One of the two disabled artistic directors of this summer’s Paralympic Games opening ceremony has spoken of the need to produce an “exquisite” demonstration of the talents of disabled artists and performers.
Jenny Sealey, artistic director of the disabled-led theatre company Graeae, was speaking at a media briefing on the opening ceremony which will be watched by a huge worldwide TV audience on 29 August.
Sealey was joined by her fellow artistic director, Bradley Hemmings, curator and producer of Liberty, London’s annual disability arts festival, and director of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival.
She spoke of their “shared responsibility” to make sure that the ceremony – to be called “Enlightenment” – is “exquisite”, so they can puncture perceptions of what disabled people can achieve.
It will be the first time that a Paralympics ceremony has been led by disabled directors.
Sealey said: “We don’t want pity. This is not what our show is about. This is about the visibility of us all and our rights to be there.
“We have the right to be good at what we do. We don’t want [it to be] pants. Our ambition is for all of us to be stonking.”
But she also spoke of how she and Hemmings would use the ceremony to showcase their inclusive ways of working.
Sealey said they wanted to bring inclusive practice, equality and empowerment onto the stage in the Olympic Stadium, and that the performance would “profile the excellent deaf, disabled and non-disabled people all working together at exploring what real access means”.
Sealey has become known in her work with Graeae for incorporating accessibility – for example for deaf or blind audience members – into a show, rather than seeing it as an add-on, but she said that she and Hemmings would still be working “out of our comfort zone” while this accessibility must also have “theatrical quality”.
She said: “It is about exploring how I have worked at Graeae, layering accessibility throughout the whole show. It is very much how we both work.”
And she added: “We are working with people who have never worked with deaf and disabled people. All of us are on a learning curve.”
They are also building teams of access workers to support their disabled performers, although she pointed out that accessibility would be “everyone’s responsibility”.
She said: “Nobody is going to be ‘helped’. The important thing is we show real empowering and inclusive support.”
The ceremony will feature more than 3,000 adult volunteers and more than 100 child volunteers.
About three-quarters of the professional cast – those being paid – of more than 100 are disabled people, although LOCOG, the London 2012 organising committee, has not yet been able to say how many of the volunteers are disabled.
Sealey also responded to concerns about the sponsorship of London 2012 by Atos, the company that makes millions of pounds by carrying out “fitness for work” tests on disabled people.
She told Disability News Service (DNS) after the briefing: “We are so aware of the political minefield and I think our way of addressing it is by creating a show where there is visible evidence of what we do, and what we do best is addressing politics with theatre.”
Sealey said she and other members of the team were acutely aware of the controversy surrounding Atos.
She said: “We talk, we are not stupid, and we are just… it is a difficult, difficult question.”
Sealey’s views had been mirrored earlier in the week by a disabled performer who is set to feature in the opening ceremony.
She told DNS: “At least if disabled people are participating at the event, then we definitely have a presence and opportunity to have our voices heard.
“We need to take ownership of these games, to show what disabled people – including those with high support needs – achieve when appropriately and adequately supported (the antithesis of what ATOS is doing).”
She made it clear that other disabled artists set to perform in the opening ceremony had also discussed their concerns about Atos.
Another leading disabled artist said he was unable to comment because of “serious contractual restrictions”, but accepted that it was “an important issue”.
3 May 2012