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My name is Libby Liburd, I’m an actor, writer and a single mum.
** UPDATE – NEW SHOWS **
ORIGINAL BOG POST BELOW
A while ago, I came up with an idea for a show. I had the name of the show in my head, I knew what I wanted to do, but getting it done was something else. I knew I wanted to present a different view of single mums, something that represented what a single mother is really like.
Being a single mum is incredibly hard work. If you are a single parent you’ll know what I mean, and if you’re not – it may be hard for you to imagine just how tough it can be. The media peddles an image of the single mum that I don’t recognise – a teenager that spends all day smoking and shopping and is basically useless at mothering. If you glance at Twitter, or google, you’ll see comment after comment about single mums that include the words “sponger” or “scrounger”.
When I was researching my show, I developed a thick skin – I can read these comments and laugh, it’s allowed me to create a show that takes the mick out of these ridiculous stereotypes. But when I screen-shotted (is that a word?) some of those comments to create a projection, and handed them over to my designers, there was a sharp intake of breath. “How can you cope with reading this? It’s horrific!” I was asked. And it IS horrific.
Here are a selection of comments about single mums, left by members of the public online:
“she should’ve been spayed…it works for cats and dogs”
“you waste of space excuse for a woman. You’re a scrounger, nothing more. Hope you never meet a nice man”
“She is rather common”
“you can tell she’s a scrounger just by looking at her”
“leaving us mugs to pay for her inability to swallow a pill”
It seems to me that political propaganda has done it’s job, reinforced by the new crop of “poverty porn” shows.
We’re led to believe that single mothers are the scourge of society, that they get free housing and tonnes of benefits, that hard working taxpayers pay for their numerous children, and that they are terrible mothers. David Cameron effectively blamed the August 2011 riots on those with “no fathers at home”. When these unsubstantiated, ill advised statements are flung out into the media, the after effects are shocking, and suddenly the title “single mother” becomes synonymous with “bad mother”.
Here are some facts:
The average age of a single mother is 38.
Most single parents had their children within marriage.
Around 2 percent of single parents are teenagers.
Most single parents work, even though those in single parent families are twice as likely to be in poverty.
The vast majority of single parents – more than 91% – are mothers.
I won’t go into too much detail about my own story, but I was married. I didn’t choose to be a single mother, I chose to raise my child in a couple parent family. When things changed, what was I supposed to do? Someone had to carry on and that someone was me.
So, suddenly I was a single mother – a member of a club I hadn’t chosen. I got on with it, but I was mostly angry for a few years! I had to manage everything alone all of a sudden – earning enough single handedly to pay my rent, the gas, electric, water bill, phone bills and council tax, the TV licence, buy food and clothing, pay for travel expenses and of course, the dreaded childcare.(did you know that the average cost of full time childcare for a child under two in London is over £14,000 a year?) On top of that, I also had to work out a way to be there for my son – making sure I was there to make him breakfast in the morning, to pick him up from school or childcare, making sure he was fed, his clothes were always clean, making sure his homework was done, that he had all he needed, being there for him to talk about anything he needed to talk about. Trying to juggle all of that meant I didn’t always get it right, but I was trying, I always tried. So imagine what it’s like to be going through all that and really trying to get it right, really trying to single handedly hold it all together, then to be called a scrounger, or to be told that your family is a “broken” family and that you really should try and find another man quickly otherwise you and your child are doomed.
I feel very lucky that I do work, that I’m not at the mercy of the brutal benefit cuts enforced by the government at the moment. But working as an actor and being a single mum ain’t easy, I’ve mostly managed it through sheer force of will!
Anyway, back to the show. My son is 15 now, he’s older so I have a bit more freedom to create. I had my idea for my show and it began to take form. The whole process has been relatively quick for me, but I guess that’s typical of being a single parent, you just have to get things done, so you get used to working fast and juggling.
So, I spent some time interviewing single mums, I spent some time researching, I spent some time writing, and in September 2015 I produced a 20 minute “scratch” performance which went down a storm at Camden People’s Theatre. I then did some more interviews, some more research, some more writing, and did a couple of hour long work in progress showings of the piece. (for “some” read “hours and hours”…)
Now, Autumn 2016, I have a finished show. I’m so proud of it. It’s a 60 minute one woman theatre show; I’ve written it, researched it and I perform it. It’s a funny, frank and authentic piece. It rips apart the stereotypes, it breaks down the benefit system, it challenges issues of child maintenance, it traces back the origins of the vilification of single mothers. It also includes verbatim testimony from the mums that I interviewed.
The show is called Muvvahood.
It’s on at Stratford Circus Arts Centre from 27th-29th October at 7.45pm. That’s half term, so if you are a parent, and you can’t get childcare, we have a solution. The matinee at 1.30pm on Friday 28th October will be a relaxed performance, with babes in arms welcome. There will be a pay-what-you-can creche provided for older children. I believe theatre should be for all, not just those with childcare. Book here: https://stratford-circus.com/event/muvvahood/
There’s also some further dates at Camden People’s Theatre from 3rd-5th November at 7.15pm: https://stratford-circus.com/event/muvvahood/
For more information about me, please follow me on Twitter: @LibbyLiburd #Muvvahood