In House podcast: transcript for Ep. 9 — Graeae

Transcribed for the hard of hearing. Audio available here.

JT: Really excited to be here with Jenny Sealey biscuit I am Jess Thom biscuit fuck an artist and performer with Tourettes syndrome biscuit so you’re gonna hear the words biscuit and hedgehog a lot biscuit. Jenny thank you so much for joining us for this podcast. Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about the history of Graeae?

JS: I am Jenny Sealey, I am artistic director of Graeae Theatre, and this month I’ve been at Graeae for 21 years!

JT: Yaaaaay!

JS: I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that I don’t actually want to be anywhere else. Graeae started nearly 40 years ago because Nabil Shaban wanted to be an actor, and his tutor Richard Tomlinson sort of encouraged to go out and about and become an actor, but none of the drama schools would have him, the theatres certainly weren’t interested in him, so he stuck 2 fingers up at the establishment, went to the arts council, got a grant, and set up Graeae. That’s sort of a very short version. It took a long time for him to set it up, but thank god he did. Because it was the first of its kind, but the central message of graeae still remains the same. The profiling, the skills, the excellence and the professionalism of deaf and disabled artists, and putting them centre stage, on the stage, at the top, backstage, wherever. But we are leading out own narrative. That’s Graeae.

JT: Yeahhh, biscuit, biscuit, hedgehog, and so what does Graeae mean to you, how did you get involved?

JS: Graeae means absolutely everything (deep breath) Sorry… It means everything to me. I went for an audition in 1989, 87 89 I get the dates muddled up. The room was just full of women, disabled women, it’s just like oh my god, oh my god. And there was Caroline Parker, this fantastic blend of colour, and — and she had flippers, because we had to take something with us, an object, and it was just this multitude of women and nobody apologising for their physical difference in their appearance or communication difference, and it was the first time in my entire life at the age of 24, I was like I’m Jenny, and I’m deaf. And suddenly, boof, I belonged! YES! So that was me as an actor, I had the biggest learning curve in my entire life doing a Graeae tour. I thought if I can do a Graeae tour I can do anything. But what it meant was actually, for us 4 actors, we had to be so tight knit for us to support each other. And that’s very very linked to the Graeae story, the 3 Graeae sisters who shared an eye and a tooth. You know, share what you have, back each other up. And I hope that that is also still central to the ethos of how I like to work as a director, when i came back all those years later, 21 years later.

JT: And you must biscuit you must see that journey reflected in other younger disabled people coming into the profession now and coming into spaces like Graeae.

JS: I really really can. I can see with our ensemble, just see them relinquish, it feels like they’ve been holding on and hiding being disabled and being other, and just letting that just go, and redefining and refinding themselves. And that journey is really an emotional rollercoaster, to see them just fighting with themselves, and readapting, and then that moment when they just ‘boof’, and they own them.

JT: Can you tell us a little bit more about the different programmes and projects, and how Graeae works?

