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Disability, language and distance: an international collaboration that overcomes these three barriers

"The Tempest: Swimming for Beginners" was created by people of all backgrounds, regardless of disability, nationality, gender, age or experience, aiming to be appreciated by everyone. Jenny Sealey, a pioneer of the UK disability arts movement and co-director of the London 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony, oversees the production as Artistic Director. The project launched in February 2019 as a key programme in the UK in JAPAN initiative. After more than two years of preparation and postponement due to Covid-19, the production will finally be presented to the public in June 2021. 

The production features disabled directors and cast members from three countries - Japan, the UK and Bangladesh. In addition to their diverse national and cultural backgrounds, the cast also have different disabilities, which will be incorporated into production. There were also many unexpected challenges in the development of the play. Covid-19 made it difficult for Jenny to visit Japan, and instead she has been directing remotely with the British and Bangladeshi performers participating via video. The performance is therefore a new form of international collaboration that overcomes the three barriers of disability, language and distance.

A play for all to enjoy, with or without disabilities

Jenny Sealey is the Artistic Director of the Graeae Theatre Company in the UK. The company is known for its work with disabled actors and staff. Jenny herself is a deaf director. Her effective use of sign language and audio description has won her an international reputation, and her creative and inclusive direction is a key feature of this production.

The play has been created to be enjoyed by disabled audiences. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, there will be projected subtitles, as well as sign language and written communication, from the moment audience members step foot into the venue. For those who are blind or have difficulty seeing, the theatre will provide transport from Higashi-Ikebukuro station to the theatre, and an audio guide explaining the stage setting before the performance.

Directed by Jenny Sealey, the performance will continue the legacy of the 2012 London Paralympic Games. It aims to be a stepping stone for disabled artists to expand their careers and create a barrier-free environment for both artists and audiences.

An original production based on Shakespeare's The Tempest

This play is a bold modern reworking of Shakespeare's last play, reflecting the impact of Covid-19 on the world. The Tempest is said to be as transparent as the wind after a storm. In its romantic and supernatural elements - fate, the wonders of nature, the guidance of the gods, reconciliation - we can see Shakespeare's message of human reverence and affirmation. What is noteworthy is the way the message of the play is expressed to the audience by the actors, who come from different disabilities and cultural backgrounds. 

In addition to Jenny, the production will be directed by Hiroe Ohashi and Yasushi Oka, both of whom were selected at workshops. The cast includes Kotaro Yanagi, who made his debut in the hugely popular musical "The Prince of Tennis", four Japanese, three British and two Bangladeshi disabled artists, and CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) actress Sakura Yoshidomi, who was raised by a deaf mother. Please come and enjoy the new "The Tempest" that transcends differences in culture, language and disability.

Performance Outline

Name of the performance: "The Tempest - Swimming for Beginners"
Date: Tuesday 1 - Sunday 6 June 2021 
Venue: Owlspot Theatre (Toshima Performing Arts Centre) 
Performance schedule and ticket information

Script: William Shakespeare, Pamela Carter
Original script tranlation: Kazuko Matsuoka
Text translation: Keiko Nagata
Artistic direction: Jenny Sealey 
Direction: Hiroe Ohashi, Yasushi Oka
Cast: Hiroe Ohashi, Sachika Segawa, Rio Sekiba, Hidetada Tashiro, Kazumi Hiratsuka, Kotaro Yanagi
Sakura Yoshidomi
Cast in the video: (UK) Phillipa Cole, Fatima Niemogha, Jack Hunter, Jenny Sealey / (Bangladesh) Mohammad Saddam Bepary, Morshed Mia

Organised by: British Council, Toshima Mirai Cultural Foundation, Toshima City
In Association with: Graeae Theatre Company, Dhaka Theatre
Supported by: Arts Council Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture


Jenny Sealey

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.

Hiroe Ohashi

Hiroe lives in a world without sound. After graduating from high school, she began performing in sign language and dance and made independent films. In 1999, she gained attention when she was chosen to play the lead role in a play produced by the Haiyu-za Theatre, for which she won the 7th Yomiuri Theatre Award for Outstanding Actress. Aiming to produce plays created by both deaf and hearing people, in 2005 she founded Sign Art Project.AZN. She is currently active as an actor, sign language choreographer and workshop instructor.

Yasushi Oka

Born in Shizuoka Prefecture, Yasushi is the director (playwright and direction) of the theatre company Gogo no Jiten. He founded the company in 1996 after participating in the Shizuoka Theatre Festival, where both disabled and non-disabled people performed on the same stage. Since 2013 he has been involved in the Shizuoka theatre project "Loud Hill Project" as a member of the directing staff, and has been the Secretary General of the Shizuoka Theatre Association since 2013.

