Swaying in Rio

By Amelia Cavallo

It goes without saying that being disabled in this society can be hard. However, my status as a blind performer has also afforded me some amazing experiences that are unique to the disability arts community. Four years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of the professional artists to perform on a sway pole in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. This past month, I was given the opportunity to take that skill to Rio as a performer in Graeae and Strange Fruit’s beautiful outdoor show, The Garden. Needless to say, when I was asked about my availability, I said yes and decided that if any conflicts arose, I would just work them around this opportunity.


The Garden in Rio

The Garden is a well established show for Graeae that has been performed multiple times. Coming into this as a newbie, I knew it would be extremely challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, sway pole performing is physically challenging, requiring a very specific type of fitness and I had not been on one in four years. Last time I did it, we had two months intensive aerial training followed by two months sway pole training to condition our bodies for the task. This time, we had four days. Luckily, I am still a fit and practicing aerialist, so the transition was not too bad. However, there were varying levels of soreness throughout my body that were aided by Tiger Balm… seriously, they should have sponsored me to be there. Second, on top of the aerial movement, this piece incorporated multiple languages: British Sign Language (BSL), Brazilian Sign Language (Libras), spoken (and sung) English and Portuguese, and audio description (AD). Originally, I was tasked with delivering the Portuguese AD in the latter part of the show and spent a good few weeks practicing my lines (I don’t speak Portuguese, by the way). If anyone is interested, I can still say helpful Portuguese phrases such as “The man shakes his head and glares at the boy,” or “The boy, happy as a fish, smiles at the hungry woman…” While these may not be helpful in everyday life, they make sense if you know the story… Due to last minute changes in the script, my lines were given to a Brazilian Portuguese speaker (thankfully). However, I still sang in Portuguese and was told by many that I sounded like a local, something of which I am extremely proud.


The Garden

Alongside all of this, before heading to Rio I had friends and family sending me worried messages about safety. What about the Zika Virus? What if I get mugged or worse? What about the fact that Rio is not necessarily known as the most accessible city in the world? What about the political upheaval and anger with their current president or the controversy around money and the Paralympics? Etc. Etc. Of course, the minute we arrived, we were welcomed seemingly by the entire city with open arms. Is Rio a safe city? Maybe not. Is it fully accessible? No, but neither is London. Is Rio beautiful and friendly? Absolutely. The Brazilian people we met were openly curious and excited to meet us… even when they found out we weren’t Paralympians (I was asked multiple times by locals what sport I play). Also, the Brazilian team we had working on the show with us was AMAZING. I have never met a group of people more excited, keen and on the ball when it came to putting a show together in a short and very intense amount of time. We did a mammoth thing in four days which was to take a cast of people, half of whom had never done the show and half of whom hadn’t done it in four years, and put on what became in many ways a completely new piece of theatre. It was so exciting, and the joy and love we received from the people who came to watch was overwhelmingly wonderful and fulfilling. To get to do this during the Paralympics in Rio made it all the more special.

The Garden and so much of the work Graeae has done in the UK and internationally has solidified this company as a true ambassador of disability equality and access. On a personal level, Graeae has given me some of the most amazing and fulfilling jobs in my career, and has taught me so much about my skill and potential as an artist and a person. On a more general level, they have given me the capacity to also be an ambassador and to connect internationally with people who are fighting the same fights or who are just learning about the wonder and strength that is the disability community. In this time of austerity and Brexit, it is so wonderful to have experiences that reinforce the fact that coming from different countries, cultures or languages does not have to be a barrier. In fact, this diversity, this difference and the strong desire to work together because of (not despite) these differences is an extremely strong asset. It can make beautiful things and bring huge amounts of joy.

Amelia Cavallo
September 2016 


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An update from Rio

By Jenny Sealey 

Jenny Sealey

Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company.

Deaf and disabled artists in the UK are currently preparing for the Unlimited Festival disability arts extravaganza, or about to call the numbers in a wonderful new take on bingo for the Liberty Festival – Bingo Lingo – starring Daryl Beeton and Nickie Wildin, the latter in a role very different from her Miranda at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.  Today (Fri 2 Sept) my partner in crime Bradley Hemmimgs (who co-directed the Opening Ceremony with me) and Laura Jones from Stopgap Dance present the Heritage Flame Ceremony at Stoke Mandeville and on September 7th,  the torch will arrive in Rio, where I am currently, working with Circo Sem Limites at Crescer e Viver.

