“Single mums are portrayed in a very particular, very negative way”

Libby Libarb - Muvvahood

Libby Liburd, the writer of one-woman theatre piece Muvvahood, discusses why she decided to create her show, the stigma attached to single mums and how she makes her performances inclusive of other lone parents…

Libby Liburd is an actor, writer and single mum. She’s the writer and performer of her own ‘funny, frank and authentic’ one woman theatre show, Muvvahood. Libby lives in east London with her 16-year-old son.

libby libarbMuvvahood is a show about being a single mother.

It’s interesting that people automatically assume it will be an hour of abject misery. The show has been described as a “sharp, humorous and clever piece of political theatre,” which I feel is a great description (especially the clever bit). Part stand up, part TED talk and part verbatim theatre, Muvvahood features my own experiences at the sharp end of the single mother stereotypes and the experiences of other single mothers that I interviewed. I pick apart the politics that have attacked and disempowered single mothers, I poke fun at the stereotypes that have seeped into society’s consciousness and I explore the emotional issues surrounding single motherhood, all with a healthy dollop of humour.

I wrote the show because the time felt right. My son is 16 now and I’ve been a lone parent to him for nearly ten years. In that time, things have changed massively for us and yet I’ve seen no tangible change in society’s attitudes towards single mums.

Single mums are still portrayed in a very particular, very negative way. One in four families in the UK are headed by a single parent and as 90% of single parents in the UK are mothers, it is mothers that bear the brunt of the stigma and demonisation that comes with raising a child alone. We’re judged and attacked by politicians, the media and wider society.

In my own industry, on stage and in TV and film, we still see the same tired old stereotype of the tracksuit-clad, struggling single mum – it bores me and angers me in equal measure. I wrote Muvvahood because I felt there was room for something different, something tracksuit-free, three dimensional and authentic. Something that addressed the issues single mothers face, yes, but also had some joy and hope in it, a bit of fun and some nice shoes.

We laid on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ creche. We welcomed babes-in-arms into the auditorium. We made sure that we gave discounted tickets to local single mothers.

Of course, being a single mum is tough. Being a single mum and an actor is probably the definition of insanity. I don’t have a regular salary or regular working hours and there’s no one else at home to provide a safety net. My day-to-day life is a timetabled juggling act, the like of which I never thought was humanly possible. I don’t rest nearly as much as I should, so it drives me up the wall when I hear single mums labelled as ‘lazy’ or ‘spongers’. Nothing could be further from the truth – I probably haven’t had a decent sit down since 1998. True story.

When I was making Muvvahood, although I wanted it to reach out to everybody, I particularly wanted to make the show as a gift to my fellow single mums to celebrate our achievements, to uplift us, to represent our families and our experiences truthfully. I desperately wanted other single mothers to be able to see my show, but of course the barriers to accessing theatre are immense when you’re any parent, let alone a single parent. If you only have one household income, you’re usually having to account for every penny and going to the theatre is low on your list of priorities if you’re already struggling to make ends meet. Childcare is usually a massive issue (I’m sure ALL parents can relate to that one!). Or you may simply feel that you won’t be welcome in a theatre space.

In October of 2016, I did a run of Muvvahood at Stratford Circus Arts Centre in London and was lucky enough that the venue facilities enabled me to do a special relaxed performance. I worked closely with the theatre to ensure that the relaxed performance shook up the usual rules of theatre. We laid on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ creche. We welcomed babes-in-arms into the auditorium. We made sure that we gave discounted tickets to local single mothers.

Now, it’s all well and good doing all that, but it’s so important that you don’t just pay lip service to these initiatives. We made it clear that parents could feed their children during the show, move around with their child, whatever they needed to do. They could leave the auditorium and come back in again freely. The house lights were kept on, sound and light levels were adjusted throughout the show to actively respond to the audience’s needs. And I, as a performer, had to stay very present and in tune with my audience.

We need to make theatre spaces not only more accessible but also, crucially, more welcoming

You might expect that it would be mayhem, babies crying etc but I didn’t find that at all. When you truly make people welcome in a theatre space, they relax. When there’s no pressure for them to behave in a certain way, or indeed, for their children to behave in a certain way, I think an audience feels safer, so as a result it did genuinely feel like a ‘relaxed performance’.

There are moments in Muvvahood that are extremely emotional, and at those moments I was able to make eye contact with mothers holding their babies and see my own grown up ‘baby’ in the audience. As a performer, I’ve never experienced such a powerful connection with an audience. It still makes me well up a bit when I think about it.

I’m a really believe that theatre needs to be less elite. We need to make theatre spaces not only more accessible but also, crucially, more welcoming. Theatre is a space for story telling, where we can learn about the experiences of others or see our own experiences reflected in a way that makes us feel less alone.

Muvvahood will be back again in the autumn of this year, October through to December, for a London tour – dates and venues to be announced soon. I’m keen to maintain the relaxed performance option; it’s not possible to do it at every theatre (not every theatre has the right facilities) but it’s something I’m pushing for.

I’m also interested in connecting with other single parents so we can support each other and share our experiences, and I’m constantly working on new ideas, so do please drop me a line. We might be so-called “lone parents”, but we are NOT alone – there are two million of us in the UK and it’s about time we stripped off our tracksuits and made our voices heard.

For more information about dates, and to keep up-to-date with what I’m doing, please follow me on Twitter: @LibbyLiburd, FaceBook: Muvvahood or on my website: www.LibbyLiburd.co.uk