Mother of one. Movement Director, Choreographer and Director. Co-Artistic Director of WinterWalker. kittywinter.com
Kitty's credits include the original West End and touring production of The Kite Runner, FIVE with WinterWalker, Theatre Hullabaloo and Derby Theatre.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in dance and being a parent for you?
The unpredictability of freelance work is probably the greatest challenge my family and I face. In some ways this is made more difficult because my partner is also a freelance creative (and the other half of my company) so we’re juggling two shifting workloads and our little boy Rufus, and of course, there’s never quite enough money. There are some days where one of us has to turn down work, which always feels terrifying in this industry!
On the other hand, I think if one of us had a 9-5, it would be very easy to start thinking of the freelancer’s work as less important, and we wouldn’t both be able to work and parent as equally as we do. So our greatest challenge is also a gift- much like parenting generally.
What support did you feel you had from work when you were pregnant?
Through the early part of my pregnancy I was mostly working for our own company, producing and directing the national tour of our show . While that work is pretty full-on, I could at least work a lot from home and rest as I needed to, which was great in the knackering first trimester. Later on I was doing a big block of lecturing, and the university was brilliant- it was a very supportive and caring atmosphere from staff and students alike.
Anecdotally, it seemed like I had an easier time at work because I’m freelance than friends with ‘proper jobs’. I certainly didn’t feel discriminated against, and I’m very grateful for that.
Was there anything that may not have been in place that you felt could have been useful?
I don’t think our current system of Maternity Allowance for the self-employed is really fit for purpose. I was pleased to receive it, of course, but the restrictions on the number of days a freelancer can work while claiming is pretty ridiculous. It was also frustrating not to be able to share any of that parental leave time with my partner, which meant he took on rather more touring work than either of us wanted while Rufus was tiny.
Do you think being a dancer made you think differently about your pregnancy/recovery?
I thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant (apart from some complications towards the end) and I think a lot of that stemmed from having an in-depth knowledge of my own body, and of human anatomy in general. It was fascinating to be able to see my baby’s bone structure developing when we went for scans, and to feel how my centre of gravity shifted week by week. At one antenatal pilates class I suddenly found I had perfect balance, and could do triple pirouettes effortlessly- something I’ve never been able to do before or since!
Recovery was harder, and I think that wasn’t helped by having unrealistic expectations of my body, in particular my stamina. I had a C-Section, and I really hadn’t taken on board what major abdominal surgery would do to me. Two and a half years on, and with very little time to exercise for myself (as opposed to overseeing actors’ physical wellbeing) I’m still not where I’d like to be in terms of fitness and strength. I realise I now might just have to chalk that down to age and inactivity though- I can’t keep using the baby as an excuse…
What changed most for you on your return to work?
Time. I have to be so much faster and more efficient now to get everything done. Where pre-baby I could spend days researching and planning for a rehearsal period, I now have to fit that into evenings and nap-times. Again, this is mostly because my partner and I are both freelance- whichever of us isn’t physically out at work on any given day carries the torch of parenting.
The feminist concept of the second shift (where women take on all the unpaid work of running a household on top of paid work) doesn’t really apply as we’re both doing it, but add in running a theatre company and it feels like both of us are working three shifts at times. We can easily both be in rehearsals during the day, trying to carve out some family time in the early evening, eating late, and then both doing production work till 10 or 11pm.
However, forcing myself to work more efficiently has meant I’ve had to have more faith in my own work. Trusting that I can go into rehearsals, make some movement material, support an actor’s character physicality, or stage a complex scene change without masses of pre-planning has been really liberating.
Does parenting help you in your work?
Since I specialise in performance for young audiences, having an extra insight into how children and parents think has really helped. Seeing what Rufus engages with and finds funny can feed into my work, particularly making theatre for much younger children, which I’ve shied away from in the past. And talking to other parents, grandparents and carers is really helpful when we’re thinking about how we market our shows.
From a more fundamental perspective, parenting keeps me focused, playful and looking forward.
Does dance help you in your parenting?
Again, I think playfulness is the key here- working in theatre, particularly theatre for children, means I don’t take myself too seriously, and I’m much happier to get down on the floor and engage on a child’s own level than my more ‘grown-up’ parent friends.
Rufus is getting a somewhat unusual childhood- he’s spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms, and hanging out with adults- but I hope it’s a fun and full of rich experiences for him. I’m rather hoping for his sake that he won’t follow in his parents’ footsteps, but at least if he does, he’ll know what to expect!
Do you know of any resources that already exist for parents who work in dance?
The PiPA campaign has grown up at just the right time for me, and it’s great to see theatres and companies starting to think more carefully about how they make our industry more accessible for people with caring responsibilities.
Anything else you think would be worth raising?
From working regularly with both dancers and actors, I think dancers are led to expect and settle for lower working standards, which really needs to change. I’ve worked with dancers who are surprised to have their travel and accommodation expenses covered, or to get proper Equity approved contracts. WinterWalker is an ITC member company, so we are committed to meeting union agreed standards and pay for working practices. If we start to demand better for parents in dance, perhaps conditions will start to improve for everyone.
More about Kitty
Kitty is a movement director, choreographer and director, based in Derbyshire and London, UK. She trained in contemporary dance and choreography at Trinity Laban and on the acclaimed movement MA at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
Recent credits include the original production, West End transfers and UK tours of The Kite Runner, the Stage Edinburgh Award-winning production The Fishermen for New Perspectives, and work with Derby Theatre, Pentabus, Nottingham Playhouse, Tamasha and Pilot Theatre.
Kitty specialises in theatre for young audiences, working with Theatre Hullabaloo, Polka, Roundabout, Box Clever, and her own company WinterWalker.