An update from Graeae – 2020

Fundraising and Support

At the start of lockdown, some of our core funders opened up a conversation with us about how we could use their funds to see us through to 2021. This helped us find stability in the centre of the crisis and helped focus our energies on those in greatest need.

Thanks to that certainty, we were able to address the challenges that our Deaf and disabled artists were facing. Our artists were dealing with massive losses of income, were excluded from many of the government support schemes and many fell within the “at risk” group; needing to isolate for longer.

Since March, we have been intensively fundraising for a package of support that will enable those artists to continue to work in the industry as professionals when things return to (relative) normality. We’ve also been offering opportunities to get new work seen outside of the auditorium and online – opening up a whole new audience for Graeae.

Since April, 40,000 people have now watched a Graeae production online, over 2m listened to our Radio 4 plays and 1,800 took part in a training or education session. We employed over 70 Deaf and disabled artists to deliver these.

We also distributed funds directly to artists:

  • £67,000 against cancelled contracts
  • £24,000 towards new equipment such as laptops, microphones and video cameras to enable 30 artists work professionally from home
  • £32,000 towards access costs, opening up online networks and training to over 1,000 artists

Training and Learning

With our year set to be a pioneering one, commencing our third year of the newly accredited Ensemble programme, two new young companies for children and young people and a festival of powerful monologues by young disabled people at Tate Modern, come March we were placed on pause. That pause only lasted just a week, plotting, planning, consulting, upskilling our digital know how, and then we were back on the road!

Our workshops, training and engagement with young people and artists were held within Zoom squares but we remained responsive. We have reached over 1,700 participants and still delivered 107 sessions since March despite reduced activity. It’s been a year of reflecting on what is important, what binds us and what matters. As always, it’s Community.

For more information on Graeae’s Training and learning programmes, click here.

Graeae’s Beyond

Beyond is a programme designed to transform the careers of Deaf and disabled artists, supporting new connections to artistic development opportunities, advice, training, mentoring and creative spaces within a national network of theatres.

Beyond was launched in July 2020 and to date we have received 41 submissions from artists nationwide. We are currently working with 39 artists with a range of experience. Many are new and emerging talent previously unknown to Graeae and some are established creatives who have previously worked with us or within mainstream theatre & television.

We are working closely with 8 partner venues, have connected a quarter of these artists directly with our partner venues: Cast Donacaster, Curve Leicester, Hull Truck, Live Theatre Newcastle, Northern Stage, Nottingham Playhouse, Octagon Bolton & Shakespeare North Playhouse.

It has been a real delight to meet all the artists and to further embrace the incredible array of talent and the passion for theatre making amongst Deaf and disabled artists, many are bringing new and intriguing perspectives and creative approaches to the industry.

For more information on Graeae’s Beyond click here.


Despite all the challenges that this year has thrown at us, the team at Graeae have been working hard to ensure their audiences continue to be stimulated and entertained.

Graeae released two full length plays from their archive, Reasons to be Cheerful and The House of Bernarda Alba (with Royal Exchange Theatre), ensuring there was accessible content for Deaf and disabled audiences. The recordings were captioned and audio description was offered too. These recordings reached a global audience of over 25,000 and Reasons to be Cheerful was featured in the New York Times. 

With Naked Productions, Graeae broadcast a radical adaptation of Bartholomew Fair by Paul Sirett on BBC Radio 4, recorded remotely by Deaf and disabled actors with original music by disabled composer Oliver Vibrans. This has had over 1.3 million listens.

As part of the national Signal Fires initiative, Graeae sent 75 multi-sensory Bonfire Night Boxes, beautifully decorated and filled with activities to families of disabled young people to enjoy. The live event online creatively integrated BSL and Audio Description and featured newly commissioned performances from Deaf and disabled artists.

In February Graeae created a short documentary following the initial steps in the creation of their first chamber opera The Paradis Files, to be originated and performed by Deaf and disabled artists, directed by Jenny Sealey with music by award-winning composer Errollyn Wallen. The documentary was premiered virtually at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival followed by the Q&A with the Creative Team. For more information and to watch the documentary, click here.

We’re really proud of what we have been able to deliver over this period, but it only scratches the surface. We are very aware that the work we do in 2021 will need to have even greater impact if we are to continue putting Deaf and disabled artists centre-stage.

New Writing

February 2020 saw Graeae launch the regular accessible scratch nights ‘Crips with Chips’ for a public audience at Bradbury Studios.  Featuring readings of works by Write To Play alumni – Karen Featherstone (year 2), gobscure, Nicola Werenowska (year 1), and Lettie Precious (year 5). The event was a huge success, with chips supplied by Mel at Daisy’s (the cafe round the corner from Graeae).

Then, pandemic struck. We were determined to continue to invest in the careers of the Write to Play alumni and offer paid work to Deaf and disabled creatives. ‘Crips without Constraints’ became a way to celebrate the talent, creativity and resilience of our community online. Through collaboration with Jack Thorne, we commissioned 11 monologues by Deaf and disabled writers, 8 of which were written by Write to Play alumni and 3 by new writers.  The pieces were broadcast every Monday from late April. As part of this programme we also released photographs and illustrations from the Graeae archive every Wednesday and produced a podcast every Friday.

To watch the plays and see the pictures, click here. 

‘Flesh’ by Anita Kelly (year 6) was included in The Guardian’s ‘Up close and sensational’, a list of ‘the best monologues made during lockdown’. To read the feature, click here.

As lockdown continued, a second instalment of the digital programme felt vital. Crips Without Constraints – Part Two launches in January 2021. Five commissioned duologues written by Write to Play alumni, performed on Zoom starring Deaf and disabled actors alongside named actors, directed by emerging Deaf and disabled directors. The actors include Graeae patron Dame Harriet Walter, Sharon D. Clarke, Mandy Colleran, Naomi Wirthner, Julie Graham, Saida Ahmed and Cherylee Houston. 

For more information, click here.

On December 3rd, International Day of Disabled People, we launched the Graeae Stories channel on Twitter, inspired by the adventure story idea to choose your ending. Hannah Treadaway (Year 6 alumni) created ‘Be Taylor Jones’ – a story on navigating the British theatre industry as a disabled actor by Taylor Jones. Our next story, written by Kellan Frankland, will be released in February 2021.

Alongside our creative output, we’ve upped the pastoral support for our writers. We host regular drop-in ‘coffee mornings’ on Zoom and a fortnightly newsletter keeping everyone in the loop and aware of opportunities offered both by Graeae and from the wider industry.

Access Support

Since April 2020, we have distributed £20,000 from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in the form of technology, equipment and software for Deaf and disabled freelancers allowing them to diversify their artistic practice and work professionally from home.  We facilitated the dispatch of £36,000 from Arts Council England to pay for access support for disability led discussions. We also made a successful bid to the National Lottery for a community response programme of CPD and wellbeing sessions, which will be delivered in the new year 2021.

Next year is Graeae’s 40th birthday and we’re looking forward to working together to come through this period stronger than ever in the year ahead!

We are very optimistic for what 2021 may bring and would like to thank you for your continued support for Graeae. We wish you and your families all the health and happiness during this festive period and we hope you can take this opportunity to come together and celebrate in whatever way possible.