Claire Teo has been “singing ever since [she] could remember”. “I’d admit, not very well,” she laughs. “But I knew it was something I loved, and I kept practising to enter my school’s choir.” When she watched a performance of The Phantom of the Opera at 15, it was a decisive career moment for her – she knew she wanted to be a professional performer. “I wanted to be the next Christine Daaé (the main female character from the musical and novel), and I haven’t looked back since.”
Indeed she hasn’t. Today, the 22-year-old thespian wears multiple hats in the theatre world. She has served as a performer, scriptwriter and director for various projects, and has held roles such as an educator, programmes’ executive, and access consultant.
Her young age doesn’t hold her back, and neither does her disability. Diagnosed at the age of four, Claire has retinitis pigmentosa. A group of rare eye diseases that affect the retina, the genetic condition results in symptoms such as night blindness, tunnel vision, photophobia and colour vision deficiency.
Her visual impairment has not deterred the determined theatre actress from performing. Claire was the first visually impaired person to have graduated from a professional theatre course in Singapore, under the Lasalle College of the Arts’ diploma in performance programme. She is now a performing artist at Art:Dis, a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating learning and livelihood opportunities for persons with disabilities in the arts.
Her most recent performance was at the launch of Shaping Hearts 2022, Singapore’s largest inclusive arts event organised by the North East Community Development Council (NECDC).
“Platforms like Shaping Hearts builds awareness and creates visibility for the wider community. Having the event publicised and located in the heartlands is a strong statement that persons with disabilities are everyday characters, which slowly but surely normalises us in the minds of people. It also provides an opportunity for us to speak our truths and dreams openly, take pride in our expertise and be recognised for it.”
“My dreams have evolved over the years. And beyond entertainment, I’ve learnt that art is a medium for connection and an agent for social change,” she asserts.
Here, Claire shares with us the reasons that propelled her to raise awareness for artists with disabilities, the stigmas surrounding the visually impaired community, especially in the show industry, as well as how she deals with burnout and overcoming the challenges in her career.