This project was born out of the London 2012 Paralympic Ceremony training we did with The National Centre for Circus Arts which led to a joint venture called  Belonging, which we premiered at The Roundhouse in 2014.  People’s Palace Projects then did a million and one funding applications and Circo Sem Limites was born. We had hoped that the Paralympic Opening Ceremony here in Rio would use the newly trained artists but this has not happened so we are creating a show for the Cultural Olympiad which is a circus take on scenes from some of Shakespeare’s works.

It is brilliant seeing how the tutors have really built on their inclusive teaching practice and have explored new ways of accessing back flips and somersaults for blind artists. The care, detail and learning will be captured in a film which will be shared with Japanese artists as they begin to prepare for their ceremonies in 2020.

Circo Sem Limites, Rio8 August 2016

Rehearsals, Circo Sem Limites, Rio

Graeae and Strange Fruit’s production of The Garden by Alex Bulmer is also part of the Rio Cultural Olympiad, now with a mixed cast of UK and Brazilian artists and being performed in English, BSL, Portuguese and Lebras (Brazilian sign language). I am rather terrified as we have so little rehearsal time but also hugely excited as the cast and creative team are so up for embracing this challenge.

All this work being led by Deaf and disabled artists in Rio and the UK, and all the paralympians training as we speak is a testimony to the fact that we lead in great art and great sport, as well as  on many other areas of life.  Collectively we have fought – and are still fighting – for equality so what breaks my heart is that both UK and Brazilian governments are scrapping the Human Rights Act.

But this will not stop us – on the contrary – our voices will get louder and we, with our allies across the industry like Rufus Norris at the National Theatre and the Ramps on the Moon consortium, will fight to ensure that this time around, the Paralympics DO have a legacy for the lives of Deaf and disabled people across the world. The games and Unlimited Festival next week are a huge opportunity, and I hope our governments sit up and see how much Deaf and disabled people can offer.

Circo Sem Limites, Rio8 August 2016

Rehearsals, Circo Sem Limites, Rio

Get involved:

Stop Changes to Access to Work facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/STOP-CHANGES-TO-ACCESS-TO-WORK-456522441125243/?fref=ts

Disabled People Against Cuts: https://twitter.com/Dis_PPL_Protest

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Good Morning Latitude

By Tiiu Mortley 

Good morning Vietnam!!!!! Ok well we are not in Vietnam or even going there, but still. Good Morning! It’s 8.32am and we are swiftly on our way to Latitude. Surprisingly we’re all quite sprightly, nothing to do with an overwhelming lack of sleep followed by strong coffee and a classic crunchy Friday affair. Rosh (our Company Manager) in true style, has the chocolate in hand as well as all the team. Gotta love her SM style.

Kate (Productions Coordinator) is playing Mumsie, driving the van, set to a cracking soundtrack provided by our very own Pix (cast member). Classic old funk and soul legends, gracing our ears.

9.45am Food stop at Colchester. Everyone’s whistles suitably wetted, and we’re off again. The sun is shining, the spirits are high and the vocals are getting a warm up.

I wonder how the other coach is getting on? ONWARDS!!!!!

Spot on!!! 11.20am, we have arrived!!! Out the van……..back in the van. Oh the joys of good sign posting….not!!! A quick drive to the production office to get our passes and we’re on!

1.09pm and many of us are ready to go. Sound check in progress, I better do a warm up before we’re off. Changing rooms are well prepared. A fridge with beers, cider, vino, fruit, amazing! That’ll go down a treat post show.

30 minutes to go! And here we are all dressed and ready to go.

The Gig:
Well that seemed to go down well. Pretty crazy. I don’t remember much, apart from laughing at Jude (cast member) at one point just because she was going crazy, dancing in one of the songs. It was almost like she was having a freak out at a festival. Loved it.


Cast on stage at Latitude Festival 

Pix gave it his usual, full on ‘ow’s ya farver’. His proper arms up, stomping, ‘let’s av it’ moves make my day.

The energy on stage this afternoon, regardless of the heat was phenomenal. Maybe it’s because we knew there was just the one show to make our mark. And make it, we did.

Post show:
3.31pm and we are all off stage, almost packed up, ready for food and a beer or two. Latitude provided us with a meal ticket and so we’re off in search of food.

4.17pm and we’re elbow deep in amazing food. Proper healthy hearty stuff, courtesy of Latitude. Why thank you.

I was ‘supposed’ to be going home in the van, but that all changed when Jen decided to head back to London. I mean there was space in the van, but also, a new space in a tent. Who needs Pyjamas’, clean underwear or anything else to camp? Not me obviously!  Jen tells us to have a good time and as we don’t need telling twice, we do as we are told and the fun begins at 5.10pm.


