Jeffrey Tan Wants To Enable People With Disabilities To Dance

The co-director and producer of dance-theatre performance SAME-SAME explores friendship between differently abled artistes from Australia and Singapore.

Jeffrey Tan Wants To Enable People With Disabilities To Dance

Having conceptualised, produced, directed theatre productions for kids, youths, adults and even the elderly throughout his 23-year career, Jeffrey Tan has tackled his fair share of challenges. But for SAME-SAME (grab your ticket here), which shows 13 and 14 November, he’s had to dig deep.

An Arts for Good (A4G) project — an initiative by the Singapore International Foundation to support artists and arts-based projects for social change — SAME-SAME is one of five selected from nearly 140 applications from across 25 countries.

Seeking to highlight the experiences of performers with disabilities during Covid-19, Same-Same features a cross-border collaboration between Australia’s No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability and Singapore’s Diverse Abilities Dance Collective.

Tan, many of whose projects were postponed or cancelled when Covid-19 struck, took the down time to reflect. “Both people with disabilities and no disabilities were stuck at home during circuit breaker! How are we similar during Covid-19? How are we different? How can connecting online and the arts bring us together?”

These became the central theme of SAME-SAME, which features seven performers from Australia and Singapore. Since Tan couldn’t physically meet them, he assembled the cast based on video auditions. Rehearsals took place on Zoom over three months, so Tan had to think outside the box (literally) to keep his team artistically and emotionally connected.

“It was an interesting way to discover our own boundaries and break them. For instance, everyone interpreted the same set of instructions differently. To connect with them and understand their passions and challenges, I tried to get to know them better.”

He adds: “Because every performer is living with different disabilities, his or her needs are different. From connecting online to unmuting to speak, speaking for some is already a daily challenge. Even those without disabilities can feel helpless and angry when they cannot connect, see or hear, or when the technology fails. But the desire to connect is strong and this can be seen when their eyes light up or when they start dancing.”  

Tan didn’t want to give the plot away during this interview, but he wants the “madness, joy and meaning” of SAME-SAME to provoke audiences to consider how the able can develop friendship with those with disabilities.

“Socialising might be the last thing on anyone’s mind these days. Yet, ironically, it was also through the pandemic that we discover how easily we can make friends online with people who are different from us,” he points out.

“And that’s how we approached the collaboration — when the Internet, minds and hearts work together, we come away with a fresh perspective on what it means to connect with others. When we build a more inclusive world, we can become open to differences and know that we are never alone even during the toughest of times.”

The story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of A Magazine.  

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