Haresh Sharma



Haresh Sharma (b. 1965, Singapore–) is the resident playwright of The Necessary Stage, Singapore. A critically-acclaimed playwright known for his socially-conscious plays, he has written more than 100 plays that have been staged in Singapore and abroad, such as Berlin, Busan, Germany, Melbourne as well as Birmingham and London in the UK.1 He won the 1993 Singapore Literature Prize for his play Still Building. In 1997, he was conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council for his literary contributions. In 2014, he won the regional S.E.A. Write award for Singapore. In recognition of his contributions to the arts in Singapore, the National Arts Council presented him with the Cultural Medallion Award in 2015.

Early life 
Sharma grew up in the eastern region of Singapore. He was educated at Temasek Junior College and recalls a love for literature since his school days. However, he did not think his writings or compositions then were exceptional.

Sharma’s interest in playwriting was piqued only during his national service. During that time, he was assigned an 8-to-5 job in the army and was often home by night. Out of boredom and to occupy his time, he auditioned for and landed an acting part in the Arts Festival in June 1986. He then became more involved in theatre. Sharma was an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1987 when he became an early member of the experimental theatre group, The Necessary Stage (TNS).3 He started writing plays in 1988 after acting and handling publicity and backstage production work with TNS.

Sharma’s literary influences include Caryl Churchill, Maria Irene Fornes, E. M. Forster, David E. Kelly, Gary Larson, Bill Watterson and Harvey Kurtzman.5

Career as a full-time playwright
Upon graduation from NUS in 1990, Sharma began his tenure as the resident playwright of TNS, a position he still holds today. On average, he writes three to four plays a year for TNS’s main season of plays. This excludes plays he writes for the company’s youth festivals and school programmes.


Sharma’s plays are critically acclaimed. In 1993, he was conferred the Singapore Literature Prize (Merit) for his play, Still Building.The published collection of the same title also won him a National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) Book Prize (Commendation) in 1996.Still Building was chosen to represent Singapore at the 1992 Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre and at Mayfest 1994 in Glasgow, Scotland.9 It was also staged in London’s Albany Theatre that year.10 

Sharma has been presented fellowships and grants by the British Council, the United States Information Service and Asia-Europe Foundation.11 In 1994, he won a Shell/National Arts Council Scholarship to pursue a Master of Arts (Playwriting) at the University of Birmingham, UK. Returning to Singapore in 1995, he continued his residency at TNS.12 Sharma received the NAC Young Artist Award for theatre in 1997 and in 2015, became a Cultural Medallion Award Recipient.13 In 2014, he won the regional S.E.A. Write award for Singapore.14

Sharma also actively shares his playwriting experience and talents with young artists. Besides teaching at the NUS Theatre Studies department, he has written plays for school assemblies and runs theatre workshops.15 He has also been commissioned to write plays. One of these was Off Centre, a play he wrote about mental illness, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Health (MOH). While the funding was later pulled, due to various reasons, The Necessary Stage proceeded to stage what is now considered to be one of Sharma’s landmark works.16 Other commissions include NAC-commissioned Revelations, Child’s Play by the Centre for Biomedical Ethics (CBmE) at the National University of Singapore and Actor, Forty for Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts.17 Sharma’s plays have also been studied both locally and internationally, for instance at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. In 2006, in an effort to introduce more local literature into the G.C.E. “O” Levels syllabus, the Ministry of Education selected Off Centre as an “O” Levels literature text, the first Singaporean play to be chosen.18

Writings
Sharma regards playwriting as a liberating experience. Many of his plays explore both Singaporean and global issues, dealing with social themes such as mental illness, AIDS, inter-racial relations and the education system in Singapore.19  


Sharma does not adhere to a particular or single style of playwriting, preferring to experiment with different forms. To him, there is no one audience and no one standard response to his plays. His plays are written either from “scratch”, based on field research, or in collaborative modes with input and improvisations from other playwrights, directors and actors. He foresees a greater inclusion of choreography and multi-media in his future works.20  

Form, however, does not override Sharma’s concern with the development of characters in his plays. This is because an audience accesses the play most directly through people, that is, character.21 

Achievements
His plays, Fundamentally Happy, Good People and Gemuk Girls, have won Best Original Script for the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively.22 Sharma was the first non-American to be awarded the prestigious Goldberg Master Playwright by New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2011.23

Given the continued relevance of Sharma’s socially-conscious works, the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay focused on his iconic works for The Studios 2018 season. Themed Margins, it was the first time that a theatre season is devoted to a single playwright. The re-staging of Sharma’s plays by five other directors also saw a Mandarin version of Fundamentally Happy and a Malay version of Hope (Harap).24

Education 
Temasek Junior College, Singapore.
1990: Bachelor of Arts, NUS.
1995: Master of Arts (Playwriting), University of Birmingham, UK.

