How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I’ve been Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company since 1997. Graeae was founded in 1980 to address the lack of opportunity for Deaf and disabled people in the performing arts. It is a company founded on the desire to combat social injustice and is fuelled by a passion for inclusion and the need to campaign for artistic, practical and functional access within the arts.
I love my job which is why I have been with Graeae for so many years. There is still so much to learn about artistic access (over the years we have coined the term the ‘Aesthetics of Access’ which is the practice of integrating sign language, captions and audio description into the fabric of all our productions) and there is still much to be done to challenge and change the general perception of who has the right to be a performer, writer, director etc. Our mission statement is ‘to boldly place Deaf and disabled artists centre-stage’ and until there is an equal playing field, so that Deaf and disabled artists are constantly gracing the many stages across the country, Graeae will continue to advocate this mission.
What was your first ever job?
My first Saturday job was washing up in The Peppermill in Nottingham. We got £8 and that had to last the week.
Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
My dance teacher Nora Morrison (Morrison School of Dancing in Nottingham) and the late Marielaine Church (Clarendon College 6th Form, Nottingham) who were both inspirational and pushed me to believe I could have a career in theatre.
What do you like the best about working within theatre?
I think I have the best job in the world working for Graeae as it is not just a theatre company; we make theatre that matters and use theatre to advocate and campaign for equality and a right for Deaf and disabled actors to be centre stage. I get to work with some of the most extraordinary talent that the mainstream doesn’t even think to consider. I also love that we have pioneered new theatrical narratives through exploring access as an artistic aesthetic and that many other companies are following suit. I am proud of the fact that as a company we are ever evolving, learning and thinking outside of the box.
What has been your favourite theatre production?
I am proud of all the productions I have done. Some have been infinitely more successful (Peeling, Blasted, Bent, Two, Diary of an An Action Man, Reasons to be Cheerful, The Threepenny Opera, The Iron Man and currently Blood Wedding) than others BUT each production is a huge learning curve and all have made their mark in Graeae’s history as being different, daring and pushing the boundaries of possibility.
What advice would you give emerging female practitioners in the arts today?
It is essential that emerging Deaf and disabled female actors are confident about who they are, what their access requirements are and what their USP (Unique Selling Point) is. They need to be aware of the social model of disability and have that belief that they can be cast in all manner of roles. They need to be bloody good actors and better than their non disabled peers because it is a tough, prejudiced world out there.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
I would like to nominate my Training and Learning Manager Jodi Alissa Bickerton because she is inspiring the next generation of very young disabled girls and telling them they can reach for the moon. I would also like to nominate EJ Raymond who plays the mother in Blood Wedding. She is a joy to direct is and is a hugely important role model within the Deaf arts community in Scotland.
Jenny Sealey MBE is Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company. Her current production of Blood Wedding is on national tour and visiting the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh from 8 -11 April. Visit www.graeae.org for more information.