I graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as one of the older students in my year and worked doing voiceovers, TV film and theatre acting until I had my children in my thirties.
Becoming a mum was, needless to say, a swift learning curve. My first baby was in neo-natal intensive care for the first 8 weeks of his life. It was one of the darkest times of my life. I was grieving for a baby that I had just given birth to, not knowing what was going to happen. Would I even leave with him? Thanks to his amazing NHS medical team, I did, but nothing can ever prepare you for that. Three years later he was joined by his little brother, a month before the country went into the first Covid lockdown. Funnily enough, nothing can prepare you for having a pandemic baby either.
Looking back, there was something else that parenting classes hadn’t prepared me for – the specific brand of invisibility that comes with becoming a mum and the inevitable retreat into the home that those initial weeks and months can bring. The feeling that society no longer sees you as making a valuable contribution, the bored look people give you when they ask you what you do and you say you’re a mother. No one wants to hear about nappies, night feeds and how tired you are.
Fast forward two and a half years, my family and I were lucky enough to go on our first post-pandemic holiday. I use the term ‘holiday’ loosely here, because with two children under five, it’s the same chaos, just in a warmer locale. It was on this trip that the seed of a new show was born. I’d been feeling the need to be creative again and was desperate to try to find a way to do that. I knew Rebecca, who I’d worked with in the past, felt the same. But juggling two sets of childcare between us, as well as part time jobs, the idea of making another show seemed impossible.
Wine and inspiration
One cheap bottle of Greek wine later and inspiration struck. I messaged Rebecca and said: “I’ve got this crazy idea. Let’s go try some comedy open mics and work some material there. What’s the worst that could happen?” Ha! Famous last words.
My reasoning was it would give us a place to get on stage and force our hand to start creating again but in doable bite sized chunks. Most importantly it wouldn’t require full days of rehearsal because, although we are pretty amazing plate spinners, with 4 small children between us as well as jobs, full day unpaid rehearsals were not a luxury we could afford.
So we started. We wrote our first five minute bit. The first time I went on stage, let me tell you, the fear was real! I have been on stages before in London, Glasgow and New York but this was different, weirdly exhilarating and thrillingly new.
But as we started developing the performances what we weren’t prepared for was the overwhelming feeling that we were a little out of place. We sensed that we were breaking an unspoken rule, stepping over the pre-40/post-40 line in the sand. The idea that by the time you reached 40 the dice had been rolled and that was that. That the time for trying anything new is long past, and now is the moment to lie back in the bed you made years ago. Once again, we felt unseen.
But Rebecca and I are stubborn and the sense that we didn’t quite belong, weren’t really being listened to, put fire in our bellies. We started looking for support as early-career-midlife-creators and, surprise, it didn’t exist. Being well past the targeted 18-25 bracket, we were aged out of all the schemes for early career artists. The message we were getting was clear – there is no space to take risks at this stage of life. Risk-taking is for the young. We weren’t even able to throw our hat in the ring and pitch our ideas.
A new show is born
That’s when we started developing the content of Degnerate. We began writing and devising scenes that directly spoke to the experience we were having. We wanted to highlight the way in which the media constantly bombards us with an idealisation of youth, the shaming of older women’s bodies and the notion that beauty and fertility has more social currency than the wisdom and knowledge that comes with age and experience. We wanted to express our frustration at the paradoxical instruction to embrace ageing ‘gracefully’, while flogging us endless products, classes and schemes to hide the traces of growing older.
What we found most interesting about working on our first show post-children and during midlife, was that we had so much more to say than we had when we first started working together ten years ago.
Neither of us are saying that the voices of young people should not be championed – they absolutely should. But our voices, the voices of women over 40, are valuable too. We have a wealth of collective experiences to draw upon. We realised that, aside from wanting to shout from the tops of our lungs about how magnificent midlifers and mothers are, we also wanted to highlight the power of transformation, the thrill of risk taking and the right to new beginnings at any age.
When we came across the Vault Festival we knew we had to apply and we were given a spot! The support from the festival, the UK’s leading independent showcase of live performance and artistic talent, has been tremendous. We’ve been given the space to play, experiment, take risks, regardless of age, and bring this current version of Degenerate to an audience.
When we started out, we had no idea what Degenerate would become, From those original five minute bits it has grown and changed exponentially. As it stands, it’s a dark comedy about a woman squaring up to midlife and channelling her inner vampire. Think ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ meets David Lynch. We hope it’s a wild ride – just like being a woman in midlife. Degenerate is our rallying cry to all women, to embrace taking risks and making changes at any age.
Let’s get batty!
Noon followers can get an exclusive 20% discount on tickets for Degenerate written by Maria and Rebecca, which is being performed on Jan 24th, Feb 15th and Feb 19th as part of the Vault Festival. Use the offer code Mommydearest when booking your tickets.