JS: The company is much more than just theatre, I mean I think there’s an extraordinary amount of activism that goes on, especially in light of all the cuts to the Independent Living Fund, and access to work, so one of the things we created was a verbatim piece called ‘Sorry’, which highlights those very issues. So that’s like, ongoing, because the political situation is not going to change, it’s getting worse. We’ve got the most extraordinary Right To Play scheme, which is now in Year 6, we’ve worked in the North-West, the North-East, the Midlands, and now we’re working down in the South-West. It’s developing a cohort of in each region 5 deaf and disabled writers, complete with mentors and complete with links to the main regional theatres in those regions. The idea is that we develop, we nurture, we give play-readings, so we have Miniatures where they do a monologue, then Miniatures 2 with a duologue, and then they write their full length play which we have a reading of. But the idea is that those theatres capture those writers, and then take them on to the next phase of their journey, because Graeae’s too green to do that. So it’s been an amazing project, and we have a wealth of really quite extraordinary writers. We’ve got our Ensemble, it’s the hardest age group, 18–25, the hardest age-group to get money for, and that’s the age where so many deaf and disabled fall off. End of full time education, they don’t go to, don’t have the wherewithal to go to University, drama schools are not interested. So there is a real lack of provision. So we are trying to, trying to fundraise, so we can do the next one in 2020. So that’s the really, really important part of our work. And then Dodi, who runs our Education, director training and learning, I mean my god she’s extraordinary, she’s got about a million different projects. She does Ensemble, she does all the workshops that are connected to any major production, she also runs The Rollettes, which are our little ones. We used to have a wheelchair, power chair troupe called The Rhinestone Rollers, and on the back of that some of the younger ones wanted to join in, so they got called The Rollettes. So that name has stuck! But they are actually our young ambassadors and advisors. We have playlabs, so anybody can pitch, and they have 1 or 2 days with money attached to it to develop an idea they’ve been thinking about. And we can find the right artists to collaborate, or they come with the artists they want to work with. Umm, what else do we do — we do circus training, we do — I mean, we just don’t stop! We do a lot of stuff.

JT: And productions!

JS: Oh yes put that, we do theatre! We do a lot of co-productions, and over the last year we’ve been co-producing our ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ which is our Ian Drury think tank rock-fest, which we love doing, and we’d do it again and again and again if we could. We’ve just been collaborating with 14–18 NOW, the WW1 Centenary, with Blesma, British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association, and with Gulbenkian, to do a big outdoor piece called ‘This Is Not For You’, with 25 wounded veterans and 5 professional performers, plus a choir, plus opera, plus stuff. But part of that training was Storytelling training for those veterans who for whatever reason don’t have the physical core to be able to do aerial work. Those that did, most of them were amputees, they had circus training, and then we mapped the whole thing together with 2 weeks rehearsal.

JT: Wow!

JS: I mean, I will never do that again! But we did it in 2 weeks, and the learning for the company has just been so profound, and I think the learning for the veterans has been really profound. I mean some of them were saying, oh Jenny, what am I doing this for, I don’t like doing this, to a complete turnaround 3 weeks later, would you do it again — in a heartbeat I’d do it again. So it’s also about pushing people who don’t think themselves as artists, really pushing them to rethink that. Because in my mind, everyone is an artist. So other productions — we do radio, that’s been a new thing. Radio 4 commissioned Midwich Cuckoos last year, we did Hunchback of Notredame a few years before, this year we’re doing Little Dorrit, and next year we’re doing Checkov’s 3 Sisters.

JT: Wow.

JS: I love the whole thing. Deaf Girl does radio, I mean I direct it but I can’t hear it! So it feels a bit weird, but it’s alright.

JT: It’s great, it’s great! You talked about writers, and nurturing new writing talent — is there a story that you found that was really important to you, or the story that really captured your imagination — or is there too many?

JS: I mean there’s so many things I would love to do with Graeae, if money was no object. I think as a company we have a responsibility to just play as disabled people into an extant narrative, like Bernada Alba, but all the cast, all the women in Bernada Alba are disabled women. So it shifts, it shifts and intensifies the message of what that play is about, and also in that particular play allows us to play within the hierarchy of disability, and the hierarchy of deafness, and all the rest — and it adds extra flesh and meat and stuff. So that’s really important part. But also there’s a new work, you know like where we’re telling a story and wounded veterans, who coming back feel like it its better to come back dead than it is to come back disabled. So you know, stores about being disabled people in the world that we live, and I’ve just had a meeting today about looking at Lady Chatterly’s Lover — is that something that Graeae would be interested in, and I said well it’s just about one mans experiences, but does it have that, can we adapt it, can we flesh it out, can we think about what is the experience of, you know, men who become disabled who might not be able to have penetrative sex, what that different sort of sensuality, how do we put that on the stage, what are the politics around that? So then I start to think, ‘Oh actually!’, this is interesting! I don’t think it’s ground-breaking, or taboo breaking, but all that stuff still needs more investigation and highlighting. Because there’s still a million million different redemptions around disability and sex.