Cast say ‘Stop Cuts to PIP’

6.11pm and we’ve made it to the camp site will all our gear. And so now, we attempt to put up this MASSIVE tent. I straight away sit back and take the role of dog’s body. I hate these situations where everyone knows the best way to do something. And as I have no clue, I take my place and basically laugh, take pictures and blog. To be fair to everyone, there was no bickering and everyone, just got on with it and it was a pretty swift operation. How many people does it take to put up a 12 person tent? More than 12! On the bright side we’re all laughing.

Jude has this covered. The mallet breaks but any object will do the trick. I’m sure there was a shoe at one point as well as the mallet head without a handle as well as hand and brute force.  I can tell Jude is used to these sorts of shenanigans.

7.10pm and so it begins. The tent is up and in the festival we go. We do a fair bit of walking around to find our bearings. It’s lovely all strolling in together. It’s not long before we start to disperse. Different people, meeting different mates here and there and drinking in the sun while we explore.

Morning!!! It’s 8.04am and we’re all up. Apart from Stephen Collins (cast member), who is deep in sheep counting land, bless him. We’re all surprisingly awake and lively. The sun is gracing us again, which is great and it’s time to get productive.

8.22am on the way to breakfast. Although I said it last night and I’ll say it again, Pink sheep? I’m not cool with that.

9.15am breakfast eaten, it’s fit a massive tent in a tiny bag time. Wish us luck.

Well that was surprisingly easy. Many hands do indeed make light work. And the tent all fitted in the bag it came in. That never happens. It’s a Miracle.

Breakfast was great, Jude left a hilarious voicemail for Rosh and Kate as we needed to get back but they were on a mission to rally Kyle from his slumber at the other camping site . Jude was also a wonderful Tent packer upper. Eventually Kate arrived back and we drove to meet Kyle and Rosh at his camping area. Kate drove home and we all slept, so I’m afraid there was little to report.

3.33pm and this is where our journey must end. I’m on my way to another job so this is where the fun must stop. For now we’re putting it to bed, Rock and roll peoples, Rock……aaaaaaannnnnnnd….rooooooooooolllllllllll!


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Reasons are back !

By Stephen Lloyd

We’re back! Six years on and none of us can believe our luck. Reasons To Be Cheerful is still going and with a special performance planned for this year’s Latitude Festival, I know I speak for everyone when I say that we were beyond excited. Billed for the Theatre stage, this was very much a concert version of the show; loaded up with a twelve song set list and enough “Oi Oi’s” to shake your rhythm stick at.

Our last performance together was only eight months ago, but on our first day back in the rehearsal room, it felt a lot longer. While the band began thrashing through each of the numbers, the rest of us blockheads headed off to re-acquaint ourselves with Mr. Dury’s lyrics and Debbie’s old dance moves (sorry, choreography).

What I’ve always loved about this show is how it is still constantly evolving, each and every time we come back to do it; the staging of ‘England’s Glory’ and ‘What A Waste’ are always slightly different, mainly down to meeting the physical demands of a new space, but quite often, and very much so this time round, due to the country’s current political status. It feels as if Reasons is just as relevant now as it was back in 2010, maybe even more so.

During rehearsals we were thrown back in with the band, a noisy bunch of troublemakers, who aren’t half clever, as we busked our way through song after song, as everything, very loudly, began to fall back into place.

R2BC Rehearsals

Reasons To Be Cheerful Rehearsals Photo by Oliver Cross

We’d been given two days to get the show up and running again and on the second we had a preview performance for an invited audience of friends of Graeae and locals who work in the area. The preview was a noisy, sweaty success, filled with anarchic fist punches, cult-like pelvic thrusts and one heck of a keytar solo.

By 8am the next morning, the van was packed and we were on our way to Henham Park, the location for this year’s festival; armed with jelly sweets, strong coffee and a few bumps and bruises from the gig the day before, all whilst listening to the artistically made and carefully selected playlist created by company member DJ Pickles.

Three and half-hours and two toilet trips later (the first one was out of order), we arrived at our final destination, warmly greeted by the ultra-cool, festival classic stewards, who promptly pointed us towards our campsite.

We had no time to put up any tents, as we were due to sound-check not too long after our arrival. As the band did so, some of us began getting into our costumes backstage. Out came the fishnets and Doc Marten boots, the white skinny jeans and sliced up t-shirts, the ‘extra-strong’ hairspray, that lets be honest, only holds for one or two songs.

