SRT is partnering with Access Path Productions to launch a unique theatre training program for diverse needs and abilities. The Inclusive Young Company (IYC) will see disabled actors hone their skills over 16 weeks, exploring various modules and disciplines such as puppetry, cabaret and playwriting under the guidance of lead facilitator Grace Lee-Khoo and various established guest lecturers. We spoke to Isaac, a recent graduate of IYC’s pilot program — here are his thoughts on the arts, performing as a disabled artist and more.
1. Where did your love of performing/the arts come from?
It started in primary school, when I was enrolled in drama as an enrichment program. Then, I took it up as a CCA in secondary school. I even dropped out of my university's Engineering program and switched to Theatre Studies. In theatre, there are so many layers to explore and so many roles for me to play.
2. How long have you been performing, and what type of performances have you been in?
I can't quantify that, as I have been interested in various aspects of theatre and the arts at different points in life. There were times when I was more interested in backstage work such as stage management. I've even dabbled my hand in directing! As an adventurous person, I am open to trying out new things. I've done Shakespeare, traditional puppetry and even opera.
Over the years, I have been more interested in creating work, and have been honing my skills as a playwright. I mostly prefer contemporary and postmodernism works. Being experimental means that performance art and forum theatre is also part of my portfolio.
3. What made you sign up for Inclusive Young Company (IYC)?
A lower-back injury in 2019 changed my life. As a result, I needed a wheelchair to move about. I thought my life would become distant from theatre and the arts, and I would no longer be able to fully participate in what I love.
But I got to know Access Path Production's Grace Lee-Khoo, and then IYC came along, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for a fresh start. So I decided to give it a go and give myself a chance, and signed up for the exposure program.
4. How has the program supported you? And what has been your biggest takeaway from the program?
The 16 weeks might seem short, but it opened my eyes to the world of inclusive arts, diverse abilities, and new ways to move outside of my comfort zone.
Every week’s program was fun-filled, yet challenging. My biggest takeaway would probably be to believe in every individual, find out ways to put oneself into the process and find out what one can do despite physical or other limitations. It was fun to push myself, and whenever I saw my fellow batchmates dare to try new things, I felt happy and proud of them.
5. As a disabled artist, what are some of the challenges you continue to face when it comes to performances/performing opportunities?
Accessibility, without a doubt. The lack of adequate provisions to ensure an inclusive environment is an unfortunate by-product of systemic oppression. People will always judge a disabled actor, even if it isn’t written into the character.
For progress to occur, the general audience’s mindset needs to change. The theatre companies need to change their perspectives.
Who said a physically disabled artist cannot play Hamlet? Who says a visually impaired actor won’t be great at portraying Tartuffe? Why are we restraining how we see the world?
6. In terms of representation for disabled artists, how can Singapore do better? And what do you hope to see for the future of the Disability Arts scene in Singapore?
It’s slow, but I believe we are off to a good start. Disabled artists shouldn't be limited to being streetside performers, earning mere coins. We need to give them respect and space, and the chances to collaborate with able-bodied artists to tell stories. Integrate them. Integrate us.
It’s a niche category for now, and I hope to see it grow in the future.
7. Lastly, what message do you have for young disabled performers, and why should they be a part of IYC?
Go beyond your disability, and just try. Try to move within your means, try to tell the stories you want to tell, and try to break out of the shell and go further. Don’t let your disability define you, let’s define what we want to do despite our disability, and then do some more!
The Inclusive Young Company is currently in session from 10th July - 23rd October - find out more about the program here.