Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 4

By Michelle Rolfe, Arts Management Trainee

Rehearsals started this week and things are now in full swing. Monday was spent in the rehearsal room with the obligatory meet and greet to start with. As with all these things it was a little slow to get going. However the tea/coffee/pastries and Jenny Sealey’s request we find out some gossip about someone we have never met before relaxed everyone and we got off to a fine start. This was followed by a read through of the script. It was great to hear the actor’s voices delivering it; it brought out new meanings and thoughts about the characters, which we later discussed.

Blood Wedding cast and creative team at the read through

Blood Wedding cast and creative team at the read through

During the afternoon we looked at the module box and learnt about the design. The production will be completely accessible, with BSL interpretation, captioning and audio description being integrated into the production. Although this creates extra work for the cast it also allows them to explore their characters in ways they might not have done in a conventional way. Love is a theme that runs throughout the play and there is a nice symbolic element to the design I suggest you look out for when you come and see the show. During week one of rehearsals we were very lucky to have almost the full creative team in the room. This allows them to come together and support each others design elements of the production.

I was very pleased to meet members of the Graeae team and start to have conversations and see their working practices. It was great to have a chat with Emma, the projects producer for Graeae and learn more about her job and how she got to where she is. I also had a good conversation with Aiyana, the producer where we went over the budget in details.

This week we have been joined by Alyson Woodhouse, the productions creative learning trainee and Nicola Wildin, the trainee director. Like myself they both come from a working arts background and have a key interest in creating accessible theatre. During the next couple of months we will be taking it in turn to tell you about our experiences working here at the Rep and then taking the show on tour.

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Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 3

By EJ Raymond, cast member.

Third week of Blood Wedding rehearsal and it is getting so busy!

It always starts every morning with a half-hour warm-up before we work on some of the scenes that we need to polish up.

EJ in Blood Wedding rehearsals

EJ in Blood Wedding rehearsals with Ricci McLeod, Amy Conachan and Gerard McDermott

I am working with two of the cast with the basic signing language – they’re getting there, I am proud of them!

Jenny Sealey, the director, was focusing on who is responsible for moving the props/furnishes off/on the stage, who is responsible for the live audio describe, and also who is responsible to “click” the controller for the live captions.

Mark Smith, the choreographer, arrived on Friday and is helping Jenny Sealey, the director, with some of the ideas for dancing, movements and go on. I’ve never done the salsa before, I have to admit it! Blame on the history of my two left-feet!

We’ve now all removed the script from our hands and have run over all scenes in full – we’re all getting there which is so exciting!

My character’s costumes seems finished.

Philip recorded the loud screams from Amy, Millie and me – I last had to use my loudly scream 12 years ago! We also did another voice recording for one of cast to learn what my deafness voice was like, hopefully it will help him, as he is going to play as my character’s son.

On Saturday we all work under Mark’s magic fingers and practice on the dancing in one of the big scenes. What a sweet and busy week!

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Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 2

By Gerard McDermott, cast member

At the beginning or this week we did some interesting character work.  We were asked to stand in two lines facing each other but slightly out of kilter as if we were each facing an imaginary mirror.

We were then asked to take it in turns to speak to ourselves, our reflections in character; to pick out our own personal flaws and foibles; our relationships with the other characters in the play; to reveal details from our past. This was an opportunity for the actors to invent details about their character which are not necessarily mentioned in the script. For example, how our character feels about the other characters in the piece; how past events in our lives have shaped our opinions; whether we love, like or even hate the other protagonists in the narrative.  This, combined with the actual script, help us as actors, to create fuller, more rounded portrayals of the part we are playing.

By contrast, later in the week we worked on a much more practical level on the physicality of our characters, how they moved in the space; how they portrayed their nervous energy and or their confidence.

Gerard in rehearsals

Gerard in rehearsals

The wonderful voice coach, Ros Steen, joined us on Wednesday and put us through a rigorous, physical workshop focusing on different vocal qualities we all have, but are sometimes hard to locate.  I particularly enjoyed this.  I’ve always felt that my voice is best tool that I have as an actor and I just love playing with it.  Ros took us back to the basics of the voice, with all of us laying on the floor concentrating on our breathing. We can breathe in a very deep way or just in a short and shallow way, all of which dictates the quality of the voice.  We all have the same equipment when it comes to vocal capacity and often it’s astonishing to discover just how powerful a tool the voice can be.  Also, it was remarkable how the deaf member of the cast EJ found this workshop useful and how she was able to bring Ros’s techniques into her work.

