#MUVVAHOOD – a play by @LibbyLiburd – single motherhood in the “age of austerity” (March 2016)

Photo Credit: Yasmin Merrin www.yasminmerrin.co.uk
Photo Credit: Yasmin Merrin www.yasminmerrin.co.uk

MUVVAHOOD by Libby Liburd

MUVVAHOOD is one-woman verbatim theatre show, collated from hours of interviews with lone parent mothers, telling a story of single motherhood in the “age of austerity” when the most vulnerable members of society are facing hardships and prejudices not seen in decades. MUVVAHOOD explores the specific emotional and economic issues surrounding single motherhood – primarily from the perspective of working-class mothers living in London.

Researched, developed, written and performed by Libby Liburd.
Directed by Julie Addy.

MUVVAHOOD performances coming up:

Camden People’s Theatre (as part of Sprint 16) Sunday 13th March 6pm: www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/muvvahood

Tristan Bates Theatre (as part of the First Festival of Solo Performances) Monday
11th April 7pm: www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/first-2016–muvvahood

For further detail please contact:LibbyLiburd@hotmail.com

Background:

In the UK, there are around two million single parents. The vast majority – more than 9 out of 10 single parents – are mothers. Often associated with negative media stereotypes, the single mother is frequently portrayed as a feckless teenager, getting pregnant in order to obtain a council house, and raising anti social children that the taxpayer pays for. But what is it to be a single mother? Raising a child, or children, alone can be a rewarding, yet isolating experience. As a society, we rarely hear the real voices of women who are forced to raise their children alone, often in poverty, where intrinsic societal structures victimise and disempower lone mothers. Those in single parent families are twice as likely to live in poverty as those in couple parent families, and recent years have seen this situation escalate, with the current “war on the poor”, the closure of the CSA and the removal of Legal Aid in the majority of family law cases. Single parent households have been the hardest hit household types by tax and benefit reforms since 2010.

MUVVAHOOD is a one woman, verbatim theatre piece, exploring the specific emotional and economic issues surrounding single motherhood – primarily from the perspective of working-class mothers living in London today. Funny, frank and authentic; collated from hours of interviews with lone parent mothers, MUVVAHOOD tells a story of single motherhood in the “age of austerity” when the most vulnerable members of society are facing hardships and prejudices not seen in decades.

Researched, developed, written and performed by Libby Liburd. Directed by Julie Addy.

Development of MUVVAHOOD:

The first 20 minute scratch performance of MUVVAHOOD was at The Big Bang scratch night as part of Camden People’s Theatre’s acclaimed feminist theatre festival Calm Down, Dear. The piece was warmly received. Excerpts of reviews/audience feedback are below.

Review from the scratch performance of MUVVAHOOD at The Camden People’s Theatre on 19th September 2015:

“…Libby Liburd in MUVVAHOOD. Liburd’s piece took a more traditional monologue format, but its verbatim explorations of single-motherhood in the age of austerity hit home in an affecting manner. Liburd’s performance was a clear moment of hard political feminism, a stark reminder that, as well as being subject to cultural and implicit discrimination, women still face explicit material and institutional discrimination in housing and welfare, intersected by the vagaries of the class system.”

Lewis Church, Exeunt Magazine

Audience feedback from scratch performance:

• “It was such a truthful and beautiful piece. You had the audience in tears and laughter, you brought alive stories that don’t get told and need to be heard. You did the mothers you interviewed proud.”
• “It was beautiful. [The] show’s got a real future.”
• “Some great work witnessed on stage this evening, one very emotional piece hit us both, well done Libby Liburd for MUVVAHOOD.”
• “I was really moved.”
• “Very excited about the future of this piece.”
• “Well done…made me quite emotional.”
• “I’m a mum, I’m not a single mum, but even so, so much of it resonated with me. It really got to me.”
• “Great performance. I cried.”

Interview with Libby Liburd

OK, so my show MUVVAHOOD is a one woman, verbatim piece, exploring single motherhood in London today. I’ve conducted many hours of interviews with single mothers, extensively researched key issues and included my own experiences, to create a funny, frank and authentic solo show that explores the specific emotional and economic realities faced by women raising their children alone.

Creating a solo show is a real labour of love, particularly if you’ve also written, researched and developed the piece, as I have. It’s a huge investment, and with that comes an increased vulnerability as a performer. There are no other actors to support or save you, there’s nowhere to hide – it’s you alone on that stage. I’m standing up there, saying yes, I am a single mum, this is my story, and these are the stories of others.

A solo show of this kind is something like standing on a stage and taking your skin off, it’s allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be really seen. For me as well, it’s been quite a journey because I’ve done all the interviews alone, developed the script, edited, edited again, researched until I could think of nothing else, and then I have to rehearse, learn and perform the piece too! It’s also very personal, and I guess for me, because I am an actual single mother, it’s been about taking a bit of control back.

For me, the very foundations of my piece, MUVVAHOOD, are real life experiences. It’s a verbatim piece, about single motherhood in London today. I conducted many, many hours of interviews with single mothers living in London, to obtain real, authentic perspectives on the reality of life as a single mother.

I’m a single mother myself – my son is 15 now – and I’ve certainly included my own experiences within the piece, along with verbatim accounts from other mothers. It’s been vital for me that I’m truthful to this narrative; I’ve felt a huge responsibility to tell these stories, and my own, truthfully and authentically. It’s always a balance between maintaining the responsibility of those truths and also squeezing them into an hour long show that will hold an audience. Sometimes it’s been really hard – I’ve had to heavily edit (otherwise I”ve ended up on-stage for a whole weekend!) and some of the interviews were cut altogether. That’s always painful. Working within verbatim theatre also requires knowledge of the ethics of this process, and I’ve been mindful to work carefully within these ethics.

