Q&A with the mums of the World of Wearable Art Show
The spectacular creative show that is the World of Wearable Art is a very family-oriented organisation, and there are a number of parents of young children who work on the show. We asked two - WOW Awards Show company manager Jessie Alsop and technical manager Natasha James - how they manage working and raising a family.
As WOW Awards Show company manager, Jessie Alsop is responsible for the wellbeing, performance and scheduling of the 100-plus performers. On a standard day Jessie is keeping up with how the dancers and models are going ensuring they’re onsite on time, and dealing with any issues. She works on transport, event and rehearsal schedules to make sure that makeup, hair, wardrobe, costume and any one else who needs time with performers has their needs met. Jessie has also worked with Barbarian Productions, and has a long-standing contract with a Fitness Music company in Washington DC. Due to her wife Sasha’s work the couple travel a lot for projects and conferences so at times she’s also a full time parent.
Her son Max has just turned one – he was born right in the middle of WOW season last year!
Q: How old was Max when you went back to work?
I went back to work about five days after he was born. It was rough but we knew it would happen when I took the WOW contract. My wife came in to help do some work on the LED light suits that were in last year’s show, and so Max slept in a suitcase beside her backstage for a few days last season when he was about four weeks old. She is thankfully very rock-n-roll about parenthood and Max is fortunately a very chill dude.
Q: How do you and your partner manage the childcare and your respective careers? It’s hard. We get the balance wrong every now and then, but we try to keep focused on long-term goals, and simple, daily joys. We are both work-a-holics which helps, because we understand each other’s immense focus. We also try to take turns being in ‘major-mode’ so that we’re not both under pressure at the same time.
Q: How do you balance your role at WOW and being a parent?
It’s a challenge. I do a lot of parental-type work at WOW because we have a lot of young performers who require guidance and support because it’s their first time working in an intense, fast moving performance environment. So when I’m with Max I try to shut off completely and have fun. I’m really conscious of how fast he’s growing and I don’t want to miss out on having fun with him now. He’s also a really good excuse to leave the building and go to the beach or the park for a couple hours, which is probably much better for my productivity than working those extra couple hours anyway.
Q: What makes WOW a supportive environment for working parents?
The founders Dame Suzie Moncrieff and competition director Heather Palmer both had kids while they were building WOW so I do think there is a bit of a maternal vibe in the fibre of WOW’s structure. Dame Suzie's daughter and granddaughter are often at her side during the show’s opening week and I think that says something about their attitude to kids being present. I’m sure Max is a total pain in the butt at times, but having kids around is a really palpable reminder to keep your perspective in check! When you’re making a show as big and complex as this one you can start to think that it’s the most important thing in the world. But having babies around at work reminds people that there are more important things in life and it encourages people to slow down and have fun. I’ve seen the gruffest of mechanics get on their hands and knees to crawl around with Max in the middle of a conversation. I think children remind us to be kinder and softer with each other too.
Q: Is working in creative environments more flexible than a traditional office situation, as a parent to a young child?
Absolutely. I regularly take three hours off in the afternoon to spend time with Max, or bring him into work with me. I definitely couldn’t do that in an office job. WOW is a very community-centric organisation and that makes it easy to turn to someone and say “Can you hold him for 5 minutes?”.
Q: What are your best tips f
or other working parents - how can they achieve their best results while they're at work and also enjoy the quality time with their kids when they are off the clock?
Accept that no one feels like they’re a perfect parent. You’re going to feel guilty occasionally. Be brave about being a parent in your workspace. Having a young kid can make you feel like you have to stay at home until they reach an age when they can use a knife and fork properly, but I’m trying to braver about just being a bit of a mess and being okay with that. I’m a big fan of joint calendars and having family schedule meetings. My wife and I also have a running daily list of what Max has eaten and when he’s slept so that we don’t have to talk about those details during child-handover, but we can still make sure that he has some continuity and we both know where he’s at in terms of his basic needs.
Q: Do you think there is such a thing as work/life balance?
I think it’s probably really different for every person. The important thing is that as a couple you have an agreed understanding of what you’re aiming for in terms of balance so that you’re not disappointing each other accidentally.
Natasha James has been with the Wow Awards Show for about seven years, and this is her second year as technical manager. She manages the show’s different technical departments pre- and post-production. She’s a freelance contractor, so works on other projects during the year. Her son Jack is 15 months old, and Natasha returned to work three weeks after he was born – which was deep in the planning phase of that year’s WOW Awards Show.
Q: How do you and your partner manage the childcare and your respective careers?
My wife is currently the full time stay at home parent, which we’re keen to sustain for as long as possible, so that one of us is looking after Jack as opposed to daycare. Next year I think my wife Gina will start back at work, so I'll work contracts in and around that. It’s a big juggle.
Q: How do you balance your role at WOW and being a parent? It's really tricky and I certainly feel a huge amount of guilt about the long hours. I'm pretty strict on weekends being exclusive to family time and leave work at work as much as possible. I'm lucky to have an extremely supportive wife.
Q: When it comes to show time, the schedule is obviously quite full-on and non-stop - how do you manage this as a parent? We have amazing parents who come up to Wellington and stay with us and help Gina out with Jack. Often I leave home around 7am and I’m not back until very late at night so I'm pretty much out of the picture for a good two weeks during production weeks.
Q: Is WOW a supportive environment for working parents?
Absolutely. WOW is very family orientated and there was genuine excitement when we were expecting Jack and people enjoy it when I bring him in.
Do you find working in creative environments more flexible than a traditional office situation, as a parent to a young child?
I've never known anything else in my working career and have always been in creative work environments where children are welcome and often a welcome relief! For both Gina and I, we want our children to know this world of making and creating live experiences and we feel incredibly blessed to belong to such a diverse and inclusive community.
What are your best tips for other working parents - how can they achieve their best results while they're at work and also enjoy the quality time with their kids when they are off the clock?
I'm not sure I have tips as I feel like I'm learning daily. I guess as a contractor I have a clear end date for when the long hours are over and can plan to have quality family time. We often book a little get away to look forward to at the end of the busy time!
Do you think there is such a thing as work/life balance?
I used to work constantly and travel most of the year with my job. Slowly over the years that’s changed, as have my priorities. Gina is extremely straight up with me when she thinks I'm getting too work-focused in my down time. And I make sure that I do find time to do the things that we enjoy as a family.