On Friday, we did, what we call, a stagger through. So, perform the play from beginning to end as well as we can with the limited time we’ve spent rehearsing.  This was very telling and helps us to focus on the weak points in the piece and which bits need more work.  It’s coming together nicely.

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Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 1

By Irene Macdougall, cast member.

This project has been three years in the making and today is the first day of rehearsal. The day most of the actors meet for the first time…and not just the actors. There are about forty other people in the rehearsal room at Dundee Rep, either directly or indirectly associated with the production. During the next couple of days we will meet other people who are directly connected to the production…from a Lorca expert, a wonderful photographer who will record visually this project, our master of surtitles and our designers (sound, set, lighting and costume).

There are eight actors involved in this production: EJ (Mother), Ricky (Groom), Amy (Bride), Gerard (Father), Annie (Aunt Shirley), Miles (Leonardo), Millie (Vicky), Alison (Mother-in-law, Tramp) and me, Irene (Neighbour, Waitress and Tramp).

Blood Wedding cast members in rehearsals, taken from above three cast members are reading scripts whilst sitting on a wooden floor.

Blood Wedding cast members in rehearsals.

This first week has been a combination of reading scenes and trying them out. Playing with visual representations of the themes of the play…revenge, love jealousy, death, murder!

Some of us are coming to a multi-textured communication of the play for the first time. The actors during the performance will do the audio-description (for blind members of the audience), we will operate the surtitles, we will sign, as well as speak, some scenes. The learning curve is steep and we only have four weeks! Jenny has, over the course of the first week, worked hard to incorporate the beginnings of all these elements. I suspect I speak for all my fellow actors when I say it all seems a wee bit daunting at the moment!

However, what I think we have achieved this week is definitely an understanding of how much there is to do, not easy…but definitely a challenge!


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A new school of thought in Rio

‘Don’t look down at your feet. Look up at the stars. Be curious’  

Professor Stephen Hawking
London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony

I know I use this quote from Professor Stephen Hawking at every conceivable moment but it felt very apt to use it for my presentation to artists, academia, entrepreneurs and policy makers, the Ministry of Sport and British Council Brazil outlining a vision to build on the inclusion of Deaf and disabled people in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016.

I arrived in Rio with interpreter Jude Mahon and it was straight into the glorious fire and fury that is Junior Perim Director of Crescer e Viver (Rio’s leading social circus centre and school) and the calm and wisdom that is Co-Director Vinicius Daumas along with the creative strategy expertise of Paul Heritage and Raquel Dias from People’s Palace Projects.

Jenny with Artistic Directors of Crescer e Viver Junior Perim and Vinicius Daumas and Interpreter Jude Mahon

Jenny with Artistic Directors of Crescer e Viver Junior Perim and Vinicius Daumas and Interpreter Jude Mahon

In a true Brazilian style meeting, we thrashed out the future with a no holds barred passion, determination and commitment. Nothing seemed impossible and suddenly we had the Director of the School of Communications on board and the Department of Creative Economy (SEBRAE) offering a free consultancy service to support the structuring of the programme for UFRJ/Ministry of Sport, and ongoing services through the establishment and development of the programme.

It was beyond exciting.

XXX and XXX In Belonging 2014

Stephen Bunce and Marcos Silva in Belonging 2014 (Photo credit: Patrick Baldwin)

Building on the steep learning curve of 2012 and the work we have already started with Belonging (a starter training and performance initiative between Graeae and Crescer e Viver) we have devised a new programme for which I wrote the following rational;

A year long social phenomena changing the way we think, behave, move and communicate.

It is a new school of thought, throwing caution into the wind and taking what might be perceived as risk – but what we see as a necessity – and placing 50 Deaf and disabled people from all walks of life into the world of circus to ignite their curiosity, investigate their creative souls and challenge their physicality, strength and grace. It also places 50 students from various disciplines including architecture, law, physical education, physiotherapy, theatre, media, film making and journalism, in and around the circus trainees to be inquisitive, to unearth their stories and to share visions of a fair, equal and just society.