I don’t think I could’ve made this show a few years ago. My son is now 15, so he’s been able to be quite collaborative within this process, and I’ve worked closely with him so that any autobiographical moments within the show meet his approval and he’s comfortable with them being represented on-stage. After all, I’m the one “interviewee” that I’ve not afforded the luxury of confidentiality to.

My idea for the show was principally taken from the fact that I, as a single mother actor, just never saw my experiences authentically represented in theatre. My son never saw an authentic representation of his family unit on stage either. I wanted to change that. I wanted to make a piece that was a true representation of single motherhood in London today. I wanted to make something that was educational, entertaining, funny, frank and authentic. Something that captured the roller-coaster of experiences and emotions that you go through as a single mum. Something that was three dimensional, truthful and nuanced, not just the typical media representation of the downtrodden, struggling single mum. Something that made me, and other single mothers, visible. I believe that theatre has a great power, and we should use that power tell the stories of those who aren’t heard. I have to say that the mothers I interviewed were so generous and honest with their stories. We laughed and cried during those interviews, even in the most harrowing interviews those mothers expressed moments of joy and light. I’m so grateful to them for sharing their stories with me. As a writer and an actor, the whole process has been a gift, and I hope that I’ve done those mothers justice.

As a single mum, yes, I have been subject to prejudice and judgement. It actually took me several years before I was really able to “own” the title of single mother. As an actor too, being a single parent can feel like an impossible task – juggling auditions and day jobs and learning lines with school runs and parenting duties. There are so many jobs I can’t do, for instance I can’t tour or be away from home for long shoots because there’s no one else to look after my child. It’s a constant challenge. Most actors seem to drop out of the business when they have children because it is so hard, even if you are in a couple. Personally, I know only two other single parent actors. Theatre and TV hours do not fit within traditional childcare hours and you’re often expected to do long hours on set with ridiculously early call times. The industry also operates on a very “last minute” basis; when my son was younger I remember sobbing because I had been confirmed for a job, but they didn’t know shoot dates or times until the day before and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to find childcare. In those years when he was younger I felt like I just muddled through by the skin of my teeth, in a state of constant anxiety. I’ve also lost jobs due to discrimination against me as a single parent – at one audition I was actually told I wasn’t suitable due to my “commitments”, which was horrible.

However, I must say, I’ve also had lots of lovely experiences, with theatre companies who’ve embraced my son, and allowed me to have him with me during jobs, so it’s not all bad. And certainly now he’s 15, I feel a little more freedom to create my own work and I don’t have to run the daily childcare gauntlet anymore.

However, those single mother stereotypes prevail. It’s odd that people still seem to think that most single mums are irresponsible teenagers, and the mainstream media seem to persist in portraying single mothers in a negative light – the average age of a single mother in the UK is 38, around 50% of single mums had their children within marriage, and only around 2% of single parents are actually teenagers. MUVVAHOOD pokes fun at those single mother stereotypes, in a fun irreverent way – it’s certainly not all doom and gloom and struggle and strife! I do have fun on-stage, I’m not gonna be weeping and wailing and bemoaning my plight! That’s not a true reflection of my life, and apart from anything else that would be incredibly boring for an audience to watch.

I made the decision some time ago that MUVVAHOOD had to be a solo show; it’s particularly symbolic of the experience of raising a child alone. Being a woman raising a child alone is a vulnerable experience, it’s exhausting, terrifying, isolating, amazing – sometimes I feel like a warrior going into battle (and that’s just an average day!) So I wanted to make a piece of work that replicated that. Now, that in itself is ridiculously terrifying, but it’s also ridiculously exciting, and I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky that I am in a position to be able to tell my story and the stories of others.

It is difficult working without other actors though. I do miss the camaraderie, the opportunity to bounce off another person. A solo show is more reliant on an audience – you need the audience to almost become the additional cast members.

It’s a tough balance though when you are so absorbed in your material and it’s just you working on it, so I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with an amazing director, Julie Addy. She’s just fabulous and keeps me on the straight and narrow, and I’ve needed that outside eye to say “no that bit’s not working” or whatever. I’ve needed that. Particularly on the really autobiographical bits – just cos it’s real, it doesn’t make it interesting – but when it’s your own story it can be hard to see the wood from the trees! Julie’s been really involved and instrumental with the development of MUVVAHOOD. Though it’s a solo show, it still feels like a team effort.

Biographies:

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Libby Liburd – Writer/Performer

Libby Liburd trained at East 15 Acting School. She’s an actor/writer and the single parent of a teenage son. She lives in Walthamstow, East London.
Acting credits include a variety of theatre, TV, panto and commercials.
Writer/performer credits include the TV sitcom pilots “Female Fight Club”, “Autograph Hunters” and music hall cabaret show “A Little of What You Fancy with Shelia Blige”.

For more information about Libby, please go to her website: www.LibbyLiburd.co.uk
Twitter: @LibbyLiburd #Muvvahood

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Julie Addy – Director

A director and actress originally from Belfast, Julie studied English and Drama/Theatre Studies
at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Directing credits include Wanted – part of Sheer Height Theatre Company’s Women Redressed

Festival at the Arts Theatre, “Conflict Tourism (Rogue Writers/Leicester Square Theatre), Way to
Go and Driven to Distraction (StopWatch Theatre Company, UK tour). Assistant director credits
include The Low Show and Message from Above (Bahrain & Oman tours, Titch Theatre
Company). Most recently, Julie was the associate director of 5 Guy’s Chillin’, a verbatim piece
had an extended run at The King’s Head Theatre. Twitter: @addyjulie

MUVVAHOOD Publicity Picture
Photo Credit: Yasmin Merrin
www.yasminmerrin.co.uk

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