JT: Yeah, yes, biscuit, one of my favourite quotes that I’ve seen from you ever, and I might misquote you, but it really really hit me and stayed in my mind, was a quote that you said — Shakespeare didn’t, didn’t specify whether Juliet was or was not a wheelchair user, or whether Horatio had a differing speech pattern. And so that idea that seems central to Graeae, which is placing disabled people at the heart of stories, some of which are about disabilities, many of which aren’t directly about that.

JS: But for all of us it’s about doing the work that we do, it’s just trying to gently nudge an audience so that we are fully fledged, 3 dimensional human beings. And just, get it over it really.

JT: Can you describe Graeae’s approach to integrating access, because thats one of things that has felt like its been really groundbreaking within the work that Graeae does.

JS: I think everything starts from the inside out, and I think thats what — I have many many meetings with people that ask how do you, what do you want to do, but they’re coming from the outside — what we’ve done is got messy, got really messy — so you know, there’s a multiple of choices, certainly now through technology. But it’s still that same thought process, what serves the right of the play? Then you have to go back and think does it serve the right of access for the audience, and if it’s too compromised you have to rework some of it, and that sometimes can get messy and that’s sometimes where it all falls down the swanny. I don’t think we’ve ever ever made a 100% fully glorious accessible play, we haven’t done it yet. But, in the same vein though, some plays allow themselves to be naturally audio-described, some are better in the ear, and Reason to be Cheerful was in the ear, the 1970s payphone with our guy Pickles, chatted to blind audiences and other cast members would come up during the show and have a little chat with Blind Derek. So, I remember Armela Carvelho just laughing out loud because what Pickles was saying down the phone only a blind audience would get, not a clean sighted audience. i quite like that playing maverick with the audience, some get it some don’t, people get different things at different times. But what is important is the experience of the audience, they feel they have equality and they feel like they have ownership over the piece. Does that make sense?

JT: Absolutey, yes, it makes so much sense. What biscuit what is the most important thing you’ve learned as an Artistic Director?

JS: Be kind. Be Kind. Be patient. Don’t take no for an answer. There have been so many people who have gone ‘Oh Jenny can’t do that, you can’t do that’, I’m like, helloooo? That’s like a red rag to a bull! If someone says I can’t do it then, I’m doing it!

JT: Yes I know that.

JS: In terms of actors, there are so many directors, or so many people, who would like to break down actors and then build them back up, and I don’t like that, I’d rather encouragement and positivity. I try to create an ensemble, I think that’s the thing for learning. I think, ego is important if it means, you know, engaging, generosity and openness. Not if its the sort of greed, and opportunities — ego has to mean the right thing if you want to be a part of Graeae. And sometimes I don’t always get the best actor, but I get the best team player. And I think that’s really really important. I think trust is fundamental. My team are phenomenal. They know, and I let them lead their bit and get on with it. I do feel very blessed, because over this last summer they have worked over the odds to make ‘This Is Not For You’ happen, because it’s been a real test in terms of our understanding in a wider scope of accessibility, in terms of access, to physically be present to make the work. Because of a range of real PTSD, different physicalities, different stump issues, you think wow. And people overheating. I am learning, I am learning, I don’t know any answers, I don’t know what it means to be an Artistic Director, all I know is us all working together to keep being truthful to our mission.

JT: And when biscuit when you say PTSD, that’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and biscuit that I think — it’s very easy for us as a society to have a very narrow view of what disability looks like, and what disabling barriers are, and I think whats really exciting about companies like Graeae is the really broad range of impairments, and working with a really broad range of people, and so presenting that very diverse experience of disability. But often that sense of, that sort of exclusion that we feel can actually feel very similar. So you can have people with very different impairments, very different bodies, but actually some of those experiences sometimes overlap.

