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This blog is a combination of new material and previously published archives... Mostly about singing, music, opera and the life of an artist. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Time-travelling via the opera tour…keeping it in the family.

Several years ago, I took my toddler son on tour with me. With an opera company. That may sound completely bonkers, and I don’t recommend it for the faint-of-heart, but we did it. I was a widowed mother, wanted to work for practical reasons, and needed to continue as a singer for other, not as easy to quantify, reasons…so my little man had to come along for the ride. Taking a small person with you on tour is interesting. It exaggerates the usual challenges of combining a performing career with motherhood (the irregular hours and sporadic income which make arranging childcare a creative patchwork of heroic proportions, for example) as well as intensifying the positive aspects and intangible benefits of raising a family whilst pursuing a career in the theatre.

I managed, with great difficulty, to book digs and local baby-sitters and child-minders for all the venues of the tour (with the invaluable advice from a married couple in the orchestra who also had occasion to tour with their progeny.) Somehow, my son and I both lived to tell the tale. And met a lot of interesting people along the way. And visited every museum, zoo, park, castle and charity shop in Britain. He had a separate collection of ‘tour toys’ (acquired at aforementioned places) that lived in my car and thus didn’t have to be packed and unpacked every time we left home. My son developed an unnatural liking for museums and stately homes (all the suits of armour, probably) (come to think of it, he REALLY likes ‘Horrible History’ books now), learned sooner than most little ones how to sit still during meals, use real cutlery (can’t always depend on finding child-friendly restaurants on the road) and today could probably sing the entire score of The Magic Flute (if he were so inclined…he prefers to play the guitar).

Several years later, remarried, with my son now in school, and with a baby brother (and three step-siblings) to keep him company, I had the opportunity to tour with the same opera company, and retrace some of our journeys. It brought back strong memories of our little travelling family circus. Several of the same cities and venues were on the agenda, so I revisited the same museums and attractions, and even stayed in some of the same digs. It allowed me a unique window of perspective of my life as it is now compared to then, and to examine my memories of the time I travelled to these places with a toddler in tow. First things first: it was a lot easier. A lot. I spent the first week away from home, child-free, in a kind of stupor, not knowing what to do with myself. Don’t get me wrong, I had prepared: brought lots of books to read, my knitting…but mostly I retraced my steps, no push-chair in front of me this time.  Specific memories, insights, and visits with old friends will be shared in future essays. For now, here are my top tips on touring, with or without children:

1.      Charity shops are GREAT. You can get books to read in your digs or hotel room, wool to knit or crochet, gifts for the folks back home, clothes (pack lightly!) They are also endlessly entertaining. And cheap.
2.      Many museums and art galleries are free, and also good for your process as an artist…look for inspiration. Public libraries are also good. Yes, you can’t check anything out as you’re not local, but you can read newspapers and periodicals for free (Opera magazine, anyone?), do some quiet study (sometimes digs can feel a bit claustrophobic), and they often sell off ‘redundant’ books VERY cheaply. 10p each. Not an exaggeration!
3.      Parks, footpaths, walks, natural attractions…yes, you have a show to sing that evening, so take it easy (or save it for a day off), but don’t miss out on these aspects of your ‘working holiday.' Healthy, inspiring, and a definite fringe benefit of being on the road. Again, FREE! And the photos look great in your Facebook/Twitter timeline…
4.      If a venue is in a big city or obvious tourist town, the iconic views are easy to find. But if the venue is a little more obscure, you might be surprised at a city’s ‘claim to fame.’ Check out the local history. Also, if your performance is part of a festival, go to other performances if time allows…lectures, workshops, lunchtime concerts and ‘fringe’ events are often free or very low cost.
5.      Travelling with children brings the need for keeping costs down into sharp focus…however, even child-free singers need to bear in mind that spending all your free time on tour visiting the local high street shops and restaurants is a really nice way of coming home…with no fee! There is something irresistible about shopping while away from home. Call it the hunter-gatherer instinct, or the feeling of being on holiday, whatever: channel this urge into cheaper alternatives.
6.      If your children stay safely at home while you tour, it can be tempting to buy expensive souvenirs and gifts out of guilt. Again, there are more thrifty, and thoughtful, alternatives: text/email photos or short videos of the sights, or better yet, of yourself: in your digs/in the theatre/in costume…be creative. Seeing where mummy/daddy is staying, what the show looks like, etc is very comforting. Some souvenirs cost nothing: a pretty pinecone, pebble, leaf, or freebies from the hotel/airline etc. (for the younger ones...the older ones see through this, unless they're working on a cool collection of air-sick bags!)
Something interesting Mum saw on the road...
Bon voyage!