Jenny Sealey MBE | Graeae Theatre Company | London, UK
Positive Role Model (Disability)
I'm Jenny Sealey MBE, and I'm the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Graeae Theatre Company, which places the glorious talent of D/deaf and disabled artists centre-stage, as well as training up the next generation of D/deaf and disabled artists. I also co-directed the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games with Bradley Hemmings and have been lucky enough to work with some incredible D/deaf and disabled artists from all over the world.
Originally from Nottingham, I became profoundly Deaf at the age of 7, when I was messing around after school with my then best friend Raymond Mackintosh. He pushed me, and I whacked my head on the corner of table...the rest is history. My education is full of holes, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about education, I have a forest on my shoulder, but being Deaf has made me who I am today.
I originally trained as a dancer, then an actor, and I became Graeae's Artistic Director in 1997. I’ve just got the best job in the world. Graeae is a company that is absolutely fuelled with that passion for justice and equality and belief that D/deaf and disabled people have a right to be centre stage. We have a passion to create the best theatre we possibly can. So when you’re surrounded by friends and colleagues who share that passion, we’re in it together and that’s what I love about my job, it’s always exciting, it’s always different and its always a challenge. So what Graeae does is make theatre that matters and challenge's audiences perceptions; they "fall into" the play so they stop judging. It stops being about disability, and becomes about talent.
While at Graeae, I have created a new theatrical genre, the 'aesthetics of access': creatively integrating British Sign Language, audio description and captioning into the fabric of all our shows. This means all our work is not only fully accessible, but is also a particular aesthetic which a non-disabled and hearing audience enjoy as well.
I've directed a huge variety of productions for Graeae, from musicals like Reasons to be Cheerful featuring Ian Dury and the Blockheads' gloriously anarchic songs, to large-scale outdoor productions such as This is Not For You which we did last summer, featuring a cast of over 25 disabled war veterans. In between, there's been Lorca, Shakespeare and eugenics! In recent years, I've also worked with D/deaf and disabled people in other parts of the world including Bangladesh, Japan and Brazil, where there's often even more stigma around disability in society, so we've really been able to challenge that as well through groundbreaking theatre and training programmes. In the last couple of years, we've moved into radio drama as well, with new adaptations of The Midwich Cuckoos and Little Dorrit for BBC Radio 4. D/deaf and disabled actors are rarely heard on radio, so we've started to change that.
In the time I've been at Graeae, we've trained up a new generation of young D/deaf and disabled artists through our Missing Piece and Ensemble training programmes, as well as developing the talents of writers up and down the country with our Write to Play programme. The artists and writers we've trained have gone onto win awards and showcase their talent on national stages.
Just a few days ago, I announced that I'm launching a new theatre company: Where's My Vagina? which will be devoted to telling women's stories including ageism, sexuality, menopause, and the experiences of D/deaf and disabled women amongst many other topics.
Last year, we published our first book, Reasons to be Graeae, a collection of reflections and essays looking back at the first 40 years of our extraordinary theatre company. It's billed as a 'work in progress' because there is so much more history still to come and I can't wait!