Touring and Toddlers: Parents in the arts
This week I shared a coffee in the apartment of the talented performer, musician and teacher, Andrew Broadbent.
A graduate of WAAPA, Andrew is currently appearing in My Fair Lady at the Sydney Opera House (Opera Australia/GFO) and has performed in major Australian productions of South Pacific (OA/GFO), Love Never Dies (Really Useful Group), The Addams Family and Jersey Boys (Newtheatricals), and Priscilla; Queen of the Desert (Backrow)
Most of these I’ve had the pleasure of fan-girling over as a proud cousin.
Andrew has created roles in world premiere productions of the hit new Australian musical Ladies in Black (QTC/MTC), Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage (JEL), NED – A New Australian Musical (Capitol Events) and Rendez-vous: an opera noir (Black Swan/Tura Events). He was also in the Green Room Award-winning actor/musician ensemble cast of Once (MTC/GFO), has featured in a ridiculous SEVEN shows with The Production Company and has multiple screen credits.
In addition to his very successful career, Andrew manages to balance life with his beautiful wife and two children. Is he Mary Poppins? Does he have a time-turner like Hermoine? I stole a piece of his precious free time this week to find out!
How have you balanced family life and touring?
“I was in the fairly unique position of graduating WAAPA when I was 29 with a pregnant wife. So I haven’t known what touring is without family. The first touring we did was with Black Swan (a Perth theatre company) doing ‘he Merry- Go- Round in the Sea. I’d been 6 months out; it was a job I had as I was graduating. So we were back in Perth six months later when my son was 5 weeks old. We were very fresh and heading over with a baby, bathing him in the laundry sink of the apartment and that kind of thing.
“Basically until the kids were at school, we would tour together as a family. The first big tour I did was with the original tour of Dirty Dancing; my first son was fourteen months old when we moved up to Sydney and turned two as it finished. My second son was born during the Melbourne run, so we then did Perth, Brisbane and Auckland with all four of us.
“It was a nice time; there were quite a few people in the company who had kids as well – often one toddler. There used to be six or seven families and we would have a mother’s group kind of thing each week in a playground or somebody’s apartment where we would all be packed in. Because it was these little hotel apartments, you would bring your own coffee cup because everyone only had 4 of them. But it was really cool. There was a sense of community about it. We all knew how tired we all were and when you can share the stories and feeling of touring with kids and what that’s like, it makes things a little easier. People going through the same thing I guess, which is true of any situation.”
How has it changed since your kids have become school aged?
“I had more time with my kids when they were young than most working dads would because they were awake. Most guys who do the 9-5pm thing leave when the baby might not be up then come home as the baby’s being put back to sleep. So that was cool- to be able to spend that time in the early years actually having the awake time with both of the kids.
“The way we do things these days (with my two sons of 11 and 13) is that I try not to tour for too long, obviously. Generally we have a rule where they come up for school holiday periods to wherever I am, and I get back every 2-3 weeks for whatever weekend I have- at the moment that’s Sunday night to Monday night.
“Sometimes it’s easy to work out when you can skype home as well – that’s a big thing. That was great during the rehearsals of My Fair Lady, but since moving to the theatre it has been more difficult. Particularly because they have lives too; after school activities, mates places to go to and various other things going on. And my boys are musos as well, so they’ve had band comps recently. It’s been great to share in on some of those which are online. It’s those kind of things that I really miss- seeing them perform or play basketball on the weekends.”
Have you ever turned something down that wasn’t going to work for your family?
“I did once, because the season was just too long away. It was a show I loved and I would have loved to continue it, but there are two problems. The season would have been a long time away from family and when you’re away for over a year, there isn’t the financial incentive to continue because you’re not provided with accommodation and a living away from home allowance; so you’re losing money doing a show. If there’s no financial incentive and it’s going to damage your family, there’s not much left. I loved the show, but that’s too big of a sacrifice for us.
“There have been a few things I haven’t auditioned for over the years, like Asia tours. But I decided not to audition as being in a place where you can’t just pop back for a day… that wasn’t an option.
What is the hardest part of being away on tour?
“When you go home, you realise how much you miss the day- to- day just being there. It’s funny; I was home this weekend for literally less than 24 hours. The things I miss more pointedly are the weekend activities an
d performances- those moments you really enjoy being there and feel like a proud parent. When you’re not there you feel like a neglecting dad.
“You kind- of don’t want to pressure your time at home. Even when I was just home this week, there were times when I was just sitting at the table having a chat with my wife and I realised the two boys were playing on their devices already- using the time well! Generally speaking, they are great kids and we do enjoy all the time we get. We always end up having a game of basketball in the backyard- it’s become a ‘thing’ we do. There are specific things with each son that are kind of our ‘thing’. “
Is managing a family with this career something you improve at?
“I think we’ve gotten better at it over the years. There’s no handbook, you just kind of do what works for you. Sometimes it would be nice to just work in one city, but you can’t really have a career just doing that, so it’s part of the deal. It’s not easy. We have definitely become better at it over the years and seen what works and what doesn’t.
“It’s a huge thing for your partner to deal with. While I’m here chatting with you in this lovely apartment with time I have free to do nothing until I’m called in a couple of hours, my wife is dealing with getting the kids to school. When they get home, it’s just her there to sort out homework, get them to activities, make them dinner, get them in the shower and to bed; you know, everything. It’s a big deal.”
What advice would you give other men or women in the industry who are thinking of starting a family?
“Everybody does their thing differently and whether you want to be a stay at home parent or be a working parent, you have to think about what sort of support you have around you and how that might happen. Whether it’s a partner who is willing to be a stay at home carer, splitting that role or being the carer for a period of time and not doing the shows for however many months or years, that’s what you have to consider.
“People talk about holding off until the time is right – I’m not sure the time is ever right, or the time is ever wrong. There are more convenient and less convenient moments probably, but I think if you want to have a family and you keep waiting until the moment is right, it might never be right. If that’s something you want in your life, I think you do it and you manage- you find a way to manage.”