There’s Nothing Sexy About Parenthood

5th October 2017

Search Party on the making of My Son & Heir

In 2009 we began a life-long performance project called Growing Old With You, a project which attempts to document lived experience in real time. Prompted by the impending birth of our daughter and turning 30, we planned to create a series of performance works every few years exploring ideas of aging and togetherness. My Son & Heir is our new studio performance, as part of the GOWY project, reflecting on the dynamics and responsibilities of parenthood. It’s a show we’ve been trying to make for the last four years, but we’ve been afraid to make it. We thought, who wants to watch a show about parenthood? There is NOTHING cool or sexy about being parents (if you don’t believe me just think of your own parents for a second…).

For the past four years, parenthood and performance-making have been inextricably entwined for us. And the children have become a crucial part of our working process in ways that we find hard to account for or anticipate. To be frank, the artistic process is chaos; but perhaps chaos can be a good thing, at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Frank Cottrell Boyce sums it up nicely in the Guardian:

“Family is, of course, the most potent distraction, There’s a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn’t the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined.”

Discourse around parenting is well and truly embedded in the mainstream. The whole world is talking about parenting: how to do it, how not to do it. In response to any violent, destructive schism in society, it’s not long before the question of the killer/terrorist/deviant’s upbringing is debated. We blame the parents. And it doesn’t seem to work the other way round. When someone does something brilliant we don’t hear “oh, you can see that they had a wonderful, caring, well-balanced, thoughtful, supportive upbringing.” In fact, we cringe during the post-gold medal winning interview, or the Oscars acceptance speech when we hear the phrase “I just want to thank my mum and dad.”

Since becoming parents, we have been unceremoniously catapulted into the mainstream. It’s hard to avoid it. It’s hard not to watch Disney or go to McDonalds or have pink things for your girl and blue things for your boy. Before we had children, the choice to politically abstain from and disapprove of these cultures was easy, but it’s more complicated now. After the birth of our son in 2012, not only a boy but also an August-born boy we started to worry. We started to worry about what the future holds for him, in a way that we didn’t with our daughter – and that surprised us. And as we wait, expectantly, for the birth of a Royal baby, a future King or Queen, we started to wonder what lay in store for our own son, and whether we could so easily predict what he would become, given Diane Abbott’s recent declaration of a crisis in masculinity.

My Son & Heir is a performance about parenting. It’s about how the world is reductively shaped for consumption by children. It’s about raising boys. It’s about the performance of parenting, the relentless, exhausting responsibility of raising children. It’s about learning a new definition for the word love.

My Son & Heir is being made without (much) childcare. We’re taking it in turns, we’re working with the children in the room, we’re embracing the chaos of our house, and the exhaustion of making work after ‘bed-time’. It’s an interesting environment for creativity and space to consider aging, as parenthood continues to confront us with our own  mortality, every day. And of course like the nature of all parenting tasks, where nothing is ever quite finished – half done, piled somewhere to sort out later – the performance at The Parlour Showrooms will be as much as we can get done whilst holding the baby, singing lullabies and cleaning dog poo off the pram wheels. We hope to find some time to re-stage it for a tour (where of course we will be bring the babies and the babysitter with us).