JS: I think the one thing is, actually the biggest thing is never assume. And never sit on your fanny and rest on your laurels. Because after 2012, doing the Paralympic opening ceremony, people said oh you can do anything, but no, you are as good as your last show. You can’t just assume, oh yeah I’ve done a big show I know it all now, no I really don’t. The detail that goes into doing a show for 10 people is the same as doing a show for 10’000 people. It’s about that commitment, that detail, and that passion, it works both ways. You know, you get it wrong one show and you have to pick yourself up and go ‘God, right, that didn’t go well did it. Right, on to the next one.’ My skin is not as thick as I would like it be after 21 years, it’s a bit gossamer. But one day.

JT: biscuit and has there been a space, a performer, a venue, a story that’s really surprised you?

JS: Oh, I’ve got a million examples. I think when we did our first ever Reasons To Be Cheerful, none of us knew whether it would work, and we had all these suits and ties were coming up, and we were going oh my god, it’s not a play for suits and ties! But as the show went on they loosened their ties, and took their jackets off, of course they were the original punks. How can I assume just cause they’ve got a suit and tie, the inner punks not still there? That was an eye opener. I think it’s about the playfulness of the space that we try to create can enable someone to find their potential, and this one young man, Stephen Bence, double amputee arrived at 2012 for rehearsals, the circus training — he wouldn’t let anyone see his legs, he always wore long tracky bottoms. He wouldn’t take his legs off to go on the trapeze — the older veterans would take their legs off, the older artists who were more au fait with their bodies, he wouldn’t. And then one day he came in with shorts on, and we were all ‘look — Steve’s got shorts on, he’s got shorts on, it’s brilliant!’ And then ‘Steve has taken his legs off, he’s on the trapeze without his legs!’ And just seeing him just go it’s alright to be me, and buying some swimming legs, taking his kids swimming, stop being embarrassed by the burns on his body from the meningitis — suddenly there’s a whole new, it’s like a cocoon, and a butterfly, a splendid butterfly emerged — and he’s still that man. So there’s stories like that, I remember the veterans, one of them — they’re not artists as it were, but I said to one of them take your jacket off, because of the heat, and he said ‘No Jenny, I’m not taking my jacket off now, I’m thinking about the narrative, the narrative is I come home from war, we have the drinking song, and then I meet my wife. I would have my uniform on when I meet my wife, come on!’ Oh, oh yes right you’re way ahead of me. Thinking like an artist. So I’ve been lucky, blessed, with so many glorious relationships with artists, and venues, New Wolsey has been one particular one that has been supportive for a long time, and Theatre Royal Stratford, that will always have a home, because the co, Michael, was one of the first directors to say, Jenny what do you want to do? You know when I went to him with Reasons he didn’t want to take over, he just let me be the lead artist. Which was really — I’m eternally grateful to him. He trusts me, so that’s been a journey though, getting these people to think, this deaf bint, she can do this. It’s bloody work, I still have to prove myself, there’s still a level of distrust about what can these people do, what can they achieve.

JT: Yeah, and do you get a sense that that’s moving at all, that power is shifting at all, and places are opening up? Or is it actually very similar to when you first got involved with Graeae 20 years ago?

JS: It’s shifting, I mean I think Unlimited has been amazing, I think Ramps On The Moon is really shifting, but what we still need to make sure is that we the narrators of our destiny. It’s very easy for the non-disabled world to just colonise everything that we’ve been working towards, and make it their own, and then it gets institutionalised, then stamp of approval, you must feel that in your work?

JT: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.

JS: We have to just sort of like, hang on to, be leading. And that’s the only thing, cause it’s exactly the same thing happens in the black community, they felt like suddenly, everything has just been taken away from all of the stuff they fought for, certainly in terms of leadership. So I remember talking to Kwame about that, who’s now the director of the Young Vic, so we just need to be careful, and make sure we don’t get taken over.

