Why reading ‘The Gruffalo’ is still ‘Doing the Work’.

You’ve got to do the work, to do the work.’

– Pretty sure I first heard this from Brene Brown, specifically talking on vulnerability and empathy.
It’s true.

So how do you continue doing the work, when you are now a full-time mum, and your job is not one you can keep going with the way you did before, or even at all?

And what about staying sharp, being available to opportunities on the other side of this long season, with kids whose world pivots on you?

I haven’t had the pleasure of being in a play, with other actors, for about ten years.
My last full production, was working on Kinraid – an amazing musical written by my friend, Eleanor Aguis. It was so much fun. I was newly married, not yet with kids, and I do sigh slightly at how long it’s been since I flexed my acting muscles in a full-length project, because boy do I miss it!

Since having our children I am neither free nor eager to go off on tour again.
We currently have a baby under a year, two children with additional needs, and our decision to Home-Educate all four of them, means that even disappearing for a few weeks of rehearsal, prior to a series of evening performances, is not really viable right now.

So any voluntary or professional work I have taken in this season, has come in the form of single-date singing gigs or performances I could rehearse in the cracks of time around my kids, sporadic bits of filming, writing, and ad-hoc coaching or designing.

However, I have continued flexing my muscles for a longer run, by rehearsing and performing a few key pieces over the past nine years.
Toy Gruffalo and Gruffalo Mouse – taken by Cassie @Create, Perform & Mother

Pieces such as ‘The Gruffalo’ and ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’,
‘Cuddly Dudley’ and ‘One Ted Falls Out Of Bed’ – to name a few.

Each of these small but perfectly formed stories, comes complete with full cast list to delight any young child (and charm a receptive adult).
Rich in the ranges of characterisation and illustrations of deep human need, they offer a nightly challenge for my acting skills.
I have played every role, multiple times.
And nine years is a long run.

Many of these offerings have been frequently revised and re-mined for intention, emotion and eloquence – something I would be doing night after night on stage in any professional run – the main difference being that my stage has become my children’s room, and my audience, a maximum of four people at any given time.

Perhaps it sounds a bit silly. It’s obviously not The National or the Royal Shakespeare Co.

But don’t underestimate the intelligence and creative discernment of a childthey can smell disconnection and fakery a mile off.

Because, whilst they are utterly generous in their forgiveness when you mess up or when you are just so tired you can’t fully commit, kids are possibly one of the most honest, demanding and expressive audiences you could hope for.

Cassie @Create, Perform & Mother

Every time I read it, I try to be present to the story and inevitably some things change.

Each character needs a voice, so I have to think about their size, how they move, what I know of their animal traits and how these will inform the sound they make.
Sometimes the owl is more bumbling, sometimes more aggressive.
Sometimes I really ham up the comedy because my son is enjoying it so much.
Sometimes I have to go back over a line again and again, as that is what my kids want from me – each time the pay off line comes around, their shrieks of delight mean that the repetitions become more exaggerated.

Sometimes I am simply too tired.

But when I really commit, we share the beautiful partnership between audience and performer, which is so particular to live theatre.

Because what drives me to perform, is the desire to tell stories.
I inhabit someone else’s journey for a short while, use my voice to express their words and feelings in a heightened context, aiming to entertain and move an audience to greater empathy and connection.

The job offers the opportunity to leave a deep legacy in peoples’ hearts and lives, it’s an incredible privilege.

Yet this mothering lark is a pretty tremendous privilege too.

What if utillising my skills for the benefit of my four children –
is less about marking time and staying sharp until I can get back to my day job – but really about building a lasting legacy in their young hearts of the importance of story and connection?

What if through these daily, mini-performances, I am growing their capacity for empathy and understanding, giving them the space to imaginatively process their deep need for safety, love, belonging and connection, and teaching them to honour the pain and struggles of life with kindness and compassion?

If this isn’t doing the work, then what is?

Surely that is worth pondering?