Fostering a community of artists to be a greater force for collective change in Singaporean theatre.
Project Tandem is spearheaded by Young Artist Award winner/theatre practitioner Peter Sau and kick-started by a modest British Council seed grant in 2017. Produced by Natalie Lim and creatively supported by Grace Khoo from Access Path Productions, we believe that if there are enough trained and skilled disabled performers working in the arts sector, our community of artists can then be a greater force for collective change in Singaporean theatre. This paradigm shift can occur through the first step of addressing the gaps in professional training and employment by creating a new generation of D/deaf and disabled artists.
Currently, up to 12 selected Deaf and disabled trainees are experiencing a range of practical and learning environments that prepare them to affect essential changes across the theatre industry.
Read more about Project Tandem here:
Peter Sau – A Personal Sentiment and Statement
With continuous NAC-supported capability-development in the UK in the last 2 years, I have grown to become highly aware of the gap in Singapore’s cultural and artistic landscape – professional disability arts. In the UK, by claiming a place for disability experience in the arts as worthy and invaluably different, the Deaf and disabled artists took aim at hackneyed stereotypes and the recurring use of disabilities as metaphors for something negative and pitiful. In many disability-led festivals and performances, the open debates and quality performances decried false media images, advocated for greater participation and inclusion of disabled people, and sought to create art that expressed and explored disability as a universal human condition. Professional Deaf and disabled artists engaged in both critiques of dominant and problematic modes of performing disability and explored new and rigorous ways to put disability in another much-needed light on stage. It is apparent that disability theatre should connect to impulses for social justice in the face of prevailing ableist ideologies to recognise profoundly disabled lives and experiences as inherently valuable, particularly in their connection to the fully empowered expression of human variation.
In Singapore, a new kind of disability-led theatre-making should partake in the growing international exchange of practice, remarkable for its progressive force, artistic re-imagining of theatre traditions and lively aesthetic debates. It should be rooted in a kind of cultural provocation and not reduced to just a single pattern, model, site, disability experience, or means of conventional theatre production.
Instead of assuming artistic persons with disabilities ‘can’t do much things’, we should empower them to embrace ‘I can do things DIFFERENTLY’. This difference breaks homogeneity and allows news perspectives of creating and presenting artistic work. More so needed now, when Singaporean works are getting mainstreamed, predictable and for a lack of a better term, similar. Our current theatre scene needs a shake-up.
No longer should Deaf and disabled people and their conditions (invisible or visible) be perceived in the realm of survivor live re-enactments, inspirational and heroic icons, or figures of tragedy; but realigned to become a celebration of true diversity of the human condition and recognition of our own futures. Perhaps another way to reflect about this is: we are not non-disabled, instead, we are not-yet disabled. On the same note, we should rethink whether we should keep letting non-disabled actors command the limelight and in most instances, be admired and awarded for their ‘believable’ and ‘incredible’ performances through performing Deaf and disabled characters on stage. This trivializes the visibility and fair representation of people with disabilities in Singapore and hence, side-lines their artistic potential to become emerging artists and eventually, role model artists with disabilities, on par with non-disabled artists.
Being disabled compels PWDs to be creative problem solvers their whole lives; they are more resilient, committed and adaptable to the unknown. They are vital forces to reinvigorate artistic practices at all fronts in a cross-sector approach, to re-imagine new possibilities and instil potential in personal, community and artistic transformation informed by different geographical, socio-economic and diverse cultural contexts.
Take away from them, the labels and stigmas, and their genius might be revealed, to enable all of us more ways to experience the world.