Ahead of the latest production to be performed by deaf and disabled-led Graeae Theatre Company at the Southbank Centre, CEO and Artistic Director Jenny Sealey MBE talks to City Matters about working in the industry, her role at the renowned theatre company, and the latest production, The Paradis Files.
Can you tell us a little about Graeae Theatre Company, and your role as Artistic Director?
Graeae is UK flagship deaf and disabled led theatre company. Our mission 40 years ago when the company was founded was and still is: to place deaf disabled and neuro divergent actors, writers and directors centre stage and to give barrier free training opportunities by ensuring all access is in place to support people.
We have pioneered a new theatrical language exploring different ways of embedding audio description, sign language and captioning creatively into each production. It is an exciting and theatrically rich way of working.
I was a jobbing actor, but when I was pregnant with Jonah (my best ever production) I panicked about how I would tour with a baby. I saw an advert for a trainee director role with Interplay Theatre in Leeds so at eight months pregnant – I did my first directing and fell in love with it.
Being at Graeae is a huge privilege and my role is to make and facilitate radical accessible theatre and to use the theatre we make as a vehicle for social change. We have an incredible new writing team, a creative learning team as well as commitment to accessible marketing and digital ways of working. We are so much more than just a theatre company!
Can you tell us about the upcoming production The Paradis Files and the story of Maria Theresia von Paradis?
Maria Theresia von Paradis was a contemporary of Mozart. We all know who he is, but not her. This production places Theresia firmly in the limelight and back into the history books as an extraordinary pianist and composer who was blind. She was a latter day feminist, leading the life she wanted to lead, going on tour, having fun and frolics and then setting up a music school for blind girls .
Rehearsals are magical but tough as Composer Errollyn Wallen loves to challenge singers, so they really have their work cut out! The process between Errollyn and the librettist Nicola Werenowska and Selina Mills, our Musical director Andrea Brown has been hugely collaborative which has been crucial to share our understanding of the possibility and necessity of access.
We have not yet had our rehearsals with BBC Concert Orchestra, but I am so excited to have such a big band in the Graeae rehearsal room!
I really hope audiences leave wanting to find out more about Theresia and her music and are curious about who are the other deaf and disabled people who have been left out of history. I want them to enjoy this rather irreverent approach to opera and applaud the talent of my wonderful ensemble – which also includes Max Marchewicz and Chandu Gopalakrishnan who are performance sign language interpreters.
The Paradis Files will play the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in April.
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre SE1 8XX
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