Access All Areas: Graeae Theatre

Champions of accessibility within the arts, Graeae Theatre Company make their way to Liverpool's Everyman

Feature by Chris High | 07 Apr 2015

Accessibility is a necessity in public performance today and never more is it in evidence than at the newly developed Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, which is set to welcome Graeae (pronounced Grey Eye) and their fresh, innovative production of Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding. Directed by Graeae’s artistic director, Jenny Sealey, this new version has been rewritten by David Ireland, who relocates the great play of reckless passion and terrible revenge to an unnamed British city in the present day.

“Graeae was founded in 1980 to address the lack of opportunity for deaf and disabled people in the performing arts,” Sealey explains. “It is a company founded on the desire to combat social injustice and is fuelled by a passion for inclusion and the need to campaign for artistic, practical and functional access within the arts. There is still so much to learn about artistic access and there is still so much to be done to challenge and change the general perception of who has the right to be a performer, writer or director. Our mission statement is ‘to boldly place deaf and disabled artists centre-stage’ and until there is an equal playing field Graeae will continue to advocate this mission.”

This view is very much shared by the Everyman's artistic director, Gemma Bodinetz, whose team placed accessibility at the forefront of the design for the new theatre from the outset. “When the old Everyman staged Lizzie Nunnery’s Intemperance in 2007, there was a part in it for an elderly man that we’d initially offered to an actor who’d recently had a stroke and who wasn’t fully mobile,” Bodinetz recalls. “He could take it on, though, because it mainly involved him delivering lines lying prone in a bed. Then it quickly dawned on us that we couldn’t accommodate a disabled – even partially disabled – actor on stage, because of the safety aspects of escape and the steep steps leading to the stage. We realised then that things had to change when designing the new Everyman.

“Accessibility for our audiences, actors and creatives alike is a major priority in our vision and now everybody can enjoy our striking, state-of-the-art, brand new theatre and become involved on all levels. Hopefully we have got it right and, on the back of that, we invited Graeae here as soon as we possibly could. We are all such huge fans of their work and it is beautiful that we are now able to accommodate them and other production companies with a similar ethos and vision.”

“I want Blood Wedding to provoke questions within the audience; for them to go away thinking about what love means and the complexities of human nature,” Sealey adds. “I’d like them to think about how we communicate with each other and how we judge and are judged.  I love Lorca and this is the second time I have directed Blood Wedding; the first occasion being in Tokyo with Japanese deaf and disabled actors, which was the first time the play had ever been shown at Setagaya Public Theatre. It was an extraordinary experience and strengthened my belief that the themes of Lorca’s play can exist in any time, in any place and in any language.”

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Blood Wedding by Federico García Lorca, rewritten by David Ireland, runs at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, 21-25 Apr