Mother of The month
1. What’s your name, and your children's names and ages? Where are you based? What kind of making do you do or dream of doing?
Michelle Hall. Max, 9 years old.
Formerly based in Oxford, UK and now based in Perth, Western Australia, where I grew up.
I make theatre with movement, visual dramaturgy, storytelling, music and montage. I also love clown, grotesque and Bouffon and have recently starting training and using these forms. I also make theatre for and with young people, which is absolutely the best job in the world.
Right now I am making an autobiographical performance of my birth story (me giving birth to my son). When I had Max I quickly realised it wasn’t socially ok to talk about what happened during birth and this confused me. We talk about men going to war and heroes rescuing villages and going on Odysseys but we don’t talk about the heroic and often dangerous act of a woman bringing a life into the world, especially if that birth was difficult or devastating.
So, in response to this I am making THE DIRTY MOTHER – A POST PUNK, POST NATAL DESCENT STORY. It’s my D.I.Y Birth Rite - a totally true telling of giving birth, complete with an emergency Punk Ritual, the details of industrialised hospital ‘care’, a brilliant Irish midwife who helped me ‘shit out’ my baby and the 3 minutes we waited for Max to be brought back to life.
2. How do you do it?! How do you make it work?
I prioritise rest – I am experimenting with what I call MY NINJA SELF DISCIPLINE,and this is about committing to a cycle of ‘effort and rest’. It’s keeping me aware of when I spiral into a work frenzy which leads to worrying about results. Instead I do the tasks that need doing the best I can with the time I have, and then I rest with my son after school. And I leave the house messy until 5pm each day, then we share the clean-up – and yes, sometimes there is arguing about this, but we get it done together.
I find mothers don’t talk openly about their partners, so I’m now going to do just that!
I’ve put a lot of energy into encouraging my partner to co-parent fully (the emotional load, not just the providing load) and equally to share the cooking, cleaning, practical load in our home. It’s taken a few years to get to this point, and it’s often been very challenging, but now that Max’s dad can manage things for us when I need to focus on a project for a few weeks, (the way I am able to do this for him too) we all experience the benefits on every level. Our family is closer for it.
3. How has your mothering impacted your making?
It’s changed how I work with young people and the content of my own theatre making. Mothering has made me a much better listener. Max has taught me to pay greater attention to everything.
Mothering has compelled me to make stories that celebrate mothers and motherhood. Stories that come from the lived experience of real mothers with all their complexities. I want to make theatre and see more art that reveals the gritty, scary, unbelievable, messy, miraculous, bodacious nature of birth and mothering. You think Full Metal Jacket is an intense film, try being in a birthing suite for 36 hours! I want the world to know more about that, to respect that, to celebrate that.
I’m more of an activist! I am running MOTHERS OF INVENTION: OCCUPY! at the Winter Nights Festival at the Blue Room Theatre. This is an occupy event where mothers who are artists, and their children, will take up space in an adult centred venue. We are going to create a MOTHER FESTO, a call for change to industry practises across the arts. This mandate will assert that mothers have the right to access theatre making programs that accommodate childcare needs. To call for programming that includes relaxed performances and child-friendly events (there are very few here at present). We want workplace cultures to shift – we want recognition of our skillset as mothers and as artists and for us to feel respected so we can stop apologising all the time for our audacious abundance, ha!
4. And vice versa?
Being a maker meant that when Max came along, I was already very up for playing! My puppeteer friend, the lovely Emma Boor of Wild Boor Ideas,and I started our own theatre arts play program at Pegasus Theatre, called PLAY THE WORLD. We were underwhelmed by rhyme-time at the local playgroups, so we designed a series of play workshops for babies and children where they could dress-up and puppeteer creatures as a way of sharing stories. Parents were included too, so there was none of the usual separation – parents and children got creative together in imagined worlds and they played together! It still runs at Pegasus Theatrein 2019.
5. The best thing? The hardest?
The best: That I combine my three favourite creative activities - parenting Max, working with young people and making theatre.
The hardest: Moving back to Australia and losing my community of mother-artists was hard. I drew strength from my mother-maker mates in Oxford – they understood the passion and the challenges. Perth in 2012 was pretty disengaged with children, families and mothers in the arts (sport is King here). I felt very isolated and there was no Mothers Who Make at that time. I became almost averse to the identity of MOTHER because, while I continued writing and teaching, I often felt like the throng of playcentres and school-run circles was something I just couldn’t connect with. I learnt to give myself and other people a chance and that was a good lesson - not to judge.
6. Future dreams?
Future dreams are to come back to the UK and take a residency or placement there with a brilliant artist like Sue Buckmaster or Emma Rice or Bryony Kimmings – if you’re reading Bryony HI! ‘I’m a Phoenix Bitch’was the first validating piece of theatre about motherhood I ever saw and pushed me on to keep making The Dirty Mother. Also, I want to make a new work about a so-called geriatric mother, called FALLING UP! I’ll let you know more once I get started, but in the meantime just think Michael Douglas in FALLING DOWN! except the main character is a middle-aged mother who one day decides not to ‘play along’.
A future dream, which will soon be a reality, is to set up a MWM Perth Hub, the first Hub outside of Europe? A venue partner is in the making so watch this space for an announcement very soon!
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