One-to-one with Vijay Patel

A photo of Vijay Patel. Vijay is a brown person holding a microphone and wearing a purple top, with a ypoung person, slightly blurred in the image, behind them playing piano

One-to-one with Vijay Patel

June 2024

Image credit: Claire Haigh

In this regular feature, we put a spotlight on an Essex-based creative practitioner working in diversity. We recently spent some time with Vijay Patel, who is a performance artist, writer and neurodivergent access consultant.

One goal that underpins much of Vijay’s work is a drive for a more inclusive society and the belief that accessibility benefits everyone. As a queer, neurodivergent and working-class artist, he has a strong desire to amplify the voices of those who are marginalised, often using his own experiences as a starting point.

When I was introduced to Vijay as Thinker in Residence at Colchester Arts Centre, my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to meet for a one-to-one to find out more about him and this unusual job title.

The role of Thinker in Residence was originally conceived by Anthony Roberts, Director of Colchester Arts Centre. Anthony has been the illustrious leader of this well-established arts space for more than 30 years, and is often lauded for his innovative thinking and initiating new ways of working. He was interested in bringing in a person with intersectional lived experiences to work on the senior management team to help make Colchester Arts Centre more inclusive for their staff, artists and audiences. Vijay explains that this leadership role is holistic; he does not just consult on access in a standalone, reactive capacity; this proactive role is more about being instrumental in organisational wide decisions across all areas, from artistic programming to staffing and operations, ensuring that diversity and accessibility is embedded at all levels of the organisation.

The role has developed collaboratively over the last couple of years, and Vijay has influenced and implemented many new policies, including the creation of the ‘access host’ role at events, developing ‘access riders’ that help articulate the needs of disabled and neurodivergent performers, and co-programming Wonderful Wednesdays, commissioning wider representation for Colchester Arts Centre’s weekly platform for experimental theatre and live art.

Vijay was brought up in South West London with strong family links to Jaywick in Tendring on the Essex coast, and so he is pleased that one of his tasks as Thinker in Residence is leading an outreach project across the Tendring area, where he has been devising bespoke community engagement projects, such as a performance programme to help support and energise arts and culture, and an apprenticeship scheme for young people.

This is a photo of Vijay during a live performance of their show, Pull the Trigger. Vijay is a brown person wearing a black wig and a black dress with the skirt covered in cut out crisp packet wrappers. The set in the background mainly consists of towers of cardboard crisp boxes. The stage has black flooring with a general stage lighting wash

Image credit: Holly Revell

Vijay’s performance work is predominantly autobiographical, drawing on his creative background in live art, performance, and queer cabaret. He makes personal yet political work with the aim to challenge perceptions and to foster a greater understanding for marginalised, intersectional identities. His work is often a vehicle for him to share and reclaim his own experiences, and to smash the stigma surrounding queerness, cultural identity and ‘othered’ neurodiverse brains. He also hopes that, through sharing his own experiences, he will help others to understand and speak out about their own needs.

At the time of writing, he is coming to the end of a live art theatre tour of the final work in what he sees as a trilogy of solo shows. The first, Pull the Trigger, explores Indian corner shop culture, work, migration and queerness. It was born out of a second-generation migrant work ethic, working in his father’s corner shop, discovering his queer identity, and exploring (sometimes conflicting) personal, societal and family values.

A photo of Vijay taken during a live performance of their show, Sometimes I Leave. Vijay is a brown person with blue hair, wearing a leafy green shirt and yellow washed dungarees. They are laying on a black stage floor with their eyes closed. A general lighting wash is covering the stage

Image credit: Holly Revell

Vijay’s second solo show, Sometimes I Leave, explores his experience of autism, access and the need to sometimes leave difficult, often inaccessible situations. It takes the audience on a neurodivergent journey, often fuelled by anxiety, offering a better understanding of how those with differently wired brains navigate the world.

His current show, Brotherly, Otherly, Disorderly has been developed in partnership with his younger brother Jayden. It is a show by two autistic siblings in the form of a neurodivergent pop concert, inspired by the likes of Steps, Abba and Elton John. As Vijay explains on his website:

“It’s a joyous and celebratory theatrical toolkit for the brothers’ autistic superpowers (singing and piano) amongst navigating the barriers they face within a neurotypical world. B.O.D is a love letter to sibling care and neurodivergent solidarity, a theatrical access rider and a dream of a better world”

After 13 years of making theatre and live art, Vijay is currently taking a natural pause in his performance work to develop his role as Access Consultant, which he sees as a crucial part of his creative practice, imperative to his mission to change society’s attitudes towards disability and neurodiversity. He has recently been awarded an Arts Council England DYCP (Developing Your Creative Practice) to focus on this side of his practice.

This builds on the work he has been doing at Colchester Arts Centre, offering advice and training for individuals and organisations in the arts sector around inclusivity and access. Clients have included the community-focussed Camden People’s Theatre, and Heart of Glass, a Merseyside-based community arts organisation who make collaborative art in film, music and performance.

His specialism is in live art and performance, but he is currently exploring the world of tv and media, where access is currently underrepresented.