Awards
1988: Merit Award, Shell/NUS Short Play Competition.

1993: Singapore Literature Prize (Merit), for the play Still Building.
1994: British Council Fellowship25 / Shell-National Arts Council (NAC) Scholarship, MA (Playwriting), University of Birmingham.
1996: National Book Council Development (Plays) (Commendation), for Still Building
1997: Young Artist Award, NAC.
2011: Goldberg Master Playwright by New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts
2014: S.E.A Write Award.26
2015: Cultural Medallion, NAC.27

Works
Selected published plays
1994: Still Building

1999: This Chord and Others: A Collection of Plays
2000: Off Centre
2010: Those who can’t, teach: A play
2012: Model citizens: A play
2015: Poor thing
2016: Abuse suxxx!!! And other plays

Selected plays and year first staged

1989: Lanterns Never Go Out
1990: Those Who Can’t Teach
1991: More / This Chord and Others
1992: Still Building28
1993: Off Centre29 / Waiting / Three Years in the Life and Death of Land

1994: Hope
1995: Top of the World30 / Rosnah

1996: October31
1997: One Day at a Time32 / Pillars
1998: Superfriends at the Hall of Justice / Walking into Doors
1999: Completely With/Out Character / The Exodus
2000: History, Whose Story? / Untitled (Women Number One)
2001: One Hundred Years in Waiting (co-writer) / Ah Boy and the Beanstalk / Untitled (Cow Number One)
2002: godeatgod

2003: Revelations / Koan / Hamlet / Mardi Gras, Top & Bottom33
2005: What Big Bombs You Have!!!34 / Boxing Day35
2006: Mobile36 / Fundamentally Happy37 / Divine Soap38
2007: Survivor Singapore

2008: Gemuk Girls
2009: Sofaman
2010: Model Citizens
2011: Singapore
2012: Crossings
2013: Best of
2014: Poor Thing
2015: Pioneer (Girls) Generation39
2016: Manifesto40/ Best of (His Story)41/ Ghost Writer42

2017: Tropicana43 / Actor, Forty/ Sanctuary (co-written with Suguru Yamamoto)44
2018:
Underclass45



Author 

Nureza Ahmad



References
1. Pan, R. (2002, July). The man’s a Sharma: Haresh improvises in interview. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore1(4). Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website: http://www.qlrs.com/interview.asp?id=220; Cheah, U. (2016, December 30). Haresh Sharma in Season. The Straits Times; Oon, C. & Tan, C. (2014, November 13). Haresh Sharma wins this year’s S.E.A. Write Award (Singapore). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
2. Klein, R. D. (Ed.). (2001). Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature. (Vol. 4). Singapore: Ethos Books, pp. 335–336. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
3. Klein, R. D. (Ed.). (2001). Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature. (Vol. 4). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 336. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT); Tsang, S. (1997, February 19). The Necessary Stage – from lunchtime concerts in town to Glasgow’s Mayfest. The Straits Times; Oon, C. (2015, October 17). Champions of culture; Writing plays with heart. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Klein, R. D. (Ed.). (2001). Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature. (Vol. 4). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 337. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
5. Pan, R. (2002, July). The man’s a Sharma: Haresh improvises in interview. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore1(4). Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website: http://www.qlrs.com/interview.asp?id=220
6. Klein, R. D. (Ed.). (2001). Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature. (Vol. 4). Singapore: Ethos Books, pp. 337, 354. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
7. No winner for this year’s S’pore Literature Prize. (1993, December 17). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Birch, D., & Singh, K. (Eds.). (2007). Haresh Sharma. The cultural politics of playwriting in contemporary Singapore. In Interlogue: Studies in Singapore literature (Vol. 6). Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 809.895957 INT)
9. Tan, A. (1993, May 21). Still Building takes centrestageThe Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tsang, S. (1997, February 19). The Necessary Stage – from lunchtime concerts in town to Glasgow’s Mayfest. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
11. National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2006). Off Centre by Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from National Book Development Council website: http://bookcouncil.sg/programmes/book-clubs-archives
12. Entertainment – Haresh Sharma. (2001, September 8). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Seah, L. (1997, August 30). Recipients of the Young Artist Awards. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; National Arts Council. (2016) Cultural Medallion: About Cultural Medallion. Retrieved 2018, July 10 from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/singaporeartsscene/culturalMedallion/overview.html
14. National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2016). S.E.A. Write Award. Retrieved 2018, July 10 from Singapore Development Council website: http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/s.e.a-write-award; Oon, C. & Tan, C. (2014, November 13). Haresh Sharma wins this year’s S.E.A. Write Award (Singapore). The Straits Times.  Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
15. Entertainment – Haresh Sharma. (2001, September 8). The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

