The Motherhood Project: An interview with creator and curator Katherine Kotz
The Motherhood Project brings together UK leading artists an online festival exploring the essence of motherhood in all its innumerable forms. Individual reflections and dramatic monologues have also been curated by an array of theatre and filmmakers, who have kindly donated their pieces to form 15 short films on the shared experience of parenthood and the relationship between parent and child. The films are currently showcased on the Battersea Arts Centre website, and the collaboration will donate 50% of ticket profits to Refuge, the charity supporting women and children experiencing domestic violence.
We spoke to creator Katherine Kotz on why she chose to organise The Motherhood Project, how she curated it, and the surprising challenges of being a new mother herself.
How did the idea for The Motherhood Project come to fruition?
I think it came from a feeling of powerlessness about the pandemic and wanting to organise some kind of creative response. There’d been a sharp rise in calls to the domestic violence charity Refuge during lockdown, and a sense of resignation among policy makers, which was incredibly frustrating. I wanted to coordinate an artistic collaboration that would raise money for Refuge and send out a message of solidarity to anyone who didn’t feel safe at home.
I chose the topic of motherhood because I was pregnant at the time, so it was on my mind! I’d always thought having children was quite a hard sell, considering how many boring chores it involves and the way you lose your independence. It struck me that women don’t tend to talk very openly about motherhood for fear of offending others perhaps, or seeming selfish. As a society we’re also quite quick to attach labels to women if they choose not to have children. I wanted to dig into the issue a bit and gather different perspectives.
With 15 short films surrounding the topic of motherhood, how did you approach the actors and creatives to collate all their stories?
I drew up a list of my favourite playwrights and authors and asked them if they could contribute something to the project. I then reached out to directors about individual pieces, and then actors. In some cases writers had strong instincts about who should direct their pieces, so it was quite a collaborative effort. A brilliant production company called Drift Studio shot and edited the films, and produced them to a high standard on an extremely limited budget. There are also some personal reflections filmed on Zoom as part of the project to include real stories alongside the dramatised pieces. It was very inspiring to me that everyone rallied round to support the project.
What were some of the challenges you faced in pulling it all together?
Let’s drink some gin and I’ll tell you! Well, there were a lot of “no”s throughout, of course. I also had a baby in the midst of it, which wasn’t the best planning in the world. I thought I could just tie him to me in a sling and carry on, but babies need quite a lot of attention it turns out. Also he is very squidgy and joyful so it’s hard to do any work around him.
We’re used to hearing stories of motherhood from the perspective of women. You’ve included performers like Lemn Sissay in the line-up for this project – was it important to you to be inclusive when talking about parenthood?
I’d love to do a fatherhood series (maybe that’s next!), but these films are really about how we see women. Lemn is the honorary male writer because his experience of motherhood is so extraordinary – he was denied a relationship with his own mother by the state. Parenting is still very gendered in this country, due to the misguided notion that having a womb makes you behave in a certain way. I don’t think this benefits anyone – it leaves women over-burdened and men missing out. I’d love for society to reach a point where parents are just parents, regardless of gender. At the moment we invest the bare minimum in new parents, and [statutory] paternity leave is only two weeks, which embeds the narrative that the woman should be the main caregiver. We need to invest more in shared parental leave so that it becomes the norm to share parenting 50/50.
As a new mother yourself, were you at all surprised by any of the stories you were told?
I expect it’s quite hard to surprise a new mother, but you’ll have to watch the films to find out!
The global pandemic has meant theatre has been forced to go online. Do you see this is partly advantageous in terms of reaching a broader audience?
Reaching a broader audience is certainly an advantage of theatre going online for a bit, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for the shared experience of live performance. I think we need to safeguard live theatre, comedy and music as much as we can. That’s why companies such as Paines Plough are so brilliant – they created a pop-up venue and took it round the country with them to give people access to great live theatre. I hope we’ll see more initiatives like that once it’s safe to gather again.
With the possibility of theatres opening their doors again in the coming months, would you like to see your project adapted and performed before a live audience?
That’s an exciting thought!
What is next for you?
I need to organise my mum’s 70th. I wanted to take her whale watching but she’s insisting on doing a sky dive. I would never voluntarily jump out of a plane, I’m a total wimp. I couldn’t even complete Go Ape because there was a three metre jumping ledge, and that was with a rope. (I had to pretend I felt sick until they let me down the secret stairs.) I suppose I’ll have to let her do it if she wants to. I won’t be able to watch.
Photo: Rebecca Need-Menear
The Motherhood Project series is available to stream via Battersea Arts Centre from 19th until 25th April 2021. For further information or to book visit here.