Participants in the circus skills workshop linked together in a circle

Taster workshop in Circus Skills

Together they will map and document these journeys to utilise this within their discipline in order to dismantle the physical social and attitudinal barriers that surround Deaf and disabled people.

This unique union of minds will create a think tank to transform visible inclusion as an aesthetic, a human right, and work to ensure it permeates the landscape and the veins of Brazilian society.

The impact of this transformation goes way beyond the trainees becoming artists in 2016 Paralympics Opening Ceremony and the Cultural Olympiad, as it has to have the political and visceral clout to challenge and eradicate discrimination ensuring a world of inclusion for the next generation.

The approach, research and methodology and reach will evolve over time as we are learning what it is and what it can be as we embark on this voyage of discovery. It is essential it attracts attention from global media, commercial, academia and the arts world as nothing has ever been done on this scale, and it will become a model of the future not just in Brazil but worldwide.

Everyone is now forging ahead to get this up and running Summer 2015. I met with Carla Camurati who is Artistic Director of Theatro Municipal – The Royal Opera House and Director of the Cultural Olympiad. She is the most extraordinary woman and watching her operate in a meeting is a Pina Bausch dance piece. She is so clear that her Olympiad will have true representation of Deaf and disabled artists.

lady balanced on material hanging from the ceiling

Practising aerial skills

Vinicius and I ran an aerial taster (my own aerial expertise is sadly lacking as I am too top heavy!) for a group Deaf and blind people. It was fantastic to see Marcos and Vivianne, who were in Belonging, taking the lead in the training. It was a great opportunity to carry on learning Lebras (Brazilian Sign Language) and a wonderful moment occurred when I was talking about English women and they asked why I was talking about naked Americans!

It was so fantastic to see the potential within the group and when I met with Paula Mello (Creative Development Manager) from Ceremônias Cariocas 2016, (the company responsible for producing the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games) she became very excited about the possibilities of what the new programme will provide for the Director of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony.

Jenny and her angel of a lifeguard

Jenny and her angel-lifeguard

It was an action packed 4 days and we met so many people plus we joined a huge Deaf rally along Copacabana beach which was joyous. The only blip in our time there was we had an hour to kill so I insisted we went to the beach. I went in for a wee swim but got caught in a horrendous rip curl and I was dragged right out to sea. I seriously thought my time was up. I was terrified but kept thinking ‘No I am not ready go yet – I have too much to do – set up this school, direct Blood Wedding, fight ATW and ILF, see Jonah graduate from film school… sorry I simply cannot go yet…’ and then my angel – a ridiculously handsome life guard saved me.

So I am very much here and fired up, not only from my drowning experience, but from the glorious fire and passion of everyone I met. I am inspired by their total commitment and positivity and drive to make the impossible possible.

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Introducing this year’s Write to Play writers…

Write to Play has headed North in its second year ­– to Liverpool, Manchester and Bolton, where Graeae and our brilliant partner organisations (Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, the Octagon Theatre Bolton and the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester) are about to start working with five brilliant new writers based in the North-West.

To get to know them a little better, we asked them what book, record and play they would take to a desert island. Here’s what they had to say…


Karen Featherstone

Portrait of writer Karen Featherstone by Jonathan Bean (

Karen Featherstone

I like people, buildings and busyness, preferably near a Costa, so island life wouldn’t suit me. The Dictionary of Imaginary Places could come into its own here. Instead of brooding on my predicament, I could hang out in Middle Earth or Xanadu. I could also keep my Costa loyalty card in it as a bookmark and to keep the sun from melting it into a grotesque, Dali-type parody of its glorious former self.

For a record… (Records! How quaint!) Many of my favourite songs were written by Jimmy Webb, so an album, please, of his best songs, singers to be exhaustively debated another time.

To explain my choice of play: I once watched a drunk stumble against a parked car and say sorry to it, only to slam his fist down on the bonnet a second later. What had happened in the man’s mind between his apology and the punch? Soon after, I saw Olly’s Prison on TV (choosing TV drama may be cheating) by Edward Bond, in which a tragic father undergoes a similar mental reversal. I’ve since meant to study it to see how Bond pulled off such a breathtaking, emotional U-turn in just 40 minutes of monologue. Having picked this, it’s possibly a tad bleak for a desert island, so I may choose Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information instead, which would cheer me up, reminding me of the odd, unexpected depths beneath seemingly banal conversations – and of the lovable weirdos that most people really are. So I’ve mentioned two dramas. Told you I was a cheater.


