and this helped me start to figure out how to balance being a mother with work.

I was very nervous about being away from Oscar for so long at first, because I wasn’t sure how much he would miss breastfeeding, and whether I would need to pump etc. And of course, for myself I was really aware of how much I was going to miss him!

But it turned out Oscar didn’t miss breastfeeding during the day at all, which meant I didn’t need to pump, and he also got used to me being away very quickly. And once we got stuck into the work I was able to focus and not miss him too much.

So that helped reassure me that when we were on the road, Oscar was going to be ok with me being away for big chunks of the day and evening.

Zita: And those practical things make so much of a difference don’t they? Like Oscar not needing to breastfeed during the day and having those few weeks to get our heads around how to structure the day to make it work for everyone.

Oni: Yes! It’s all about the practicalities! I really think, after being on tour with Oscar, that babies are incredibly adaptable and love being involved in their parents lives. I was worried that I was being selfish going on tour. That I was dragging Oscar and John along. But seeing how much Oscar enjoyed being on the road, seeing new places, meeting new people, being introduced to the world of theatre…I think it was a great experience for him.

So I suppose the biggest challenge for me balancing work with being a mother was being sure that I wasn’t sidelining Oscar. But it turned out not to be the challenge I was afraid it would be.

Zita: Yes Oni, I totally agree and you know, I think it’s so much the picture that is out there parents go to work and child stays at home or somewhere else…but it’s so great to challenge that, to have children as a real part of the work life..even if they are not in the work place!

Jo: Absolutely! Can I add something to that?

I hope this isn’t too much of a personal question but here goes:

You guys brought your partners on tour, which is (I imagine) slightly different from bringing your mum or a babysitter. Like, your partners have emotional needs that are met by you too, so that’s something else that needs to be considered after a day of doing workshops/shows etc. How was that for you guys?

This weighed on my mind quite a bit while we were on tour. Something that I tried to do was offer support to them in the form of chats, hugs, general hanging out etc. This was easy as John and Larry are my friends, but might not be so easy to offer in non-Moonfish circumstances!

Zita: So, for Larry and me, we realised a few days in to the American part of the tour that we had to really take care of each other, more so than normal because we were not in ‘normal’ circumstances. At home we have support in the form of neighbours and grandparents and most of the time if Larry has Abigail and needs a break or just needs ten minutes to type an e-mail he has people there to help if I’m not around…

But on tour, I was aware that Larry was my main support and he needed me to support him after he had been minding a small infant for 8 hours (some days).

Oni: I feel incredibly lucky that John was totally supportive of the tour from the first, in the knowledge that he would need to put aside his own work in order to come on tour with us and be with Oscar when I wasn’t available. But it was a learning curve for both of us, because as you say, partners’ needs have to be met too, and there’s not always a lot of time for that when on tour.

Jo: I think it’s interesting that the supporting partners in this case are both men and I’m DELIGHTED we get to explore this. I so often see it just assumed that women will be fine to just sublimate their own needs to care for a child and allow the male parent to do their own thing. I’m definitely guilty of making that assumption too. Not so much when it was men doing the caring though. I’ll definitely bear that in mind going forward. So you both had to care for the needs of your baby, partner AND work too. This was a 24 hour gig!

Oni: Yes, I agree with all of the above. It’s a sort of lonely post for the partners because they’re away form their usual support networks (friends, family, neighbours) and I think it makes a difference that they are men because society hasn’t prepared them for that kind of situation the way it might subconsciously prepare women.

Zita: We tried to talk every day and see where we could give each other time and that’s normal in relationships but I think it was important to do that even more on tour so that no one would feel burnt out or unsure of when they might get a half hour to go for a run or whatever the needs were.

Oni: Yes, it requires a lot commitment and kindness from both of you. And there is always the extra element of tiredness involved, with travel, jet-lag, long work days etc. We found that it was really important for both of us to have time to ourselves, even if it was just an hour a day.

And yes, Z, talking was the key because I’ve just remembered that we found the most challenging thing was about scheduling. John found it much more difficult if he was unsure what the schedule was for the day, how long I’d be away for etc. As long as he knew when I’d be back or how much time we would have to spend together as a family, he was much more at ease. So that meant that I needed to be sure I was passing on all the information about schedules, and that could be challenging, just because things change all the time on tour and I am terrible for forgetting things!

