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Are babies still a barrier in performing arts?


Are babies still a barrier in performing arts?

February 21, 2019

Following the #MeToo movement, issues in workplace discrimination towards women has stood internationally as a hot topic, YET the addressal of discrimination towards pregnant employees still manages to fall through the cracks – particularly in the performing arts.

Two-time Grammy award nominee Jennifer Rivera spoke out about the issue, saying that ‘without standard protections in place, a non-famous performer will always fear retribution for publicly complaining about being fired or released because of pregnancy’.

Last year in April, Opera soprano singer Julie Fuchs was asked to leave the cast when she announced that she was pregnant. Despite the singer only being 4 months along when she was required to perform in the Hamburg State Opera’s production of ‘The Magic Flute’, Fuchs was informed that she could no longer perform her part as it would ‘compromise the production’s artistic integrity’.

Julie Fuchs performs pregnant in Monteverdi’s ‘Poppea’

Another recent example of equal shocking proportion was the accusations put towards Broadway actor Audra McDonald when announcing she would be going on maternity leave. Despite the $12 million enormity of the production, Audra’s absence ALONE caused the producer to announce in a statement that the show would be finishing on her departure. This pressure and accountability put on McDonald was disproportionate and the lack of precautions put in place was under the responsibility of the production, rather than a singular cast member.

These examples are all far too common in the performing arts industry and surely it begs the burning question, why are companies not looking for different kinds of compromises?

Firstly, the issues identified by companies on having a pregnant cast member need questioning. A first concern that a pregnant woman is not healthy enough to be active and perform on stage seems to throw back to previous eras where pregnant women were treated like pieces of breakable glass. Most obstetricians recommend that a woman stays active whilst pregnant, to bar complications in the pregnancy and if a woman is healthy before the pregnancy, odds are she will remain healthy.

Another concern highlighted is that any complication in the pregnancy will cause the performer to withdraw from the production, however surely a performer’s withdrawal is just as likely from such illnesses as the common  head cold? Which we all know can debilitate a performance.

And of course, the other concern is that the singer just simply won’t look right and won’t fit the part any longer and perhaps this is the most valid argument… or is it the most frustrating one? Sure, if the performer is playing someone who just simply can’t be pregnant – maybe that of a young boy, or the young ‘pure’ leading female role – then by all means, she can no longer play the part. However with most parts, the tricks of costume or an alteration in the character’s role are both easily accessible options.

Actions are already being undertaken in the UK by the organisation ‘Parents and Carers in Performing Arts Campaign’ (PIPA). Founded in 2016 by Anna Ehnold-Danailov and Cassie Raine, PIPA has trialled a new employment charter whereby 25 theatres have introduced free creche provisions and breast-feeding facilities but with concentration being primarily on childcare after childbirth, the treatment of pregnant performers are still in need for attention.

Do you think that pregnancy among theatre cast members is still a matter of discrimination that needs addressing?

Do you know anyone that has been targeted by this or do you have any suggestions to contribute towards the matter? Subscribe and join our discussion!





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