Rising to the challenge – interview with award winning artistic director Jenny Sealey about her solo show Self-Raising

12 Mar 2024


Jenny Sealey is bringing her blisteringly honest, laugh-out-loud one-woman show about growing up deaf in a family with secrets to our Bramall Rock Void on 22-23 March.

She has spent a lifetime championing stories by deaf and disabled artists and has been artistic director of Graeae Theatre Company, which puts access at the heart of its work, since 1997. After years successfully enabling artists to tell stories, she’s now taking to the road on a national tour to tell her own story.

What did you find most challenging about facing your past? 

“I still feel so angry that the doctors would not let me be deaf. I started to grieve for the millions of conversations I have missed being deaf, for the horrendous gaps in my education and that being deaf led to some other events which shouldn’t have happened.”

Did you consult with other members of your family about the show? And have they seen it?

“My immediate family have read the script and have given me permission to do it and to use photos. They have not seen it yet. I will be so nervous when they do. My 92 year old great aunt saw it with her daughters. She knew the secret. Of course she did. Her daughters were cross that she had never told them. They told me some more family stuff about my great-great grandad and some of their own family secrets. It was an illuminating conversation!”

You’re best known as a director.  What was it like to switch over to performing?

“It was a much easier switch than I imagined having not really acted since I was at Half Moon Young People’s Theatre and Red Ladder in 1990. Although I did have to take over David Toole in Graeae’s production of The Fall of The House of Usher for a week and I was in a script in hand show And Others at the National Theatre and Where’s My Vagina at WOW. This is billed as a one woman show but I am not on stage on my own as I have a sign language interpreter with me. Four of my treasured interpreters share the tour and we interact with each other and share the space, but it is me who has to remember all the words!”

What do you hope audience will get from the show?

“I want audiences to be curious about their families and to think about their own narrative. All of us have a play within us.”

How did you come to be working in the arts? 

“I wanted to be a dancer and majored in dance and choreography during my BA in Performing Arts at Middlesex Polytechnic. A friend who was majoring in acting on the same course directed me in Dario Fo’s Woman Alone and I fell in love with acting. I then went on to work for Graeae in A Private View which is where I found my tribe, a place where I could be me, a place to belong.”

What have been the highlights of your career so far? 

“Being artistic director of Graeae is a mega highlight. I have worked with brilliant people and have a glorious team around me. I have loved all our plays but doing Reasons to Be Cheerful, our first ever musical, was special. And, of course, co-directing the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony was truly amazing.”


    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation
  • Principal Partner

    Caddick Group
  • Principal Access Partner

    Irwin Mitchell