The performance doula

The performance doula is a project and a practice investigating care work and emotional labour within the field of dance and performance arts.

This research is articulated around the metaphor of “my work is my baby” which is often thrown around in performance circles: it’s common to hear artists say “I can't wait to put this work out into the world”, “After a premiere I always feel this post-show depression”. It investigates the potential role of a performance doula: a companion who would provide care work and emotional support to artists as they birth performances, and questions the impact of such labour on the artistic processes it supports.

A doula (the ancient Greek word for female servant) is a trained companion who is not a healthcare professional and who supports another individual (the doula's client) through childbirth. Doulas provide guidance and emotional support and are also advocating for their clients in relationship with medical institutions such as hospitals. Their work includes assistance before, during and after the birth. A doula may also provide support to the client's partner, family, and friends. It is a practice of companionate holding, especially across difficult thresholds in life. (Lewis, 2023).

This project asks, in the gestational process of performance making, how could a doula help?

I am particularly inspired by the role of Full-Spectrum Birth Doulas, and curious to translate this practice to the performance field. A full spectrum doula provides support to people before, during and after birth processes, as well as all other reproductive experiences including menstruation, adoption, stillbirth, miscarriage, or abortion. “Their role is that of an activist, advocate, ally, and radical caregiver. It involves the cultivation and co-creation of an environment free from fear.” (Apfel, 2016). I find several aspects of this job description relevant to the cultural field: Artists also need support throughout the entire duration of creative processes, and it is crucial that we create healthier working environments.


In this part of the practice, which could also be called birth-planning, I help artists conceptualise their ideas. I offer help with writing grant applications, sharing my network to find potential team members, sustainable scheduling, providing theoretical frame works and developing tangible working methodologies.


I help artists in production and join their team as a performance doula, during the gestational phase (rehearsals) and labour/birth (the week leading up to the show in the theatre/the premiere). During rehearsals, I can support with warmups, cool downs, writing program notes, designing specific feedback formats, and negotiating diverse access needs with the institutions where the artists work. The week leading up to a premiere is always intense and draining: sometimes you need a shoulder to cry on, or a body double while designing lights, or someone to pick up your mum from the airport. I provide this support as well as take on hands on care work such as preparing meals, washing costumes, social media advertisement and documentation and calming pre-show nerves


Right after a show, what I call the post-partum period, is usually an emotional roller-coaster: one has to deal with the aftermath of the birthing process, feeling physically exhausted, and usually not having time to rest but already planning the next project instead. I want to encourage artists to take time to recover, by offering to work with them on recovery practices. These include somatic work, feedback sessions, reflections on the process, mediation within the team and archival work

“Having a performance doula in my team has deeply softened the overall experience of birthing a new work. Claire has held space for me to question what I need for myself in a process and by doing so supported me in generating a healthy and rich working structure. She has also supported me with theoretical input in the form of articles, books, etc that support my research, private yoga classes, and playful witnessing when I need an “audience” in the room. It is also a great comfort to me to know that after the premiere I will have the opportunity for a postpartum gathering with Claire to reflect and rest in the aftermath of this new works birth.” Alex Franz Zehetbauer.