BY LEE LEE LIM
Dreams start with purpose.
My decision to do a disability film came about when I was approached by an international panel of artists to be part of an international disability movement, “Thrive Aid”. The global livestream of disability-made work aimed to give hope in the midst of the pandemic – an especially important endeavour as many COVID-19 victims have been vulnerable disabled persons.
I too wanted to do something to give hope. To tell the world that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That we, the global disabled, are here to support and encourage Persons with Disabilities around the world and we can do so through the power of stories. Because of lockdowns and lack of funding in many countries, producing the new content proved challenging for many of our compatriots at Thrive Aid. I saw their struggles and I knew that we had to do something In Singapore, because we were lucky to be safe and sound, and supported by the National Arts Council and partners who’ve made the film possible.
Against all odds, the film was created and presented to an international audience via livestream, with Singapore contributing a piece “When Paths Cross” (which appears as one of three shorts in Perspectives), on 3 December 2020 — the International Day for Disabled People. It garnered a viewership of more than 6,000 across 3 time zones. As of this writing, the viewership is growing and counting.
The film is a culmination of a long held dream.
I was first introduced to the concept of Disability Arts in 2016, a movement spearheaded in the UK by artists with disabilities who advocate for more recognition, access and opportunities in the arts.
The scene is growing in Singapore.
My first script was inspired by my guide dog, Nice, and performed for the audition of “And Suddenly I Disappear: the Singapore ‘d’ Monologues”, a disability-led theatre production by UK playwright Kaite O’Reilly. The production was later produced by the fantastic Access Path Productions in both Singapore and the UK and I had the opportunity to be part of the creative process. At the same time, institutions like the British Council, Singapore International Foundation, Very Special Arts and Gateway Theatre have started to advocate and raise the profile of artists with disabilities. I feel like I am part of a bigger movement sweeping Singapore.
I worked closely with collaborators Peter Sau and Stephanie Fam to start up “Project Tandem”, a performing arts training group for disabled actors. We applied for a National Arts Council grant and were invited to an interview. Instead of guiding me to a chair at the interview, Nice took me to the trash bin where she took a mouthful of discarded tissue papers. Calmly, I stooped down and instructed her to “give” which she did and proceeded to guide me to a chair. After Peter explained his vision and how the grant funding would help develop that ambition, Chandran, one of the panelists remarked, “Before you came, I had many questions, but they have all been answered. You can leave now”. The rest is history.
My confidence has been bolstered by such a warm and welcoming environment in Singapore. I was also selected for the Sync Singapore leadership programme for emerging disabled artists, building even more confidence in the process. We were encouraged to take charge of our careers and boldly push ourselves.
I’ve harboured a dream since 2017-18 to lead a performance produced and created by persons with disabilities from Singapore.
COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works when theatres shut down but challenges have always spurred me on to reach further. With the assistance of Joanne, a longtime producer, we applied and were awarded the National Arts Council Digital Presentation Grant.
Building A Team, Building A Dream
I invited my Sync Singapore kakis (peers), Stephanie Esther Fam, an aspiring writer and performer and Victor Tan, a world-renowned wire sculptor to join me. Harmony Community Choir later joined us to provide the music. When I approached Michael Chua, an experienced film and media entrepreneur, to shoot the film, I was prepared for him to say “no” but he said, “Let’s go, let’s rock!”, which took me by surprise, and he roped in Vincent. Joanne and Yonglun then introduced Peggy Ferroa who also joined the team as Director and has been instrumental in shaping Perspectives.
From the outset, we were very clear we don’t want this film to be disabled focus, but to be human focused. We wanted to create human stories from our “Perspectives” as disabled people – that we are all human beings regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, disability, etc. We are not defined by what we are, but who we are, and we write our own stories daily – stories of sadness, inspiration, everyday muses and relationships, taboos and bravery. By exploring these topics, we aimed to draw out stories of resilience, courage and strength. I wanted to demonstrate that life can be difficult, puzzling but ultimately, beautiful.
Given the opportunity and recognition, persons with disabilities are willing and are capable of contributing to society, beyond low-wage labour in society. We are unique individuals with stories to tell – stories you probably have never heard or watched before. ‘Perspectives’ capture these stories.
I believe “Perspectives” and its message of resilience and strength, will travel far and wide, impacting and touching lives.
Please join me 25 March 2021 at 6:00pm or 7:30pm in person or online on this website to see, walk and feel for yourselves.