16. Tan, C. (2015, April 25). Still powerful after 20 years. The Straits Times; Oon, C. (2015, October 17). Champions of culture; Writing plays with heart. The Straits Times; ‘Artists are not criminals’: Haresh Sharma reflects on 30 years as a playwright. (2017, April 8). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

17. Off Centre dogged by controversy before its opening. (1993, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 8; Nayar, P. (2003, May 30). Local arts take on bigger roleThe Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Krishnamoorthy, A. (2016, July 8). Tackling tough questions; Child’s Play explores a unique ethical dilemma at this year’s Singapore Science Festival. Today; Nanda, A. (2017, January 24). 30 years of making theatre. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

18. Cheong, S. W. (2006, July 9). Lit up over Singapore Lit. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.  Pan, R. (2002, July). The man’s a Sharma: Haresh improvises in interview. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore1(4). Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website: http://www.qlrs.com/interview.asp?id=220
20. Pan, R. (2002, July). The man’s a Sharma: Haresh improvises in interview. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore1(4). Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website: http://www.qlrs.com/interview.asp?id=220
21. Pan, R. (2002, July). The man’s a Sharma: Haresh improvises in interview. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore1(4). Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website:  http://www.qlrs.com/interview.asp?id=220
22. Ho, O. (2017, March 28). From Teochew script to café chatter: M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards 2017 nominees for Best Original Script. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
23. Oon, C. and Tan, C. (2014, November 13). Haresh Sharma wins this year’s S.E.A. Write Award (Singapore). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

24. Nanda, A. (2017, March 7). The Studios: Haresh Sharma’s iconic plays retold. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

25. Sharma off to UK for theatre stint. (1994, July 2). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Book Development Council of Singapore. (2016). S.E.A. Write Award. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from National Book Development Council website: http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/s.e.a-write-award
27. National Arts Council. (2016) Cultural Medallion: About Cultural Medallion. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/singaporeartsscene/culturalMedallion/overview.html
28. Doollee. (2003). Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Doollee website: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/sharma-haresh.html
29. Pandian, H. (1993, September 3). Play marks maturity of theatreThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. 27. Tsang, S. (1995, August 15). First cast your play – then write itThe Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Doollee. (2003). Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Doollee website: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/sharma-haresh.html  
32. Sim, C. Y. (1997, July 5). Docu-drama throws light on the sufferings of lupus victims. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Doollee. (2003). Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Doollee website: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/sharma-haresh.html
34. Hong, X. (2005, March 8). Visit granny, kill BillThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Hoy, E. (2005, May 5). Tragic replayThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Hong, X. (2006, May 23). Setting art in motionThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Doollee. (2003). Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Doollee website: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/sharma-haresh.html
38. Hong, X. (2006, December 5). Divine comedyThe Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Doollee. (2003). Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from Doollee website: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/sharma-haresh.html
40. Helmi Yusof. (2016, February 26). Mining a dark past for a new play. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
41. Devi, R. (2016, October 25). The Necessary Stage takes on gender issues in the Malay-Muslim community; Best of (His Story) explores the husband’s side in a divorce. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

42. Cheah, U. (2016, April 1). Whipsawed by the ghosts of our past. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

43. Happening – Arts. (2017, April 28). The Straits Times; Helmi Yusof. (2017, April 21). A fuzzy postcard from the past. Business Times Singapore. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

44. Nanda, A. (2017, October 3). New play displays dark side of digital legacy. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

45. Ho, O. (2018, May 18). Art Picks. The Straits Times; Nanda, A. (2018, May 8). Collaborations between art groups in the works. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/



Further resources
Goh, S. L. (1998, June 19). Letter – play’s creators did a super jobThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Ong, S. F. (2000, February 19). Sharma strikes a chordThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The Necessary Stage. (n.d.). The company. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from The Necessary Stage website: http://necessary.org/index.php/about-us

The Necessary Stage. (n.d.). Haresh Sharma. Retrieved 2016, October 20 from The Necessary Stage website: http://necessary.org/index.php/about-us/tns-team



The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Writers
Drama
English theatre (Art)
Arts>>Theatre>>Playwriting
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Award winners
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Literature)
Dramatists--Biography
Cultural Medallion
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Arts>>Literature>>English (Singapore) Literature>>Drama
Sharma, Haresh, 1965- --Biography
Playwrights
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors>>Cultural Medallion Recipients