New mother becomes first performer to job share in the West End

A West End performer has made history by becoming the first actress to share her role as she settles into life as a new mother.

Charlene Ford, 33, has been performing in the cast of 42nd Street in the heart of London’s West End since January 2017, even performing the role for the Duchess of Cambridge.

She spent her life training to be on the stage, and has so far enjoyed a huge number of roles, including in Cats, Crazy For You and Funny Girl.

She became pregnant with her first child, a baby boy called Jenson, and even pregnancy couldn’t slow her down, and she continued performing in the show just two months before she was due to give birth.

‘Dancers are so in tune with their bodies and I felt fine,’ she told Metro.

‘I was so active throughout my pregnancy and even when I stopped going on stage I joined the wig department until two weeks before I gave birth.’

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But when she took maternity leave to give birth in February she was initially told it would not be possible for her to return part-time.

She said: ‘I think because I still I had a job there and my contract was still there I wanted to push for a job share.

‘Its such a time when things are changing and and there are more equal rights for mums and equal pay so I decided to try for a job share, because I just thought why not?

‘Being a mum is the most important thing for me right now, but I also love what I do.

‘There are so many mums and dads who have been performing since leaving college and just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you lose that passion.’

Before she returned to work after an eight-month maternity break, she approached Jenny Legg, the actress who had been covering her role, about the possibility of sharing it.

Charlene said: ‘Jenny was absolutely on board. She’s the main person.

‘She was always my maternity cover and when I came back she would have needed to leave, so it means she’s being kept in a job she loves.

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‘I mentioned the idea to my agent and  he was very supportive.

‘It is such a large company and there would have been the cost regaring all of our costumes, but Jenny and I already have our own costumes and wigs so everything was set out for it to happen.

‘I couldn’t see a real answer for them to say no.

‘I think in any job you get people that are so career driven, but family is important.

‘I just think I’m in in my early thirties and I’m not done with the industry, but I am so lucky to have an amazing support network.

‘I did all my research and I put together a schedule together with Jenny and made them see how possible it actually was.

‘Thing is we have never even worked together but she has been so accommodating and without her it would not be possible but she is loving the job as much as I did.’

Now, the pair share the same role, with Charlene doing three shows a week, and Jenny covering the other five.

Parents in Performing Arts, a campaigning body has called the job-share as a ‘landmark moment’.

‘It’s a demanding schedule working in the theatre with rehearsals and coming home late. It’s very full on so throw a baby into the mix and it’s quite tricky,’ Charlene added.

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‘But hopefully this is the start of change.

‘I hope it is the first of many. They are now realising it absolutely makes sense to support mums in their return to work.

’42nd Street are the first to make it happen. I hope that for long running shows it will happen more and I really do think it is possible.’

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