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Guest Blog: Writer/Director Poppy Burton-Morgan On Juggling Work and Parenthood During Lockdown

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Guest Blog: Writer/Director Poppy Burton-Morgan On Juggling Work and Parenthood During Lockdown
Poppy Burton-Morgan and her kids

Juggling parenthood and a freelance arts career (I'm a playwright and director) was never easy to begin with, but with the country in lockdown, things just got a hell of a lot harder.

The landscape changes every day. I am navigating my way through these shifting sands with a highly scheduled working week - ironically, far more structured than it ever was in the previous 15 years of freelance (often at home) working.

My kids, aged five and seven, wake at 6am, but so far (touch wood it continues) they entertain themselves with lego #30DayLegoChallenge while I wake up slowly and write a daily poem - giving me a small sense of achievement in completing something every day. I'm also finding solace in guided meditations at night and embroidery in the day - like meditation for the hands!

At 9am, we do #PEWithJoe every day without fail. Well, the children come and go for five minutes, but I am committed. It's Joe that gets me out of bed every [week]day. I work 10am-1pm (currently writing two musicals and fundraising for/completely reimagining how my theatre company Metta Theatre will operate for the next year). 1pm-2pm is lunch, then 2pm-5pm my husband, designer Will Reynolds, works (as Co-Artistic Director of Metta and on environmental consultancy - not much call for set design right now) while I homeschool the kids.

Theoretically, he's homeschooling them 10am-1pm, but most mornings they have 'coding lessons', which is just code for computer games. No judgment. Everyone's doing what they gotta do to get through the day without murdering each other. At least the kids are happy. Except when they're not - turns out this crisis is as destabilising for the mental health of our kids as it is for us. Damn.

Eternally grateful that we had a rural escape to evacuate to - instead of a small London flat with no outside space, we're now on a remote Somerset farm. We've named an entire field 'the anger management field', where the boys go to kick dead corn husks and vent their limitless rage.

Guest Blog: Writer/Director Poppy Burton-Morgan On Juggling Work and Parenthood During Lockdown
Just keep on sewing...

Ironically, I'm now far stricter than I ever was before about boundaries between work life and home life - a fact that some of my colleagues struggle with, but the reality is if I don't arrange alternative childcare arrangements with my husband then no, I really can't answer that phone call in the middle of the afternoon, or God forbid the weekend!

But so far, my three hours a day is sufficient to do what I need to do. WhatsApp video writing sessions are proving viable and productive for the musicals - although, of course, the children have a sixth sense for only interrupting our 'working' hours when we're mid-Zoom/Skype meetings.

If I'm making it sound like we're nailing the whole lockdown life - we're not. I cry at least once a day, sometimes from sheer exhaustion (I am never not tired), or when I contemplate the future and the decimated arts landscape in which the prospect of producing new British musicals feels like trying to grow roses in the desert. But most of all when I engage with the actual crisis and the threat it poses to so many of my friends and family.

But I am one of the lucky ones - my heart goes out to creatives who are in a high-risk group themselves, to single parents, having to navigate the work/caring juggle without the support of a partner, to my colleagues who have lost ALL their paid work (for me, it's only been two short directing gigs and a co-production in the far). And to anyone who is just still struggling to pick themselves off the floor and deal with anything more complex than what to eat today - which, let's be honest, requires increasing amounts of headspace.

If anything good comes out of this, besides all the excellent free online cultural content, it's that empathy for our fellow humans (and struggling planet) is through the roof - everyone's heart is going out to everyone else's on a daily basis. Which, as someone who named their theatre company after a Buddhist word meaning compassion (technically 'loving kindness'), I find... well, heartening.

We just had an emergency board meeting, and I was bemoaning the challenge of producing our brand of bold original (and therefore risky) new work in this undoubtedly risk-averse new climate when our chair piped up that when theatres do reopen, the appetite for work with 'heart' will be enormous, so we'll be OK. I had to look down into my embroidery to avoid tears in front of that sea of pixelated faces. So, let's hold onto the small wins and the upsurge in human kindness, and if in doubt, just keep on sewing.

Find out more about Metta Theatre and support their work here

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