JT: Hold space.

JS: Does that make sense though?

JT: Yeah it does, it absolutely does.

JS: Drama schools are starting to get it. So the world is looking a lot rosier. But then we’ve got the double whammy of Government cuts to access to work and all the rest of it. So it’s like oh my god, we’re — we’re caught, we’re caught up in it all.

JT: And biscuit and Unlimited is the commissioning scheme that champions high quality work by deaf and disabled artists. Could you tell us more about Ramps On The Moon, and how that works, and how’s that working with venues?

JS: Ramps On The Moon is a consortium of Nottingham Playhouse, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Birmingham Rep, Theatre Royal Stratford, New Wolsey Theatre, um — I’ve missed some, oh Sheffield Theatres. And it’s for the non-disabled Artistic Directors of those organisations to start to normalise the inclusion deaf and disabled people in their venues. That’s sort of the mission. Graeae is obviously the ground advocate of all of this. So the idea, it came from when we did Reasons, and then we did Threepenny Opera at the New Wolsey, and we went to all those venues. And Sarah Holmes was really the driving force of Ramps, said why don’t we have something that means we can do one big show every year, that’s really inclusive. But those theatres are also now taking on responsibilities not to just have that one big show inclusive, they’re really starting to think about having all their plays having deaf and disabled cast members, so it’s opening up very very wide doors.

JT: biscuit is your experience that once you start sort of nudging your way in, and people feel more comfortable, and less fearful of deaf and disabled people’s bodies, and requirements, that that sort of opens up, and you can nudge your way in?

JS: I think that nudging is a really nice way of putting it! It’s also, within theatre everyone likes to get there first, so there’s a lot of nudging going on, but also it’s in that healthy spectrum of the competitiveness of the theatre world to be seen to get there first.

JT: So we biscuit I think we should talk about access to work, and the independent living fund, and the climate that we are both making work in, and that Graeae is operating in. Do you want to explain a bit about what access to work is, and the shift it has meant for disabled artists?

JS: Access to work was, and still could be, the best Government scheme which allows access to work. So it means I’ve got Jude Mahon her in the room, she’s my interpreter, you’ve got your PA, we have our access support enabling us to be here. Brilliant. And during 2012, because I had so many disabled people on our training course, we had 44 deaf and disabled people, I had a team of about 9 interpreters, access support workers — but the access to work team came to see what the work was, so they finally got it, they got what we were applying for. And that hasn’t really happened since, because the Government have cut it, cut it, cut it, cut it, cut it. And for deaf people, because so many interpreters are — they train for 7 years, you know, the skill is extraordinary. They normally work in pairs, so for a full day conference you have to have 2 because of the amount of processing the brain has to do to deliver full quality to the deaf person. They are more expensive. So deaf people are really, really suffering. The government put a cap on of 41’000, that’s now 57’000 — fat lot of good that does, because my job, with the diversity of work and the internationalism of work I do, I am over 57’000 pounds worth. So I am having to, I’ve got a midway meeting, I’ve already used most of my year. Umm. I don’t know what we’re going to do. So I am really having to censor what I take on. So if I am having a day of meetings, that’s great, I have Jude with me the whole day, or 2 interpreters if they’re not 1 to 1 meetings like this meeting — but if it’s one off, just one hour here or there, I can’t do it. So I don’t go. And I think the most important thing for deaf and disabled artists, or anybody, deaf and disabled people working, to have visibility in the workplace. Because that is how people will remain in people’s consciousness. So the Government say they want us to work, but if they are taking away the money to enable us to work, we will become invisible, and that terrifies me.

JT: Yeah.

JS: It’s so prohibitive, it’s so damaging. And the Independent Living Fund, don’t get me started on that. The whole PIP, what is it, Personal…

JT: Personal Independent Payments.

