Profile: Sharda Harrison

Published on 22 December 2015

Animal instincts run in actress Sharda Harrison’s blood.

BY jo tan

Sharda Harrison is a fearless female. Besides portraying quiet emotion, the actress’ onstage antics include executing hazardous-looking movement sequences, intense fisticuffs, as well as screaming and swearing in languages from Tamil to Japanese. While these no doubt contribute to her rave reviews and award nominations, you wouldn’t think they’d make her very popular with her parents.

Yet, she is. Harrison’s in love with her family, who are in love with theatre. And despite receiving enough acting offers to keep her busy, she co-runs a production/education company, Pink Gajah Theatre, with her mother and brother. Recently, she directed her mother in a living-room theatre piece for the 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts’ Open Homes series of performances. She also has her brother, film artist Sean, design the multimedia for Pink Gajah’s productions.

The twentysomething lass is also deeply influenced by her father, Bernard Harrison, former chief executive of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, founder of the Night Safari, zoologist and conservationist. “I grew up loving animals and even in theatre, I talk about bringing out an animal energy, a primal energy, to influence my presence onstage,” says the talented thespian who has, incidentally, played various creatures and even a cobra’s lover to critical acclaim.

“Since childhood, my brother and I wanted to be Bernard Harrison’s protégés, the next conservationists. But sometimes, you can’t help falling in love with art. My parents understand that acting is what I love more than anything else in the world. Through art, maybe we can make a conservationist stand.”

Accordingly, Pink Gajah has previously created theatre piece Why Do We Do What We Do? It was inspired by the senior Harrison’s talk of the same title, which highlighted the treatment and consumption of animals. For the 2016 M1 Fringe Festival (appropriately themed ‘Art & the Animal’), the company will present BI(CARA), a new work based on the same talk.

“It goes into many questions the talk raises about humanity’s relationship to animals: we kill them to eat them, but even above that, why do we treat them so badly? Is the way we treat animals a reflection of how we’ve become as a civilisation? I try to present different points of view: I studied shamanistic tribes around the world who are still very close to nature; I interviewed zoologists, euthanasia providers, cat ladies and even a conservationist who is very protective over animals but (arguably) emotionally abuses his wife.

“It’s a lot of work and sometimes, it seems easier to act in someone else’s play,” Harrison laughs. “But my father’s talk raised important questions and theatre can make people consider them. I’m not hoping for BI(CARA) to change the world on a global scale, but if I can plant seeds in one or 10 people to ask, ‘What is my relationship to animals?’ I’ll be happy.”

The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is on from 13-24 January 2016. BI(CARA) plays 21-24 January at the Black Box, Centre 42.

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