It is no secret that people with learning difficulties are underrepresented in many areas of life including politics, the jobs market and inclusion in "mainstream" community life. Skillnet works hard to challenge and change this, leading the way in celebrating the rich value that equality alongside people with learning difficulties brings to society. One of the key areas that needs changing is our entertainment and media; TV, radio, film and music.
Increasingly, people with a learning difficulty are being given a voice in the news and in documentaries aiming to raise awareness and change attitudes. This is great! However, there is still a lot of work to do; the majority of people with learning difficulties on TV are only featured talking about disability rather than in mainstream media and entertainment; they are still segregated and portrayed as being "different". People in TV, films and music are the figures many people, particularly young people, look up to in our celebrity culture. We are finally seeing an increase in the numbers of women, gay people and people from ethnic minorities playing leading roles (although there is still a way to go). If we do not ensure that people with learning difficulties and disabilities are also represented as relatable role models, we are depriving young people of the chance to see people with learning difficulties as equal and powerful figures in society.
We are privileged to work alongside one of Britain's ambassadors for inclusion in this area, Dover based actor, Sam Barnard. Sam has been a member of Skillnet for many years, working within our performing arts and catering groups. With a role in a forthcoming episode of Casualty airing next week, Skillnet’s Louise Allen interviewed Sam to find out more about the man many of you may recognise from the Channel 4 series, The Undateables.
Louise - What acting jobs have you been working on over the last few months?
Sam - I have been working on Grantchester for ITV and Casualty for BBC. We filmed the first episode of the new series of Grantchester in the Cotswolds last Autumn and it was shown in May this year. Casualty was filmed on location in Wales and in the BBC studio in Cardiff in February and will be on BBC1 in June. I have also been doing some work on a possible theatre tour in a well-known play. The three lead roles in it will all have Down's Syndrome, although the characters in the play don't have Down's Syndrome. It will be professionally produced and directed and will go on tour if the money from investors can be found. I have also recorded a monologue for the National Theatre's diversity website. So, it has been busy for my acting this year.
Louise - What were the highlights / best bits?
Sam - Taking the mick out of Robson Green and working with the great team at Casualty and my co-star and good mate Alfie Stewart. Making TV dramas is all about team work and I really enjoy that.
Louise - What has been the biggest challenge during filming for Grantchester or Casualty?
Sam - Both Grantchester and Casualty were filmed in cold, damp old buildings - so keeping warm was a challenge. But the make-up artists gave me thermals to wear under my costume and hand and foot warmers. Also filming often starts very early, so I needed to get up early.
Louise - How did you get involved in acting?
Sam - In 2007 a Casting Director sent an email to Skillnet about a lead role in a TV drama called Coming Down the Mountain. Louise Jones from Skillnet supported me to phone the Casting Director and my Dad went to London with me for my first audition. I was asked to go back for more auditions and got down to the last two out of 300 people they met. But in the end I didn't get the role. Disappointing, but the Casting Director gave me the name of an agent and she took me on her books. My first film, as an extra was The Oxford Murders with John Hurt and Elijah Wood. Then I auditioned for a year's acting
course for people with learning difficulties run by Mountview Academy in London and Mind the Gap Theatre Company in Bradford. It was excellent and I learned so much about acting and drama.
Louise - Do you ever get star struck?
Sam - No, I don't get star struck at all. The stars I have worked with are all very nice, ordinary people.
Louise - Has anyone ever recognised you in the street or asked for your autograph?
Sam - No one has asked me for my autograph yet, but I have been stopped lots of times by people who recognise me, mostly from when I was in The Undateables as myself. It is nice of people to tell me that they have enjoyed the show.
Louise - What do you think it is like to be an actor with a learning difficulty?
Sam - I think it is the same to be an actor whether you have a learning disability or not. I need support to help me learn my lines, but I am good at remembering them. I am always professional when I work as an actor. I am on time and patient between scenes. I think producers and directors are understanding more now what actors with learning disabilities are capable
of. I like the way I am treated as an equal and as part of the big team that makes TV dramas or theatre plays. There are still not enough roles for disabled actors, especially in the theatre. But things are getting better. I am proud of my work on that.
Louise - Can you tell us anything about what we can expect in your Casualty episode?
Sam - You will all have to tune in to BBC1 to find out! But I can promise action, drama and emotion!
Sam's episode of Casualty will be aired on Saturday 24th June on BBC One.