Yes and for me I realised that just because I have a show to do and I’m performing, it doesn’t mean the needs of my husband and child are less. We had to find ways ensuring that we both felt happy with the schedule or at least felt we could manage it with relative ease!

Oni: Jo, how did having babies on tour impact on your work as a producer? Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?

Jo: Hmm good question. This might be a long answer…

At first, and I’m sure you guys picked up on this, I was really nervous at the thought of husbands and babies coming on tour with us and to be honest there were times in the beginning of planning the tour where I was pretty keen for it not to happen. I thought that the best solution would be for the John and Oscar (I knew Abigail was too young for this option to work) to come out for part of the tour rather than all of it.

I am so, so glad we didn’t do that, and that they came for the whole thing. I was very nervous that responsibility for the partners and babies would fall on my shoulders and as this was the first time I’d ever produced anything like this, I was nervous enough…there were times I felt “I’m already bringing 10 people and a show to the States. I really don’t need 4 extra bodies to worry about” 
I really didn’t like having to go to you guys with the attitude of “please keep your family responsibilities away from me.” That felt really wrong, as John and Larry were giving up so much of their time (not to mention money) to come with us and that attitude felt pretty churlish.

Our funding body quite understandably only reimburse us for expenses incurred on behalf of those working on the show, so I had to be so so careful to keep any additional expenses relating to the partners and babies away from our budgets. That also felt wrong to me as really, they were working on the show!

I’d be a lot more relaxed about it were we to do it again. It was LOVELY having the extra people around, plus Oscar and Abigail were just joyful to have in the room.

My main priority was the show and making sure it moved from place to place safely, and was delivered in each venue. So I was worried about having people on board whose priorities would be so different, as they’d have to be when you’re bringing your families along.

In addition I was worried that if something happened to either of the kids, we might lose one of you, you know? But that’s something that comes with employing anyone with children, and we’re not about to stop working with people who have children. All of my fears turned out to be unfounded in our case.

Zita: It must have been daunting and I think all of that is more than understandable!

Jo: I suppose the main impact on my producing was my nerves about it! Which totally wouldn’t have been there if I was working in a distant, detached was and I didn’t care about the people I’m working with! But I wanted you guys to have a good time on tour, and not be dragging yourselves through it, miserable and exhausted. I’m also now so much more aware of how much you would have missed your families had we gone with the option to not have them there all the time. Having you happy was totally invaluable and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

Oni: Exactly. I think the fact that that was your attitude towards us having the babies with us made our lives so much easier. Just knowing that you were committed to supporting us really empowered me I think.

Jo: It really helped that John and Larry were so responsible and could look after themselves. They didn’t treat me like I was their babysitter or in any way responsible for them, which was great. However I’d like to be able to offer more practical/financial support in the future, if we’re ever going to do anything like this again.

Oni: Yes, but I think it was a good idea that you made sure they knew that you couldn’t be responsible for them on tour. Even if they knew that already. Again, it comes down to communication and everyone being on the same page.

Jo: To be honest I’m a bit ashamed to admit I was nervous about it.

Oni: How could you not have been? It was new territory for all of us!

Zita: I felt happy that the partners and babied were their own group so to speak as I think it made things so much easier for all involved. We all knew where we stood and knew the boundaries and so when we came together we could enjoy each others’ company.

Oni: Yes I agree Z. And that’s why it’s so important to have this conversation, so we can pass on anything we learnt from the experience to others who might never otherwise consider it.

So often we stop ourselves from trying things because of fear, in general, but for me especially when it comes to babies. There’s a sense in our society, I think, that when you have a baby life as you know it ends. Haha! And of course it does change a lot, in many wonderful ways, but I’m always having to remind myself that actually, it’s not the baby who’s stopping me from doing things, it’s my own worries and fears. Sorry, I’ve gone a bit off topic!

Jo: That is so true Oni! And it applies to my position too! SO many people, when I told them that we might be touring with husbands and babies responded with absolute horror and said it wouldn’t be possible. I think that made me more nervous.

Oni: That’s such a shame. I suppose it’s easier sometimes to immediately rule something out than challenge ourselves to really consider if it’s possible.

Zita: That is so true and I feel having a baby and wanting to work outside the home requires such self awareness and honesty…like if I’m turning something down, is it that it can’t work or that I’m afraid that it can work but it will be different to how it has worked before?

