On 18 August 2022, we will be celebrating Jenny Sealey’s 25 years as Artistic Director and CEO at Graeae. Since 1997, Jenny has been running Graeae with tenacity, kindness and an unwavering commitment to ensuring Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent artists shine in the spotlight, while also nurturing and cultivating a future generation. She has propelled the company to major stages across the UK and the world, and was recently (and deservedly) made an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2022.
Her courage and activism has made Graeae what it is today and we can’t wait to share many more years with Jenny leading the way.
A massive thank you to Jenny from all of us at Graeae!
Jenny shares with us 25 things she has taken away and learnt during those years.
- You are only as good as your last show, so never sit on one’s laurels and think you know it all because you DON’T
- It is ok not to know, but always be curious to find out
- Kindness is hugely important
- No two shows are ever the same. It is an asset if you can avoid being pigeoned holed.
- Casting is great fun and it is important to cast team players
- Everyone has to start somewhere. Graeae is a brilliant place to start
- You will not please everyone ever, but you should always try
- Access to drama training is crucial, but it is easy to get swallowed by bureaucracy so it is sometimes better to just create the training yourself!
- Being part of Graeae is a safe place to fuck up, but you have to take responsibility for your mistakes; learn from them. It is vital to share the learning of both the good stuff and the shit
- Ego in my book means Engaging. Generosity and Openness. A mantra I have tried to live by, but sometimes I have been Enraged Greedy and Opportunist
- A good Board of Trustees is essential and it is important that they challenge you – just make sure you have the answers
- Managing people is complicated, but always worth it if you create space, time and care
- Change is slow, so patience is an essential virtue, but at the same time it is OK to be a stuck record! I still have frustration (or is it despair) that after 25 years we are still having some of the same conversations, so of course, I get on my soap box
- Ableist theatre gatekeepers need to be consistently challenged and be reminded of the intersectionality of our community
- Collaboration is an essential component of theatre making
- Learn from what young people have to say and give them the creative platforms
- Coining the Aesthetic of Access has taken Graeae on a life-long journey which has impacted on the wider industry
- We are a theatre company – people forget this and think we only do ‘access stuff’. Access within a play starts from the moment the writer starts writing or the play is chosen. It’s not a bolt on at end of rehearsals
- People arrive at Graeae, absorb what they need and then they fledge their wings and fly away from us. I am always bereft, but also excited about what they will go on to do. It’s bittersweet. People often come back to do projects. This is joyous.
- Changing and evolving with the times – politically, economically and socially is healthy and keeps the heartbeat of company strong. I too have changed with the company and have not yet left as there is so much still to learn
- There are some theatres I would love to direct for, but I am tired of jumping through hoops to make this happen and I refuse to beg
- I run Graeae on fear – fear of disabled artists being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ as far as our industry is concerned. If I had it my way we would do a zillion plays a year in a diversity of venues and platforms (all accessible obvs) across the UK
- In a crisis (pandemic) you don’t necessarily need to shrink, but rather you can expand (thank you for that sage advice, Stephen Daldry). And Graeae did expand – 4 new associates artists and a huge programme of work!
- If someone tells me I can’t do something, that is like red rag to a bull
- Graeae is truly awesome. Our team and all of you who have been part of my 25-year journey – you are the core reason the company still feels relevant and important. Thank you from my whole heart. You know who you are.
Jenny shares a selection of her favourite pictures from past shows she has directed.