Sharda Harrison and her family are bringing the joys of art and theatre to their community through their company, Pink Gajah.
What’s your story?
Pink Gajah Theatre was founded in 2013. Pink Gajah translates to Pink Elephant. Gajah means elephant in Malay. This name reflects our desire ‘not’ to talk about issues which creep up in society as in the ‘elephant in the room.’
We are a family team, comprising of a sister, brother and mother unit. We run the business as a family, with a drama education wing, a theatre production wing as well as a platform for young theatre makers to workshop their works in progress. For us, art is crucial in a society and we fight to bring the joys and discoveries that can be found through theatre to our community.
What excites you most about your industry?
The theatre industry in Singapore is growing rapidly. I enjoy this industry because it is all about creativity. Anything is possible. If one has an idea, there are people in the theatre industry who are willing and ready to come together to give birth to the idea with you in a collaborative way. It is an industry full of comradery. Of course there is healthy competition, but I believe making art is also about holding hands. We need to make profits to stay afloat and feed the industry and ourselves, but also, most of the time, theatre is a powerful place where there is an ability to change human perspectives through story and a collective experience.
What’s your connection to Asia?
A lot of the stories and characters that Pink Gajah Theatre tells through our productions (though few as we are still new) and our student’s productions weave in characters that are local and from Asia. We believe that there is treasure in our backyard, which is an abundance of culture, ritual and myth that is born in Asia. If we are constantly looking to the West alone to make our theatre and create programs for our students, then I feel we are giving away our treasure and denying our youth of all the many possibilities of being connected to such a rich source of Asian identity and culture. Pink Gajah Theatre likes to blend both Western methodologies and Asian theatre practices in our approach to theatre.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, mainly because it is a gateway to the possibilities within the arts. We have plenty of funding and support from our government and belief in the artists and businesses here to promote many areas of the arts from the visual, to the literary, to the performing arts. There is also a major interest in the arts from Singaporeans and foreigners who support local artists. Singapore, like her bustling port city history, is a place where both local and international come together to give Singaporeans a taste of many cultures. This as mentioned, opens a gateway of business opportunities to set up companies, create theatre and also reach out through education businesses.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Finish what you start.
Who inspires you?
My father, Bernard Harrison. He used to be the CEO of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Now he currently runs his own design zoo company. He is part of the reason why Pink Gajah Theatre was founded. We wanted to fuse conservation messages with theatre and film. Bernard Harrison has always been unconventional in his management style. He is always trying to break boundaries and allow for more creative management styles. At Pink Gajah Theatre, he has inspired us to break the norms of what theatre is and what theatre education is too, always seeking to form new ways of connecting with our audiences and community.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I have just learnt recently that every ant buries its dead within the walls of its colony. I think in the world that we live in today with so much competition amongst countries, we fail to see that life is not only about becoming successful and climbing to the top of that ladder alone, or with a few good people. If ants within their colonies, which can make up thousands, to millions of ants sometimes, are capable of accounting for all their dead, then as human beings, I hope we too can start to operate within big corporations in the same way. My hope is that whatever business we are in, we connect to the people we are in contact with and we genuinely create working life structures that are wholesome and inclusive as opposed to exclusive.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. All the choices I have made, silly choices and moral choices, good and bad, have all lead me to where I am. There are many more choices I have yet to make and many more places I would like to go to in my life both physically and mentally.
How do you unwind?
I have a gin and tonic with some very good friends and we talk and laugh and sing. I also skateboard a lot. When I am in my second home, Bali, I go surfing.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Indonesia. My father lives in Bali. I adore the culture of Indonesia because it is so varied. There are over 25,000 islands and I have hardly even been to more than five. It is a relaxing archipelago of different cultures and tastes and sights. It keeps me fascinated all the time!
Everyone in business should read this book:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It is about a seagull who wasn’t content with being like all the other seagulls. He chose to rise to greater heights. It is a short but powerful read which gives a good metaphor for life and for business. As my theater mentor always says, “If it doesn’t scare you, it isn’t worth it.”
Shameless plug for your business:
If you would like to expose your children or your company to discover acting and movement through the body and mind, in devising your own stories and/or learning about presentation skills, get in touch with us at Pink Gajah Theatre and we can arrange to design a customised workshop for you. Also stay tuned to our facebook page, ‘PINK GAJAH THEATRE’ for news and updates on our theatre productions and open works in progress showcases.
How can people connect with you?
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>