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13 Questions: Jenny Sealey, theatre director

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Emma Emma | 15:01 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Jenny Sealey

Jenny Sealey, MBE, was born and raised in Nottingham. On becoming deaf aged seven, a teacher encouraged her to continue ballet lessons though she could no longer hear the dance instruction; she said Jenny should follow the person in front of her. She did, and it set the course of her career.

Having studied dance and choreography at university, Jenny then became a founder member of both the Common Ground Sign Dance Company and the now defunct London Disability Arts Forum.

Jenny has been Artistic Director at Graeae, the well-known UK disability-led theatre company, since 2007. As well as many in-house productions, her credits there include collaborations like Diary of an Action Man with Unicorn children's theatre and the Ian Dury musical Reasons to be Cheerful with the New Wolsey, Ipswich, to name but two.

Jenny is Co-artistic Director of the London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony. Although she can barely contain her excitement, she isn't allowed to talk about the upcoming spectacular ... but she has no contractual difficulties when it comes to answering our 13 probing questions ...

My earliest memory is ...
Going deaf at aged seven. I remember that day vividly, right down to the layout of my classroom. My best friend and I were pushing each other and laughing behind some bookshelves when he shoved me a little too hard, so that I fell and whacked my head off the corner of the table. When I got home I told my mum I couldn't hear.

The three words I'd use to describe myself are ...
Big breasted Bertha. I have enormous breasts. That's how people remember me and my sign name is linked to the fact I have huge knockers. Put one hand on each nipple and turn the palms slightly outwards, then move your hands away slowly like you are carrying something big and bouncy.

A little known fact about me is ...
That I'm a terrible cook. I like my food quite burnt but that's not to everyone's taste, so I'm not really allowed to cook very often.

Given half a chance I'd relish the opportunity to bore you about ...
Casting. I can go on and on and on about the unimaginative casting systems that are out there. So many casting directors will only cast to type. I work with a beautiful actress called Nadia Albina, who has been told from very, very high profile theatre companies in this country that because she has only one arm, she will not get a job on the main stage. It makes me feel quite sick.

I can't resist ...
A nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I am a massively sociable person. I love nothing better than to sit and chat with a good bottle of wine and close friends.

I want to ban ...
Discrimination against disabled people. The number of physical and attitudinal barriers that so many of us are faced with is just shocking. The visibility of disabled people in the arts and in sport is going to be so massive this year that it has to have an impact. Graeae is doing a huge project with Greenwich and Docklands Festival called Prometheus Awakes. There will be seven and a half thousand Paralympic athletes competing in London and we will have as many deaf and disabled people in the field of play at the opening ceremony. We're out there in a way that we've never been before, and we ain't going away.

The thing I've done but would never do again is ...
Understudy for dancer David Toole. During my production of The Fall of the House of Usher, he got ill and was rushed to hospital. It was in the days where the show must go on. The production was so tightly choreographed to link with all the pre-filmed sign language that it would have been so difficult to teach somebody else; the only person who knew it as well as the cast was me. When the other actors realised what was going to happen they said "But Jenny, you are a woman! And you've got legs!!"

My greatest achievement so far has been ...
Having a baby. Jonah will be 18 next month. At the moment he is doing A Levels and I'm playing bad cop to make him revise. Jonah wants to be a film maker and has started writing a sitcom about our local kebab shop. The show will be called Kebabalon.

If I suddenly became able-bodied I would ...
Lose my job. I have this recurring nightmare that I'm on my own in the office, having a full-blown chat with someone on the phone. I'm so engrossed in my conversation that I don't notice my colleagues come in. Then I turn around and they say, "Jenny, you can hear!" The next image in my dream is of me packing my desk away. I love my job. I don't want to work anywhere else.

Someone should invent ...
Floo powder, like in Harry Potter. At the moment, the preparation schedule for the Paralympic opening ceremony is frankly quite barking. In any one day I need to be at the stadium and at rehearsal spaces in Tower Hamlets and Dagenham. So I need a situation where you just thro the floo powder into the fire, then throw yourself in and it transports you immediately.

My ideal dinner guest would be ...
John Thaw. I know he's dead and gone but I love him. Inspector Morse is my favourite TV show ever. Also, I know he had a real fondness for the grape.

Disability theatre is ...
About creating good plays for diverse audiences. Whether deaf, disabled or not, an audience will learn from what they see. For non-disabled people, seeing a show by Graeae or other disabled artists brings another layer of learning. They might have arrived with some preconceptions and presumptions, but if the work's good it stays with them and they start to unpick their prejudices.

On the world stage, disabled performers need to be ...
The best of the best, otherwise people will mock us: "Ahh bless them, they were lovely, but they were disabled." Why should we not expect high standards from ourselves? If we don't, it becomes patronising and tokenistic, and that is so not what we are about.

• Graeae's latest production, Prometheus Awakes, will be performed as part of the London 2012 festival. The Paralympic opening ceremony will be broadcast live on Channel 4 in the UK, with commentary from Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

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