OffWestEnd talks to Charlene Salter – actor, writer, facilitator, consultant and co-chair of the board at Access All Areas

Access All Areas make disruptive theatre and performance by learning disabled and autistic artists, often making work based around our own life experiences. We also work to break barriers and change the game in theatre, TV and film.

Right now we’re running a programme called Transforming Leadership National to support learning disabled and autistic leaders in the arts to find their voice and take power. We’re also helping arts organisations to employ those learning disabled and autistic leaders and change the industry, and helping society to see the world through our eyes.

What first attracted you to the theatre?

I’m attracted to being playful and being part of a company, to being a totally different character to myself, embracing emotions and engaging and interacting with audiences.

I like the audience to do the work too – to solve the puzzle!

A lot of my work has been with Access All Areas, and I’ve always really enjoyed being a part of learning disabled and autistic people having a voice, and be represented.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

It’s always Access All Areas! I’ve been an associate artist at Access All Areas for years, I was on their diploma at Central School of Speech and Drama, and now I’m the co-chair of their board. Why would I work with anyone else?

But I’m always open to working on new things and to see where my potential evolves and changes.

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre in general?

Off West End theatre is where you really see representation, and work that feels really different and unique. I love seeing shows like “Not F*ckin’ Sorry” at Soho Theatre – shows where LGBTQ+ and learning disabled artists have a voice. That representation is getting better – but there are still bumps on the road to get there.

I like shows that are quite messy and honest, and you always find those off West End!

What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?

I’d have to say “Madhouse” by Access All Areas in 2018, because it explored learning disabled people in institutions. For myself, doing the research for “Madhouse, My House?” with AAA, it fed into the show and was such a learning curve.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I made a show called The Interrogation, which gave audiences a sense of what it feels like to be me walking the streets. The Lowry and Access All Areas commissioned me to make a show with a writer called Shaun Dunne, which audiences experienced through their phones and in-person.

Audiences got to see that disabled people are often thought about as threatening or dangerous, even in moments when they’re really vulnerable. I got lots of great feedback on the show and really wanted the audience to acknowledge the people who might just need a bit of help. I was really proud of how powerful that experience was.

What things in your personal life do you draw upon when you work on Transforming Leadership National ?

The programme is about helping learning disabled and autistic people take up leadership positions like becoming a co-director or being involved in governance. I did the first version of the Transforming Leadership programme, and after three years now I’m the co-chair of the board at Access All Areas, so I get to be the boss! I’ve also co-directed shows and I hope that people can see if I can do it, then maybe other learning disabled and autistic artists can do it too.

If you’re learning disabled or autistic – focus on your dream, and if you need support, ask for it, don’t be afraid. You’ll always be a star, and if they can’t see it – come to me!

Are there any performers you would like to work with?

I’d like to work with Mat Fraser because he’s another pioneer in disability representation.

Which person in the arts do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?

I respect everyone in the arts who stands up for what they think is right – who’s on a journey to break down barriers.

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?

I’m going to be in a new show I’ve helped create at the Royal Court! I can’t tell you any more about it but you should keep an eye out on Access All Areas’ social media because it should be announced very soon!