Danni Skerritt


Danni Skerritt

Well I see this desert island being quite hot during the days and quite cold during the nights so after making my beach hut, I’d like to settle down with the selected works of S.T. Coleridge as I’d take comfort from tales of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and think things could be worse. Also some beautiful poetry would go well with the sunshine.

Record wise, I’d have to go for What’s going on by Marvin Gaye. I think I know each track quite well and it would be quite ironic hearing that song on a desert island. But his voice is truly like silk so could warm me up on those cold nights.

I’m a massive fan of a few playwrights, but I feel The Tempest would be apt due to my situation and I feel with reading this I’d have hope of being rescued.


Jackie Hagan

Book ­– can I have facebook?  Oh no actually I’d have the Argos Catalogue, I can read that for hours. It’s a bit cosy, it reminds me of Christmas as a kid, circling all the things you want and then looking at them big massive swing set things at the back and imagining winning the pools and buying two.

Jackie Hagan

Jackie Hagan

Music – one of the early 80s Now albums with a bit of Boy George on. Bit of Adam Ant, was he early 80s? I don’t own this album. I’d rather have something that would surprise me a bit, but still something that I already know a bit so that I can sing the wrong words to it. You could really belt the songs out on a desert island. I can’t sing but I enjoy singing really badly, really loudly.

Play – I don’t want a play written down in a book. I want the proper, colourful, real-life(ish) on-stage version because that’s gonna do you more good if you’re lonely and sick of looking at sand. Probably a musical so you could sing along and pretend you’ve got mates there. West Side Story so I can be all the characters, except for Maria, urgh.


Helen Martin

Helen Martin

Helen Martin

Just ONE book??!! A confederacy of Dunces, a tragicomedy by John Kennedy Toole. The fact he posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize after giving up and committing suicide will be a reminder in my darkest hours on the island NEVER to give up. “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” It’s sheer genius and would give me huge gawfawing belly laughs seeing me through the long days/nights. Being alone, I need a host of characters, larger than life and entertaining, and this book has a constant stream led by Ignatius J. Reilly. This masterpiece is set in New Orleans so I will travel from the island when I immerse myself, yet again, in this glorious feast of writing.

I’m Piscean, two fish, so I need a pre-recorded mix. John Lennon’ s Imagine, the National Anthem of my utopian island, sung every evening at sunset, in awe at the glowing sun going down while searching the horizon for fellow fun/peace lovers, and as the sun sets, the first star twinkles Liza Minnelli belting out Cabaret reminds me to high kick my way through the night and let loose, have fun, and that life IS a cabaret.

Ken Campbell’s epic production of The Warp by Neil Oram, the world’s longest play, a production that changed my theatrical life as an actor performing, and as an audience member – a wholeheartedly enlightening experience! 22 hours long, ten episodes trace an English mystic’s many previous lives over thousands of years. That will definitely keep me entertained and absorbed. Each time I see it I will discover something new and exciting, like turning another page in the play of life.


Helen East

Helen East

Helen East

I am rubbish at making choices. When eating out I’m still choosing ages after everyone else. I usually get it down to three then have to ask the waiter for their advice – drives friends mad.

So, you have been warned. Here goes.

The play would be A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry – the first, and only play so far, to make me cry. And there is also Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. More recent Blackbird by David Harrower, or Pillowman by Martin McDonagh.

The book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (there are many more!) and I would like an atlas so I can entertain myself making up stories. Oh and a dictionary.

Music would be 20 Cheatin’ Heartbreakers – songs full of stories. (There are far more but I would still be choosing into next week!).

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Much has been said about Lord Freud’s recent misplaced comments on the net worth of a disabled person to an employer and how the level of pay should reflect that.

Graeae’s position is that the value of the employee is not linked to disability and that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that their employment is meaningful to both parties. There should NEVER be a situation in which someone’s value is lower than the minimum wage and this sentiment seems to have received cross-party support.

  • • Assigning disabled people’s NET worth to the direct financial impact they have on an organisation is reductive and at odds with the Government’s drive to support disabled people to re-join the workforce.
  • • We don’t think the government can claim to have removed barriers disabled people face in finding employment.
  • • Reforms to disability benefits have been detrimental to disabled people finding work rather than supporting them.
  • • Graeae is providing case studies and statistics to show the negative impact the changes are making to its employees and its charitable output.

