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When Creativity and Motherhood Become Synonyms

By Martin Frenette

“The show’s singer became my tour mom on that contract.”

“The author gave birth to her latest novel earlier this month.”

“We really are seeing our dance captain as a mother figure, both on and off stage.”

“I’ve developed a maternal instinct towards the artists that I’m directing.”

These are just a few of the many times where art and motherhood were linked in conversations with artists and other colleagues over the years. Given how many women are going through pregnancy, giving birth and working to feed both their child and inner artist at the same time each year, the resemblances and comparing between being a mother and an artist have to be more abundant and obvious than one would assume.

Seeing a singer breastfeeding in the dressing room or a composer writing with one hand and wiping her toddler’s face with the other has become very common nowadays, especially since paid maternity leave isn’t common for those who like to perform.

Most audiences would never guess that the actress delivering a monologue is five months away from delivering her first child nor that the ballerina who just spun and spun again in her point shoes had a hard time spotting tonight: her mind being on her three-month old son who stayed home with his dad.

If “having kids really changes your life,” what is the impact of motherhood on an artist?  Where does a mother find the time to grow artistically while looking after her growing kids and how does pregnancy affect a creator and her process?

Geneviève Drolet openly admits that those questions never crossed her mind while balancing on one hand or writing novels and that having kids never felt like a priority, in spite of touring from the age of 15 and sharing stage and life with young mothers or girls who were planning on having kids. The now mother of a 2 year old, who is also carrying twins, had no interest in leaving the stage to raise a child.

“Most girls stopped performing at an early stage of their pregnancy or had to sacrifice contracts to look after their babies and all I wanted was to be on stage and travel the world. It wasn’t until I reached my late 20’s that I got to work with an artist who gave birth, came back as strong as ever, and managed to be an involved cast member and a very present mother at the same time. This proved to me that finding a balance between family and artistic duties is possible and, on a subconscious level, implanted the idea in my mind that I too could become a creative, working mother.”

The growing desire to be creative manifested itself very early in Geneviève’s career, a need that could not be fulfilled in her native Quebec city where performing always came first and where she was known as “the little Geneviève.” Upon her arrival to Montreal and into a new circus community, she witnessed how much room creation had in the city and felt inspired, stimulated and allowed to create, to free herself, to take risks and to get out of her comfort zone.

Looking back at 18 years of creation versus performance experiences, it is now clear to her that one completes the other, that one needs the other. These two sides of her career are interrelated and are artistically feeding her in different ways. “ In performance, there is that awesome sensation of giving everything you’ve got on stage, this unique feeling of delivering your very best for an audience that is moving you to your very core and this can’t be found in the creation studio. However, in creation, there is something exhilarating about finally coming up with the perfect movement to conclude a sequence or finding the right sentence to end a chapter. At the end of the day, whether it’s writing, hand-balancing, dancing or movement researching, as long as I got to be creative, it had to be a good day!”

A potential lack of daily creativity was one of the reasons that kept the young artist from having kids, but who, ironically, found out about her first pregnancy at the beginning of a new show’s creation phase. Even if quick breaks to deal with nausea initially interrupted her rehearsals, she knew that she wouldn’t stop creating and would be able to see this project through.

Her initial concerns about having to feed the growing child inside of her, her inner artist and the show’s team all at the same time rapidly vanished when she realized that her body was automatically producing adequate strength and energy.

“Whether you want it or not, it’s happening, but most of it definitely goes to the baby! This process, in which you are somehow not feeling fully involved, is quite abstract and it took me a while to realize that there isn’t much place left in your life when you’re pregnant, priorities are starting to shift and to change right there and then! I felt connected to my body in a way like I never did before and rediscovered it in a more bestial, instinctive way.”

Once that show’s creation was over, Geneviève won’t deny that she felt both proud and exhausted, but she could finally focus on her upcoming baby without feeling that she was missing out. Today, more than half-way through her second pregnancy, the author is affirming that being a mother is one of the most creative roles out there and that she felt incredibly creative after giving birth two years ago.

“If only to avoid depression,” she’ll whisper inside a quiet laugh. The media and society like to throw all those heavenly, peaceful, white and pure images of motherhood at us, but it really isn’t the reality for most mothers. What the world doesn’t tell you about maternity is that every woman has to re-create herself as a mother, create a connection and a new rhythm with this new person in her life .

The most surprising and rewarding part of being a mother is that every step of my child’s growth and evolution is pushing me to be more creative. I have to find new ways to interest, entertain and stimulate him. Every moment brings loads of changes and it’s while you’re trying to combine the woman, the artist and the mother all in one package that it hits you: there is no intermission in this production!”

When asked if she ever considered leaving the stage to raise a child, either before or after giving birth, the answer is a very quick and firm “No!” She stayed active and kept on training until the very end of her pregnancy and was able to return on stage seven weeks after going through labor. However, since she was still breastfeeding and her son didn’t want to drink from a bottle at the time, he joined her on that first contract where feeding and make-up sessions got intertwined!

Having to deal with her professional duties and the desire to be with her baby in an environment that wasn’t familiar to either turned out to be trickier than expected. “Feeling torn between the public and my child really was painful. Taking care of his needs suddenly felt way more important than my own and that realization must have been the maternal instinct really kicking in for me.” Still very much in love with the stage, the artist is trying to enjoy every moment spent up there, even though this proud, very present, in the moment feeling that used to inhabit her at the end of a performance has now been replaced by “I want to get back to him! How is he?”

The young woman also reveals that, if the artist is thinking about her child on stage, the reverse scenario, when the mother is thinking about the arts when she’s with him, is also true. Since it can take quite a while to get her boy to sleep, she’ll often think of her shows and novels as images are popping up in her mind with the stories and songs she’s creating to fascinate and illuminate him. Listening at how the mother has been affecting the artist as much as the artist has been inspiring the mother and at how each can use the other’s creativity, you can hear a certain excitement growing in her voice as she declares that “Everything is possible if you’re creative! Creativity helps finding solution. It would be easy to give up and scream at my kid, but using my creative mind to make him laugh until he has completely forgotten why he was upset in the first place is so rewarding and is a resource that we, artists, have. This ability to just find things and to create solutions!”

Going back to one of the initial questions “does having kids really change your life?”

The author pauses before somewhat denying it as, in her own words, kids do not change you, rather you are changing for them.

An artist doesn’t lose anything, but simply adds tools under her belt by becoming a mother and this duality does not make her any less of an artist. As for where do the mother, the artist and their child all meet, creativity finds its way one last time in Geneviève’s speech: “I am fighting to let my kid experiment boredom, instead of throwing toys and devices his way. Boredom is one of the greatest sources of inspiration, by being bored, he’s developing his creativity and I too can find new ways to be involved in his entertainment and more creative, thanks to him.”

Also by Martin Frenette:

The Role Of Artistic Director: Creating, Connecting And Hosting

Where Do Circus And Theatre Meet? A Look Into A Circus Directors Mind

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