Interview: Under the Skin with Jenny Sealey MBE

Under the Skin is a series of interviews conducted during DaDaFest International 2016. The interviews aimed to delve deeper and explore key disability-related issues relating to the arts sector and beyond. We spoke to several artists and industry leaders who attended our second international Congress.

Below is the second in our series, an interview with Jenny Sealey, CEO/ Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company. Stay tuned to our site for further text/ video interviews in the series.

Jenny Sealey MBE speaking at the 2016 DaDaFest International Congress. Photo by Mark Loudon.

Jenny Sealey MBE speaking at the 2016 DaDaFest International Congress. Photo by Mark Loudon.

1) Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

I am Jenny Sealey, and I’m CEO/ Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre, the UK’s flagship disabled- led theatre company.

2) In an interview with The Stage earlier this year, you said that casting disabled actors in non-disabled roles is still a barrier:

‘Shakespeare did not say whether Juliet was or wasn’t deaf, or blind, or disabled, so excuse me, we can be in any goddamn Shakespeare play that we want to be.’

3) Do you think we are making progress, and what more can be done to improve the current situation?

We have made some good progress in influencing the sector and it has been through collaborations between Graeae and mainstream theatres that have woken them up to the simple fact that D/deaf and disabled people can be cast in any role. The Ramps on the Moon consortium, which includes Graeae, New Wolsey, Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Ramps productions, is important. Graeae and Ramps have big inclusive casts which tour to these theatres, and we are developing backstage talent, composers and designers etc.

There is still cripping up happening which is totally galling given there is so much D/deaf and disabled talent, but people are becoming more aware of how crass this is and are thinking about casting in a different way. For example, we have just had a very good conversation regarding A Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time, where the protagonist is not played by someone on the autistic spectrum – we have discussed the potential of the role being shared or at least have other characters played by D/deaf and disabled people to balance it out. There is more opportunity to have open debate which is needed.

4) What are the three things that you hope to see happen in disability arts in the future?

I want more investment in training D/deaf and disabled actors in backstage and creative roles.  I want us to have many more platforms – we need visibility and presence everywhere because we are good in it all – drama, dance film visual art and writing.  We need to engage with young D/deaf and disabled people to make them aware of the rich history of disability arts, and we must listen to what it is they want to do and support them.


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