By Madeleine Neal
In her latest theatrical role, Meredith Saletta shines her spotlight on the issue of inclusion.
Saletta, an assistant professor in the University of Iowa Communication Sciences and Disorders Department, combines her passion for theater and skills as an instructor through her involvement in Combined Efforts Theater Company, a visual- and performing-arts company that focuses on purposeful collaboration between artists with and without disabilities.
One of the reasons Saletta said she enjoys her role in Combined Efforts is because of her brother, who has Down Syndrome, also shares a passion for performing arts.
The company will put on an original production Friday through Aug. 6 at City High, 1900 Morningside Drive. The production Two Seasons is a comedy about a family that tries to keep its hotel operating. Saletta, who serves as the company’s grant-writing director and who also plays one of the production’s lead roles, said the cast, which comprises about a dozen actors, is a good group that focuses on working together.
“No one looks down on anyone else,” she said. “When people come together, people with disabilities, people without disabilities, we don’t say, ‘You have a disability; we’re not going to challenge you — we’re only going to put you in a small role.’ Everyone is equally challenged.”
Production director Emma Genesen said the cast is not only inclusive of people with disabilities but also of members with varying ages.
“We have a huge age range — our youngest cast member, I believe, is 8 years old, and our oldest is in her 80s,” she said.
Genesen, a UI student majoring in theater, said she appreciates the diverse and inclusive environment.
“I think what’s really special about this group is the way everyone helps each other out, and I have always been sort of a collaborative team leader when it comes to theater,” she said. “… When you’re in an environment when everyone has different needs and different challenges, the way you work to help each other out often creates something different and better than you would have created on your own.”
Although she thinks that is true of all theaters, Genesen said the creativity is particularly noticeable at Combined Efforts.
Janet Schlapkohl, a programs manager who played a role in founding Combined Efforts, said the company has an opportunity to change perceptions of people with disabilities.
The theater company, which does not yet have what Schlapkohl calls a home base, wants people of all ages, abilities, careers, and interests to know that there is a place for them at Combined Efforts.
“People may have a preconceived conception of what [the company] might be like, but we are inclusive, which means anyone at any level of experience can participate,” she said.