JS: Personal Independent Payments, the questioning, the the enquiries, the interrogation, are you really disabled, can you walk that far, ah you can walk that far, yes I can walk that far now, but I’m not sure I can walk back — oh really? Oh, the stories we have heard, it’s just stripping dignity and human rights, and I think the Government needs to be hauled up to court for this. It’s horrendous. And it’s… it’s a weird one, because in one way the theatres open their doors, but they won’t open their doors very wide anymore, because it comes at such a cost. And with Graeae, a third of our grant from the Arts Council we spend on unclaimable access, for the Rollettes, for all the training — we have to pay for it. Not very many other companies will do that.

JT: And it must be incredibly frustrating for you to go from a situation where you’ve seen not having a scheme like access to work, you’ve then experienced it when it was based on people’s requirements, and was therefore levelling the playing field and equalising access — it must be incredibly frustrating to see that being capped, and to see your career being capped, and the ambitions and careers of people around you also capped, because similarly to you I also have to make decisions on what work I take on based on whether i can afford it from an access point of view, and that’s not a level playing field.

JS: It does make you feel, umm, it makes you feel dirty, I can’t think of another word. I have cried in so many board meetings. Battered, thinking, do I go down to 3 days a week? It’s just, it’s just unbelievable… And you know, after 2012 for deaf and disabled people we had a fantastic ceremony, we had — the sport was amazing, we had Unlimited which was extraordinary — and WOW! We were sexy, and desirable, and mega! And then BOOM. We plummeted. And I never expected that crash to be as speedy as it was. It was horrendous. And I still think we’re still trying to pick up ourselves, ready for the next onslaught. We will still have to carry on fighting.

JT: Yep. And what role does creativity have in your life? Like, I certainly find it protective in some ways, in terms of like, the precariousness as a disabled person. But what role does it play in your life?

JS: I think it’s everything, really. That’s a really interesting question, umm… It’s one of those things, because there is so much administration in my job, and I’m quite a good desk-based Artistic Director because I like being in the office. And so sometimes I think oh my god I’ve been so by-desked, doing funding applications or whatever, ohh — have I got any artistic thoughts in my head? Then we start talking about a new play or something, and I can feel it bubbling, and I think oh thank god it’s still there! But creativity is only manufactured really by being with other people. I don’t sit down and think ohh, I’m a lovely creative person, but when I’m with other people I love how they pull it out of me. That’s why I love being with actors and writers, they say something and just light all these fires, and I’m like oh my god, oh yes we can do that, we can do that! But when I just look around people who have suppressed their creativity, or don’t think they’re creative, it breaks me really, because I think everyone is. But that’s another thing the Government are doing, stopping drama, art, music, all the rest of it in schools — it is fundamental to being human, being creative. It really is.

JT: What’s coming up for Graeae? What’s on the horizon?

JS: What’s on the horizon?! Umm, I’m praying that a stork will arrive with a million pounds attached to it’s feet, and drop on the roof of the Graeae building! I think it’s a really important part, I think we should be a part of the November remembrance, I really want that to happen. Umm, I’m off to Japan, to start building a seedbedding for something’s thats inspired by The Tempest, and I want that to be an international project with all the disabled artists I’ve worked in all the different countries — god knows if that will work or not, but I want to try and make that work. And Graeae is a resident artist of the International Festival in Milton Keynes, and we’ve just commission a new opera. So stuff really!

JT: It seems like you’re really skilled at identifying the talents, or skills, you need — whether that’s from actors, or whether that’s from partners, but you’re really good at finding collaborators and pulling them together. Do you think that’s an important skill that you have as an Artistic Director?

JS: I do have that, I’m nosy, I’m very nosy, and I think that really helps. And I also… I ask. You know, I went to Rufus Norris and said, please will you take The Solid Life of Sugar Water, it’s got fantastic reviews in Edinburgh, and he went yeah, so I went, oh my god brilliant!

JT: That’s how you did it!

JS: That’s how I did it! And then I said, will you take Reasons To Be Cheerful, and he went no. Oh. But ask, you know, I think you have to be direct. Life’s too short. People can then say no.