Sachika Segawa

Born in Tokyo, Sachika is an actress and singer-songwriter with prosthetic joints. She started acting when she was a child. At the age of 23 she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and underwent artificial joint replacement surgery. She started her music career after her diagnosis and has since released several albums. She now organises performances that combine dance, theatre, music and other genres.

Rio Sekiba

Born in 1996 in Toshima-ku, Tokyo, Rio lost her vision at the age of two due to retinoblastoma. She enrolled in the drama department at Nihon University College of Art, and while there she dedicated a lot of time to organising performances and workshops. Since graduating, she has worked as an attendant at "Dialogue in the Dark", an immersive sensory exhibition. She also works to bring the visually impaired closer to the theatre. 

Hidetada Tashiro

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, Hidetada has been a member of the Japanese Theatre of the Deaf since 2009. He began his acting career in October 2010 with the company's independent performance of "Elephant Man". In January 2012, he made his debut in sign language kyogen (traditional Japanese theatre) with his performance in "Higeyagura". Since then, he has participated in the company's performances almost every year, either as a performer or as a staff member. The Tempest is his first appearance in a Shakespeare play.

Kazumi Hiratsuka

Born in Tokyo, Kazumi attended a school for the deaf from childhood to high school. In 1981 she joined the Japanese Theatre of the Deaf, where she recorded sign language kyogen and independent performances. In 1999 she began directing, and in 2019 she wrote and directed a film. She is currently working for the Japanese Theatre of the Deaf, recording sign language kyogen, producing kyogen scripts and teaching sign language.

Kotaro Yanagi

Kotaro was born in Berlin, Germany and gained popularity with the musical "The Prince of Tennis". In December 2003, while returning home from a rehearsal, he was involved in a traffic accident that left him with higher brain dysfunction disorder. After rehabilitation, he returned to the stage. Despite various challenges, he has been active on stage, in films and on TV as a sub-leader of the theatre group D-Boys.

Sakura Yoshidomi

Born in 1999, Sakura started her career as a pop-idol in her hometown of Hiroshima when she was in junior high school. She is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), raised by a hearing-impaired mother. The music video of her song “HANDSIGN”, which is based on her own true story, has been viewed over 2 million times to date. She has appeared in many films and on stage.

Philippa Cole

Philippa is an Actor and Amputee from South Wales. She trained at Drama Centre and has worked as an Actor for 6 years. She’s extremely passionate about the fair representation of Deaf/disabled and feels more could be done to show a true picture of society on stages and screens. She continues the fight along with the strong Deaf/disabled community in the arts. Her television credits include: "Coronation Street", "Holby City" and "4 O’clock Club". For stage: "The House of Bernarda Alba" (The Royal Exchange Manchester and Graeae Theatre Company)  "And Others" (The National Theatre and Graeae Theatre Company) and "Another England" (Little Cog).

Fatima Niemogha

Fatima Niemogha is an oral, deaf British Nigerian who forged her own route to the stage. A London College of Fashion alum who trained in broadcast journalism with first class honours, traversed into the world of television production, and worked as an independent videographer supporting local community initiatives before finding her way into the arts. Most recently appeared in a live signed performance for "Signal Fires" (Fuel / Coombe Farm Studios). Credits also include "Small Island" (National Theatre), "Mirror Mirror" (Oily Cart) and the stage production "Medicine’s Monstrous Daughters" (Vital Xposure), set for a UK tour back in March 2020 but due to the outbreak of coronavirus the show was cancelled for the foreseeable future. In television; "I Hate Suzie" (Sky / Bad Wolf), "Something Special" (BBC) and "Supersonic" (BSLBT).

Jack Hunter

Jack graduated from the BA (Hons) Drama and Performance at Queen Margaret University in 2017. TV credits include: "Annika" (Black Camel Pictures). Theatre credits include: "Cost of Living" (Hampstead Theatre); "All You Need is LSD" (Told By An Idiot/ Birmingham Rep) and "Let Me Play the Lion Too" (Told By An Idiot/ Barbican Centre). Radio work includes "Bartholomew Abominations" (Naked Productions/ Graeae Theatre/ BBC Radio 4). In addition, Jack has appeared in the web series "Crips Without Constraints" (Graeae Theatre). Jack has also performed his own comedic and poetical works at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and on the BBC Social.

Md Saddam Bepary

Saddam hails from Madaripur. He was one of the artists who took part in Bangladesh’s first disability theatre production "A Different Romeo and Juliet", a theatre play produced by the British Council in association with Dhaka Theatre and Graeae Theatre. 

Morshed Mia

A recent HSC graduate from Narayangonj, Morshed aims to break the shackles of the concept of ‘disability’ and mark his name in the world of theatre. Morshed started his journey in the world of theatre with Bangladesh’s first disability theatre, "A Different Romeo and Juliet". 

See also

External links