Lord Freud’s, David Cameron’s and Esther McVey’s recent comments have all alluded to how in reality lives are changing in a positive way for disabled people. We are led to believe that the disability benefit reforms are ‘looking after disabled people’ and ‘supporting people with disabilities’ and ‘helping disabled people overcome the many barriers they face in finding employment’.

That may have been the intention but unfortunately it is not the reality.

A number of schemes have been affected by Government cuts and policy changes. The three that most directly affect Graeae and its employees are: Disability Living Allowance, Independent Living Fund and Access to Work (ATW). Delays in processing claims, rejected claims and lost paperwork have resulted in un-claimable genuine costs that are so substantial that they have meant individuals have been forced to move and Graeae has needed to cancel work.

Jenny Sealey MBE, CEO of Graeae, explains how Access to Work has enabled her to operate professionally:

‘Co-directing the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony was the most extraordinary experience. It would not have been possible without ATW providing a dedicated team of highly qualified sign language interpreters and access workers supporting me as a Deaf woman and supporting my cast of Deaf and disabled professional artists. The artistic narrative of the London Paralympic Opening Ceremony incorporated The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and when 67,000 people in the stadium sang along to Spasticus Autisticus it felt like the future held great things for Deaf and disabled people worldwide.’

Despite the extraordinary success of the London Paralympics and its opening ceremony, Jenny has had her ATW support cut. Her ongoing interpreter support has been cut by 53% and claims for international projects have been cut by 100%. She responds:

‘Two years on from the Paralympics and I am seriously in fear for my career. The severe cuts in my ATW provisions mean I simply cannot fulfil my job description as CEO / Artistic Director of Graeae.’

Jenny is just one of the eighty Deaf and disabled employees Graeae contracts every year and her story is far from unique.

  • • Graeae’s employees are facing delays in the processing of ATW applications of up to eight months – and counting.
  • • The company is currently awaiting decisions on 10 ATW applications, some of which date back to February 2014. It is also disputing a further 4 decisions.
  • • The activity for 8 of the outstanding 10 ATW applications has now happened and Graeae has had to incur the cost in the hope that it could be reclaimed.
  • • Graeae has had 4 applications rejected, despite them, on the face of it, falling under Access to Work’s criteria for permitted reclaimable expenditure. Some of these are under review.

AtW table


Jenny highlights what this means for Graeae:

‘Graeae is the UK’s flagship professional disabled led theatre company and has a growing international reputation. The very real danger is soon we will no longer be able to commit to our mission placing Deaf and disabled people centre stage.’

‘Decisions made now will have a huge impact. If this is allowed to continue we will have to cover all the costs related to meeting people’s access needs. Therefore, we would have to reduce our artistic programme by that same amount. Cuts to arts funding across the board mean we can’t feasibly find this money from elsewhere.’

‘I will lose my job, as will other members of our core staff and the company will become non-disabled led and will become disconnected from our core charitable objectives.’

Our message to people wanting to work with Graeae is this:

‘Many people – interpreters, access workers and disabled people – are saying: “I’m really sorry that due to the changes to Access to Work it means that I’m a pain in the arse to employ”.

‘You are not. Graeae wouldn’t have achieved all that it has without the talent of its creative team or the access support team that surround them. You are not just a vital part of the company but core to why we do what we do.’

‘Whenever we offer employment to someone, it is because they are the right person for the job, regardless of their impairment, condition, disability or health. The Access to Work scheme should mean that support costs do not become a discriminating factor between disabled and non-disabled candidates. Our problem is that the changes to this scheme are actively removing employment opportunities for deaf and disabled people across the country.’

Jenny Sealey concludes:

‘At Graeae, we are in turmoil: There is more interest in the company locally and internationally than ever before. Our artistic and training programme remains ambitious but we face a real threat of such ambitions being unrealised because of ATW cuts of up to £125k. The impact of waiting to find out if costs are going to be covered means we are already having to cancel future plans. It makes it impossible to plan as you don’t know where you stand. We are seriously concerned about what the future holds.’


Contact the press team for more information or if you would like this information in alternative formats.

Graeae Press Office
Angie Klein
Tel: 0207 613 6900
Mb: 07939 158 696
Email: /

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October 17, 2014 · 10:49 am