Jo: There were times, like when I realised you guys would be going in the hire car (I had thought you’d be travelling with us) where I felt like we could have communicated better about your needs, and it would have saved us a bit of worry, But really any problems were absolutely minor and easy to solve.

Oni: I totally agree Jo. I think if I was to give one piece of advice to anyone considering this, it’s: talk about EVERYTHING! Keep the lines of communication open.

Jo: And I had to be quite flexible sometimes, which actually wasn’t difficult. But I imagine might be difficult for some producers who are used to having things done in exactly the way they need them to be done.

Oni: Yes, flexibility is something that is definitely required when it comes to involving babies in something! Even in general (going off-topic again!) I find that being able to go – ‘ok, this isn’t what I had in mind but lets see how it goes’, is key to staying sane as a parent! haha!

Jo: It’s very important as a producer too!

Zita: Yes Jo, and I think you are a fantastic producer because you are person-centered but that may not be easy for some people and small issues for you may be mountains for someone else. However the communication is something that would help regardless, as it needs to happen anyway!

Jo: Aww thanks Zita!

Jo: My main question is, is there anything that could have made things easier for you guys? And I suppose that ties in with part 2 of this question, could you conceive of doing this again at some point in the next few years? Bearing in mind the very portable babies will be toddlers in the future, and there may not be only two of them!

Oni: Haha! The main thing that would have made the tour easier, to be frank, is money. Our partners couldn’t earn while on tour with us, and subsistence costs go up a lot when you have two people on the road rather than one. So, being completely honest here, I didn’t actually earn much doing this tour. If I was going to do it again, that would be the main consideration. I would want to do it again at the drop of a hat, but if just might not be financially viable.

Zita: Having toured now with my family once I feel things might feel easier anyway because we have done it once and that helps from an emotionally and mental-well-being point of view!

From a financial side, yes, the fact that we were a family on tour did make things more expensive and we would have to consider that in the future.

Jo: It’s great to hear you would both actually want to do it again. If the desire is there, that’s the main thing…you can’t really replace that. They money, we can work on!

Zita: It’s hard as the partners are needed to take care of the babies, which ultimately are our responsibility, but if there were ways to soften the blow that would help in the long run. Rather than run away from touring because it doesn’t make financial sense, it could be a reason to make the effort to say yes to it!

Based on this experience of taking babies on the SOTS tour, is Moonfish putting any systems in place to facilitate future tours with kids?

Jo: I’d like to include you guys in my ideas for that. You are the ones who need to be accommodated and can show me the way to help best! The ideal would be that I’ll one day be able to include in a production budget per diems for partners and other financial support that could cover extra costs such as car hire, car seats, insurance and maybe a percentage towards flights so that the burden doesn’t 100% fall on you, the performers. As much as I’d like to be in the position to say “yeah, and we’ve got s shedload of money to devote to this in the future!” we just don’t. But I’m hoping that if I pursue this next year we can make a difference not just to us, but to other companies trying to do this.

Oni: Raising awareness about the realities of taking babies on tour is the first step in making changes to the current system. I think it’s a question that reflects a wider need.

We’re lucky in our industry that we can’t be easily replaced. But in other industries women with babies really have only two options: stay at home, sacrifice your work and take the financial hit, or go back to work and leave the baby with a carer for most of the day.

Personally, I think a living wage would go a long way to helping solve this problem. It would give people the option to stay at home with the kids and in our situation, it would mean a carer coming on tour would still be ‘earning’.

Jo: God yeah that would be super.

Zita: Because I don’t think the solution is: if you have a baby you don’t tour. It’s more like: you can tour, it just involves different approaches and perhaps a different ethos.

Jo: So a lot of attitude adjustment, flexibility and generally being a decent person is required here!

Zita: Yes! One thing I like to think of as a parent is that I like to be as independent as I can be, but as open to help as I can be as well, so that I’m not a martyr but I also take responsibility. And that’s why I think the financial help with touring would make a massive difference. It would allow actors to take responsibility, but remain independent.

Huge thanks to Zita, Ionia, John, Larry, Abigail and Oscar! We’d also like to extend huge amounts of thanks to Culture Ireland, The Redfern Arts Center and the New England Foundation for the Arts for making the tour happen. Their support and encouragement was totally invaluable, so thanks a million!