Arts & Culture

Interview: Jenny Sealey, Graeae Theatre Company’s artistic director

Friday 2 November
Interview: Jenny Sealey, Graeae Theatre Company’s artistic director

- November 02 at 10:00 AM

by Lizzie Ward

Jenny Sealey has been the artistic director of Graeae Theatre Company for almost fourteen years. Her achievements both with the theatre company and working on other projects are inspiring and impressive.

She has directed and performed in many plays at Graeae; and also founded a sign song drag queen troupe The Alexandra’s and Muscle Mary’s who perform in the outdoor festival circuit and are a regular feature at the Liberty Festival in Trafalgar Square.

Her freelance work includes devising and directing a number of plays for the Drill Hall and she was part of the LIFT Enquiry (London International Festival Theatre) where she directed an adaptation of Calvino’s short story And Seven and produced evidence for the LIFT Enquiry creating a short film Signs of the World, exploring the global differences of sign language. She was also appointed Co-Artistic Director of the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.

I first met Jenny Sealey when I volunteered to support deaf and hearing teenagers at an NLDCS Drama Summer School in August 2005. She was director of the workshops and performance, and her enthusiasm encouraged the teens to develop a performance using sign song, BSL and music to create a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet, performing on stage at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. I will never forget the sense of determination and confidence she instilled in the group of teens we were working with, many whom blossomed from being shy and introverted at the beginning of the workshops, to proud and open by the end.

This enthusiasm and passion is evident in her role at Graeae, “I love being the Artistic Director of Graeae. No day is ever the same and every play we do presents new challenges...the Graeae team share a passion for theatre, inclusive practice and equality.”

Working in theatre can be a challenge for deaf people, but at Graeae, BSL is standard practice so that deaf people feel included. It is important to them that the audience can access their work – so captioning and BSL have an important role in all performances, as well as audio description. When asked about her favourite aspects of her job at the theatre she replied, “It is hard to pin down what I enjoy most but seeing a play develop from a seed of an idea to full production is always exciting. I also love casting and being with actors in the rehearsal room. It is a place where your brain goes into over-drive as Graeae actors always present so many artistic possibilities it is hard to choose what to pick.”

As for advice for budding playwrights or directors, she replied, “I think deaf actors and writers need to see as much theatre as possible, attend as many training courses as possible and immerse themselves in as many theatrical styles to enable them to find out their own individual styles. It is important to find deaf only space as well as exploring working with and for deaf and hearing companies.’

Graeae’s recent play, Reasons to be Cheerful, touring the UK in the spring, is fully accessible. The play, a celebration of the work of Ian Dury (of the Blockheads), celebrates the power of punk music and stays true to the spirit of the man himself, the original disabled activist and musician. Jenny explains, “There are layers of signing, captions and short visual films to create theatrical accessibility for deaf audiences. Blind audiences have a character on stage speaking the description down a 1970's pay phone. The most important element of the play is that there is something in it for everyone. We all have the inner punk in us whatever age we are!”

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