JT: Solid Life of Sugar Water was the first play I ever went to see at The National Theatre. I hadn’t been there as an audience member, biscuit, I’m still very careful about where I go and about how I go, and I felt, you know, there I think, biscuit, having Tourettes means that I feel like I don’t always belong in those spaces. And it was amazing to go, and feel like I definitely belonged. And to see stories and characters I could relate to in a place like that.

JS: It’s a brilliant piece of theatre, by my lovely Amit Sharma. Very good director.

JT: What do you think the challenges are facing the sector, from your perspective?

JS: Well it’s going to be economic. You know, with standstill funding, with cuts to the access to work, certainly it is very damaging for a company like Graeae, we’ve got to try and find other sources of money. But everyone, everyone, is fighting for the same pots of money. And how do you say, how do you say oh we’re unique — Graeae is unique, sort of, but not as unique as it was, because loads of other companies have spawned and grown and developed, which is brilliant, there’s plenty of space for all of us… That’s why the book, the Graeae book, Reasons To Be Graeae, a work in progress, is very important. Because I think the challenge for Graeae is to be brave enough to recognise when we’ve passed our sell by date. I don’t think we’re there yet. But maybe there will come a time, because of all the advocacy that we’re all doing, you included, all of us, all the disability arts lot, we really are fighting for access to the wider world. And once we’ve got that, we’ve done what we said we would do. So for a company like Graeae, will the Arts Council think the works been done by Graeae, now everyone is inclusive, and singing and dancing, brilliant, so boom, let’s close the company. It may happen. So I think that’s a challenge, to keep testing new ground, still being as creative as we possibly can, but like I said to recognise if we pass our sell by date. I don’t want that to happen. I do, but I don’t, do you know what I mean?

JT: It’s a weird situation to be in, to really really passionately want that change so it’s available to everybody, and its where its deeply embedded in mainstream venues, but also, knowing and feeling how important it is to have spaces where you feel understood, and you feel a sense of solidarity.

JS: I was the only one at Middlesex Poly, I was completely isolated. I didn’t know my backside to my elbow, I was so on my own. I had to do all my study alone in the library, thank god it was a practical course, I did dancing, but when I look at all the Ensemble lot, they’ve got each other, they can just be as deaf and disabled people they are, they don’t have to apologise for any of it. So I think there will always be that need to have the same space.

JT: What advice do you have for disabled people looking for a career in the theatre?

JS: Come and see me! Come to Graeae, go and see lots of theatre, go to your local youth theatre — and if it’s not accessible, or if it’s not, you know, physically accessible, that you can work around that somewhere along the line, but if their attitude is pants then come and see me, and I will have a word. But come, come to us, what we can do, and what we are so generous with our time at Graeae, is trying to support and signpost people in the right direction. We are quite an extraordinary community of people, and a whole lot of wealth between us all, and that really needs to be distributed.

JT: It does feel like there’s a real generosity with knowledge and skill within that sector, and certainly I know that I benefited hugely from your support, at a point where I was just making that step onto the stage, roll up the ramp onto the stage, so I will always be very grateful for Graeae’s and yours support with that. Graeae is a remarkable company, and I’m very glad it exists.

JS: It is a remarkable company, and I’m so privileged and so lucky to work for Graeae.

JT: Thank you so much Jenny for speaking to me today, biscuit, and to everyone for listening, biscuit, if you want to keep up to date with Graeae, then follow them on the StageDoor app, biscuit. Thanks again to Jenny, biscuit, and to Jude, who’s been the British Sign Language interpreter today, and also to my PA Debbie. Thank you so much!

London’s most comprehensive theatre guide, tailor-made for you. Unforgettable theatre experiences begin with Stagedoor. Download:

London’s most comprehensive theatre guide, tailor-made for you. Unforgettable theatre experiences begin with Stagedoor. Download: