The British Council, in partnership with Owlspot Theater, is planning to stage a collaborative production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by deaf and disabled artists from Japan, the UK, and Bangladesh in May 2020. The production will make use of the different languages, cultures, and disabilities of the performers.

As a first step towards this international inclusive theatre project, Jenny Sealey, the Artistic Director of the UK’s Graeae Theatre Company, came to hold a workshop in which around 20 deaf and disabled performers, actors, and dancers participated from Sunday 24 to Wednesday 27 February 2019. Jenny will act as the artistic director for the 2020 performance. Facilitated by Jenny, the participants searched for methods of inclusive theatrical practice which made the most of their differing disabilities and characteristics.

At the start of the workshop, each person thought up and presented a “sign name” (a nickname expressed in sign language) based on their physical characteristics, personalities, likes, and so on. In order to communicate with those who have visual impairments, they also shared sounds to go with their sign names.
Next, using their sign names, they improvised expressions of their personal stories, things they liked, and things they were afraid of. In response to Jenny’s exhortation “Don’t think about it too much, just give it a try”, each person’s creativity shone through. 
The participants formed pairs of directors and actors, and carried out exercises in performing and directing using only a few simple props such as newspaper, chairs, and string. They also discussed ways of expressing on stage some of the interpersonal relationships treated in “The Tempest” (parents and children, adolescent friends, relationships between women).
On the last day, the participants first shared stories related to items with emotional resonance for them, and then improvised performances using these items as props. 
Jenny always spoke warmly to the participants when facilitating the workshop, encouraging them to take on new challenges. "I was really impressed and encouraged by Jenny’s approach; not just in theatrical expression, but also in the mainstreaming of disabled artists." (Disabled performer)

The artists from Japan, the UK, and Bangladesh will build on the foundation of this workshop with ongoing dialogue and creative activities, in preparation for the performances in 2020.

Organised by: British Council, Owlspot Theater (Toshima Mirai Cultural Foundation), Toshima City
Co-organised by: Graeae Theatre Company
Supported by: Arts Council Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture

Jenny Sealey (Artistic Director of Graeae)
Jenny Sealey co-directed the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony alongside Bradley Hemmings (GDIF). She has been Artistic Director and CEO of Graeae since 1997 and has pioneered a new theatrical language, coining the term “Aesthetics of Access”; the creative integration of sign language and audio description within performance. Jenny has directed work, run workshops and given presentations internationally including Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brazil. In 2009, Jenny was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Honours and became the Artistic Advisor for the Unlimited 2012 Festival. 

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