We recently profiled Prams in the Hall, here one of the founder members of the company, Roisin Rae, ponders the terminology of motherhood, in this guest post.
I have written plays about war marches, celebrity royals, camping trips and the apocalypse, these have all been easy enough to summarise and explain to people. My latest stage play, created for Prams In The Hall Theatre Company, is about Sophie Taylor, a woman who is a painter and has children, and I keep finding myself struggling for a pithy way to describe the show. Should I call Sophie Taylor a Mum, Mummy, Parent, Mother? Which works best in a tagline?
The word ‘parent’, is a turn off. It’s very rarely used in advertising anything sexy or cool, it more naturally fits with words such as ‘advisory’ and ‘guidance’. Can the much sought after young, hip theatre-goers be tempted along to see a production with the tagline: ‘A play about what it means to be a modern parent’? It’s too dry, too distant. No.
Used mostly by young children, in my opinion it sounds either childish or very upper class when used by adults. ‘Mummy’ is also reminiscent of chick-lit about the social group labelled ‘Yummy Mummies’ (a label I am aurally allergic to and want to avoid referencing). No.
This is okay, but it sounds formal, traditional, old Mother Courage, Mother India, it makes me think of Mother-in-Law, a Mother hen and Old Mother Hubbard. No.
So why not go for the simple, popular, short, modern, obvious choice:
Advertisers have taken over the word Mum. It no longer just means female parent, it refers to a particular sort of woman: nice, friendly, attractive but not too groomed. Mum knows best, Mums are (everyday) heroes, Mums are dependable and warm and sometimes very slightly jokey, as we know from the bread, or gravy or bingo adverts. If a Mum is at the centre of your play then it will be assumed that the play is nice, friendly, very slightly jokey like a long advert, or a middle-of-the-road sitcom. No.
Of course what I would like is for these words not to have those associations, for ‘Mum’, or ‘Parent’ not to mean a particular sort of person any more than the words ‘woman’ or ‘person’ refers to a particular sort of person. That is pretty much why I wrote the play ‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’. I wanted to bring onstage the drama of being a Mum, the guilt, social pressures, the frustration of feeling reduced to a title, the failures, the conflicts, the joy, the exhaustion and the nuances of a parent’s relationship with their small children.
I think this is a neglected area of dramatic exploration. Perhaps because the vast majority of produced playwrights are male and most tend not to choose ‘Mum’ as the protagonist. Perhaps because parenting isn’t a very ‘sexy’ subject and theatres and producers don’t think it will sell. Perhaps because we are still accepting the advertising world’s version of ‘Mum’ and everyone prefers to keep Mum cosy and nice, the sensible, dependable, slightly boring one in sitcoms and insurance commercials. With ‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’ I am offering an alternative, more complex portrait of a Mum. I’m still working on the wording of the tagline.
‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’ will be shown at The Space in June 2014.
Prams In The Hall is a theatre company which encourages access to process, rehearsals and performances for those who have children. They work with those with children and those without.
Find out more about them: www.pramsinthehall.com and look out for an exciting collaboration between 17Percent and Prams In The Hall next year!