As we were given the 2pm slot, we had no idea how many, if any, audience members we’d have, so it was an absolute pleasant surprise to hear that the theatre tent was almost, completely packed out. Like every Reasons show/gig/preview/rehearsal, we stepped out early to meet our new friends, handing out paper-bowls, filled with tasty bar snacks in what can only be described as ‘the calm before the storm.’ And what a storm it was.

I tapped the mic. ‘1,2…1,2…is this working? Can you hear me? Good, right. Hello!’

‘HELLO!!!’ they roared back. Yep, this lot was up for it!


On stage at Latitude Festival

Song after song, we gave it, everything we had: every note, every line, every jump, every stamp. From 0 to 10 within seconds, amps cranked up to 11. The audience was with us, every step of the way.

It was, as always, an utter joy and privilege to be singing, signing and playing these songs with this group of people, year after year to both fresh and familiar faces.

After the gig, once we calmed down, we headed out to grab some food together before half of the gang jumped back in the van and made their way back to London leaving the rest of us to (surprisingly quickly), put up a twelve-person tent in prep for spending the night at the festival.

The rest of the evening was great, filled with post-grunge all female rock bands, experimental comic storytelling, glitter fairies lurking in the enchanted forest and a mass sing-along to some of the most guilty pleasure tracks around.

We were up early the next morning, our bellies filled from a tasty fry up in the artist catering area, ready to hit the road again and rest up before our next gig at the Milton Keynes International Festival.

Oi Oi!

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By Genevieve Barr 

Graeae Theatre Company. "The Solid Life Of Sugar" by Jack Thorne. Arthur Hughes and Genevieve Barr.

Genevieve Barr in The Solid Life Of Sugar Water

“I hope we can deliver the same panache this time.”


I repeated this word to Amit, our director, as we scanned over a newspaper article in the Plymouth Herald by which he sets out his new ambitions for ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ ahead of the formidable tour we have ahead of us.

The word he has chosen to describe his visions for the show is panache.

Just so I’m clear, it wasn’t the pronunciation that confused me. Panash?
Pan-ache? PanaCHE? It ought to since it derives from the French and the French language is not particularly friendly to Deaf people. (Rendezvous being such an example).

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines panache as: “flamboyant confidence and nerve”. It also describes it as “a tuft or plume of feathers especially on a headdress”.

I think it’s pretty clear which one Amit meant. But you never know.

‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ indisputably has a lot of panache. It graphically spells out a difficult story on stage and leaves you hanging there unapologetically. It’s incredibly brave – it takes a lot of confidence for artists and a production team to take such a fragile subject and deliver it to the masses. Jack Thorne’s intricate writing and Amit Sharma’s tender direction have provided the creative input that breathe life into what’s such a stark and unspoken subject: stillbirth. I’m so proud to be a part of this.

I think what I’m trying to say is that I might have spoken a little disparagingly to Amit when the Plymouth Herald unveiled his ‘masterplan of panache’ during technical rehearsals at the Theatre Royal earlier this week. Because it is a word that helps encapsulate ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’.

This week has seen the official start of tour with audiences returning to the Theatre Royal Plymouth. We’ve had such a welcome, it’s been amazing. I’ve been pretty nervous – not in the dressing room like I was at Edinburgh, of forgetting my words or doing the show a disservice. I’ve been getting nervous in the middle of performances when I suddenly want to know if the audience are with us. The nature of the play is that we talk directly to the audience – Arthur as Phil and myself as Alice – two intimate monologues that weave themselves over 80 minutes on the stage. And as an artist, you want to feel reassured that the audience are with you – they understand what you are trying to tell them. Sometimes we don’t feel so brave about the subject we’re talking about.

Next week we go onto Birmingham, then Manchester and onto other places. That’s a new journey, because who knows what we can expect there. Right now, I’m loving the dusk of Plymouth when I walk down from the Hoe, through the Drum’s stage door and get into my pyjamas. Before I know it, it’s time to get onto the bed and captivate a new audience with the panache of ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’. I hope it lives up to everyone’s expectations.


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Making the bed again

Actor Arthur Hughes smiling, with Genevieve Barr in the background

Arthur Hughes in The Solid Life of Sugar Water

By Arthur Hughes

Four months have passed, and the bed is made once more. The Solid Life of Sugar Water, she lives, she breathes again!

We have spent this week, getting back into (onto) bed, in London at the National Theatre Studio. Since the play ran at Edinburgh last August at the fringe festival, there has been no activity from the cast or crew, however following our reception from Edinburgh, we are now heading on a national tour of the UK, finishing with a run at the Temporary Space at the National Theatre!

