Miriama McDowell is mothering her on-stage son, as the pair act a scene from
coming-of-age play Astroman, an Albert Belz drama opening this month as part of the Auckland Arts' Festival season.
The longtime stage and screen actor fixes his outfit, scolds him and holds him close as they rehearse the Te Rēhia Theatre Company production at Auckland Theatre Company's Mt Eden base.
A few metres away, McDowell's real-life daughter, 15-month-old Hero, is in the arms of a colleague.
The tot looks confused as she watches McDowell acting.
But while she might be perplexed to see her mum playing mum to a teenage boy, little Hero is chill.
And her mum is too, because when director Tainui Tukiwaho and Te Rēhia Theatre Company kaihautū (leader) Amber Curreen asked her to be in Astroman, she initially, reluctantly, turned them down.
A single mum to Hero and 7-year-old Talanoa, McDowell didn't believe she could make the commitment — hours of rehearsals, other preparation and then an almost month-long season where she would be performing most nights and some afternoons too.
"We had a meeting, [but it was] to say 'Thanks, but I can't do it'. And they were amazing because they went 'Oh well, we really want you do it and we hear that — let's talk about how we might make it work, in the dream world how could it work?'
"And that's a pretty awesome starting point."
The Toi Whakaari graduate had pushed for more parent-friendly working environments previously, asking for, and being given, permission last year to have Hero with her during rehearsals for Sam Brooks' political thriller Burn Her.
But Curreen and Tukiwaho had gone even further — in fact, McDowell expected other theatre producers would "shake in their boots" when they heard what had been arranged to help the mum-of-two take the role of Michelle in the play.
"These guys are amazing .... when I'm doing the show they've agreed to employ someone for 50 per cent of the time that I'm on stage — there's someone they're giving 40 hours of work to, and 20 hours of that is my childcare.
"We also had beautiful conversations about making the space kid and family friendly. In the theatre we're going to set up a room that is specially for our kids where they feel like they can go and hang out."
For Curreen, a mum herself, a key factor was knowing stage acting was not a high-paying job.
Pockets to pay for childcare were less likely to be deep and, as a result, the voices of women such as McDowell might not be heard.
"The irony of it for us is the role she's playing is the role of a mother. She needs to be able to be a mother, as well as playing a mother. You can't be going 'Yes we want you to play a mother, but we're going to make life really hard for you to be a mother outside this'."
McDowell knows she's putting herself in a vulnerable position by insisting on a family-friendly work environment. She'd missed out on at least one job because she was a mum.
"[I said] if you employ me, I need to know about these things. And the company came back and said 'Yeah, we're going to give the job to this guy', and I went back and was like 'Yeah, he's a 20-year-old single man.
"It's a lot easier to give the job to that guy, but I want you to think about it again'."
She was proud to be doing her bit to change attitudes, for herself and those who follow.
"I feel like I'm really forging a pathway, and that feels like a really important job and a big job."
It hit home recently when she watched Auckland Theatre Company ambassadors talking to a group of high schoolers.
"This thought popped into my head, 'These girls want to be actresses, one day they'll have children and because of these conversations I'm having now, they will be able to do that and it will be easier'.
"I feel like every conversation I have is just a little shift for the women that come next."