Jenny Sealey and Graeae have developed what has been called the “aesthetics of access”; essentially, the ways in which accessibility concerns are not simply last-minute add-ons but actually influence and shape the work in wonderful, unexpected ways.
While Jenny accepts that there are aspects of Graeae’s work that can be thought of as “a Jenny Sealey style of doing things”, she’s the first to underline how she’s always learning. “Every single play offers a different challenge; a new journey, a new exploration,” she insists. “I haven’t got a template. I think the day we have a template is the day I leave Graeae because Art cannot have a template. It makes it boring.”
Garry Robson is an acclaimed actor, director and co-artistic director of Glasgow-based Birds of Paradise Theatre Company; for him it’s all about using access to add something to a performance.
“The one thing we have discovered at Birds of Paradise is that if you’re serious about access, you have to embed it from the start of the creative process. It has to be budgeted for, for example; it’s not cheap to do. But once it’s in there at the beginning – I don’t mean at the start of rehearsals, but from when you’re thinking of putting on the show in the first place – then it makes you think again about everything you’re doing which, as an artist, is always exciting. No one is going to mark you down if you decide you don’t want to go ahead with it, but at least consider it.”
In recent years, “mainstream” theatres have begun to introduce specific, audio-described, BSL-interpreted and autism-friendly “relaxed” performances, but the general approach is not without problems (for instance you can only attend one show out of a three-week season). “I think you often find that things like captioning and interpreting are seen as the realm of Front of House rather than the artistic team,” says Garry. “That seems crazy to me: if you’re going to have captioning, you need to work with the lights; and not involving the interpreter in rehearsals is just shocking oversight, really.”