The week spent in London has been revisiting the lines, the ideas we had been working on in Edinburgh, and going further. We were keen to make sure we weren’t replicating what we had in Edinburgh, but indeed taking it FURTHER, finding new ways of telling the story of Phil and Alice. The strange thing was returning to the play, finding we still knew it so well, but keeping the freshness and fun every time we did it; essential before going on tour.

We were lucky to have a film crew with us for half the week, filming us in the rehearsal process, and a few interviews to gain an insight into how the show is put together. A great commemoration for the play, Graeae’s first show at the National Theatre in its 35 year history.

It has been great to be back with the team, getting back onto the vertical bed and moulding ourselves back into the Sugar Water machine.

Next stop: Plymouth!

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Introducing Graeae’s Ensemble Artists

We are thrilled to welcome our Ensemble Artists to Graeae. We asked each of them to say a little bit about themselves and why they wanted to be part of the Ensemble.

Jamal Ajala

Headshot of Jamal Ajala. A black and white photo.

Jamal Ajala. Photo by Becky Bailey.

I am Jamal Ajala. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and left Nigeria for England with my family when I was 7 for a better life. When I was 16 I joined Deafinitely Youth Theatre and I have been part of Deafinitely Theatre Hub since I was 18. The Project Manager at Deafinitely Theatre encouraged me to apply to National Youth Theatre. I auditioned and later had an email from NYT that I was accepted! I have decided to pursue my acting career and I hope to get a place at drama school next year.

Kellan Frankland

Headshot of Kellan Frankland.

Kellan Frankland. Photo by Becky Bailey

My name is Kellan Frankland. I have wanted to be an actor since I was 4 years old when I saw a carnival style float promoting a local production of Oliver. The energy and the absolute joy surrounding everyone performing was captivating and I realised that I didn’t want to do anything else. I love creating characters and find out what makes a character tick as well as the adrenalin of being on stage.

I am also interested in writing and politics, which is linked in with my love of acting. I really wanted to become part of Graeae’s Ensemble so that I could have the opportunity to gain a wider variety of skills in order to be an actor.

Poppy Hammond

headshot of Poppy Hammond

Poppy Hammond. Photo by Becky Bailey

Hello my name is Poppy Hammond. I first met Graeae through the Orpheus Centre and I did work experience with Graeae two years ago. One of my tutors at Orpheus e-mailed me about the Ensemble programme and I auditioned in September.

I love being on the stage and I have always thought about taking it further. I am really looking forward to doing more training in movement and Shakespeare and I can’t wait for the performances.

Joshua King

Headshot of Joshua King

Joshua King. Photo by Becky Bailey

My name is Joshua King and I have always wanted to be an actor. When I was a child I used to watch a lot of films and that is where I first found my interest in acting. Although many pathways are blocked for disabled artists, I was accepted on the Ensemble programme. I am an artist within a cast of other Ensemble artists in this programme and am privileged enough to be taught by some of the most experience tutors in the field.

I will learn the skills that I need to become a successful actor and work with some very talented cast members. My hopes from the programme are to improve my acting skills and take in as much knowledge as I can. I also hope that one day I can make my contribution to the arts – I have always tried to push the boundaries of what I can do as a disabled person and will continue to do so, and now too with the help of Graeae.

Vanessa Smith

Headshot of Vanessa Smith

Vanessa Smith. Photo by Becky Bailey

Hi my name is Vanessa and if people were to describe my acting they would say, intense funny and silencing. I am registered blind but I never allow it to hold me back. I do not think of myself as a blind actress but merely an actress who happens to be blind. I have done a variety of projects including working with the Youth Theatre in Liverpool Collective Encounters and this has allowed me to be skilled in my acting. I have a good ear for different accents and this improves my acting as it means that if I have to play a role involving different accents I can learn them more quickly.

Dave Young

Headshot of Dave Young

Dave Young. Photo by Becky Bailey

I am Dave, I am a poet and am in training to be a theatre maker. I feel that everybody should have a right to communicate and share their ideas, thoughts and feelings. I have been involved with theatre from the age of 11 with a youth company called ‘The Remix’ with Diverse City. I performed at the Olympic Opening Ceremony for the Weymouth sailing events in 2012.

I call myself the Shouting Mute. I am non-verbal and I use an eye gaze computer system to speak. I am a wheelchair user most of the time but I use a walking frame for sport and drama.

I applied to be part of Ensemble with Graeae because I want to expand my knowledge about the performing arts and I want to write plays; so I can make my own wonderful worlds in the future.

Group shot of the Ensemble against a black wall with white lines chalked on it. They are all smiling and have their arms around each other

The Ensemble. Photo by Becky Bailey


Ensemble is supported by City Bridge Trust. 


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