Haresh Sharma

Singapore Infopedia

by Nureza Ahmad


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

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 

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

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

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

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


Nureza Ahmad

1. Ruby Pan, “The Man’s a Sharma: Haresh Improvises in Interview,” Quarterly Literary Review Singapore 1, no. 4 (July 2002); Cheah Ui-Hoon, “Haresh Sharma in Season,” Straits Times, 30 December 2016, 22 (From NewspaperSG); Clarissa Oon and Corrie Tan, “Haresh Sharma Wins This Year’s S.E.A. Write Award (Singapore),” Straits Times, 13 November 2014. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
2. Kirpal Singh, ed., Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, vol. 4 (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2001), 335–36 (Call no. RSING 809.895957 INT)
3. Singh, Studies in Singapore Literature, 336; S. Tsang, “The Necessary Stage – from Lunchtime Concerts in Town to Glasgow’s Mayfest,” Straits Times, 19 February 1997 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Clarissa Oon, “Writing Plays with Heart,” Straits Times, 17 October 2015, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Singh, Studies in Singapore Literature, 337.
5. Pan, “Man’s a Sharma.”
6. Singh, Studies in Singapore Literature, 337, 354.
7. “No Winner for This Year’s S’pore Literature Prize,” Straits Times, 17 December 1993, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
8. David Birch and Kirpal Singh, eds., “Haresh Sharma. The Cultural Politics of Playwriting in Contemporary Singapore,” in Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature, vol 6 (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2007), 54. (Call no. RSING 809.895957 INT)
9. Audrey Tan, “Still Building Takes Centrestage,” Business Times, 21 May 1993, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Tsang, “The Necessary Stage.”
11. “Off Centre by Haresh Sharma,” Singapore Book Council, accessed 20 October 2016.
12. “Entertainment – Haresh Sharma,” Business Times, 8 September 2001. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
13. Lynette Seah, “Recipients of the Young Artist Awards,” Straits Times, 30 August 1997 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); “About Cultural Medallion,” National Arts Council, accessed 10 July 2018.
14. “S.E.A. Write Award,” Singapore Book Council, accessed 10 July 2018; Oon and Tan, “Haresh Sharma Wins.”
15. “Haresh Sharma.”
16. Corrie Tan, “Still Powerful after 20 Years,” Straits Times25 April 2015, 7Oon, “Writing Plays with Heart”; “’Artists Are Not Criminals’: Haresh Sharma Reflects on 30 Years as a Playwright,” Channel NewsAsia, 8 April 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
17. “Off Centre Dogged by Controversy before Its Opening,” Straits Times, 3 September 1993, 8; Parvathi Nayar, “Local Arts Take On Bigger Role,” Business Times, 30 May 2003, 21; Anusha Krishnamoorthy,  “Tackling Tough Questions,” Today, 8 July 2016, 51; Akshita Nanda, “30 Years of Making Theatre,” Straits Times, 24 January 2017, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Cheong Suk-Wai, “Lit Up Over Singapore Lit,” Straits Times, 9 July 2006, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Pan, “Man’s a Sharma.” 
20. Pan, “Man’s a Sharma.”
21. Pan, “Man’s a Sharma.”
22. Olivia Ho, “From Teochew Script to Café Chatter: M1–the Straits Times Life Theatre Awards 2017 Nominees for Best Original Script,” Straits Times, 28 March 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
23. Oon and Tan, “Haresh Sharma Wins.”
24. Akshita Nanda, “The Studios: Haresh Sharma’s Iconic Plays Retold,” Straits Times, 7 March 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
25. “Sharma Off to UK for Theatre Stint,” Straits Times, 2 July 1994, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Singapore Book Council, “S.E.A. Write Award.”
27. National Arts Council, “About Cultural Medallion.”
28. “Haresh Sharma,” Doollee, accessed 20 October 2016.
29. Hannah Pandian, “Play Marks maturity of Theatre,” Straits Times, 3 September 1993, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Susan Tsang, “First Cast Your Play – Then Write It,” Business Times, 15 August 1995, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Doollee, “Haresh Sharma.”
32. Sim Chi Yin, “Docu-Drama Throws Light On the Sufferings of Lupus Victims,” Straits Times, 5 July 1997, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Doollee, “Haresh Sharma.”
34. Hong Xinyi, “Visit Granny, Kill Bill,” Straits Times, 8 March 2005, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Edward Hoy, “Tragic Replay,” Straits Times, 5 May 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Hong Xinyi, “Setting Art in Motion,” Straits Times, 23 May 2006,  5. (From NewspaperSG)
37. Doollee, “Haresh Sharma.”
38. Hong Xinyi, “Divine Comedy,” Straits Times, 5 December 2006, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
39. Doollee, “Haresh Sharma.”
40. Helmi Yusof, “Mining a Dark Past for a New Play,” Straits Times, 26 February 2016, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Reena Devi, “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, 25 October 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
42. Cheah Ui-Hoon, “Whipsawed by the Ghosts of Our Past,”  Business Times, 1 April 2016, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “Happening – Arts,” Straits Times, 28 April 2017, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Helmi Yusof, “A Fuzzy Postcard from the Past,” Business Times, 21 April 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
44. Akshita Nanda, “New Play Displays Dark Dide of Digital Legacy,” Straits Times, 3 October 2017, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
45. Olivia Ho, “Art Picks,” Straits Times, 18 May 2018; Akshita Nanda, “Collaborations Between Art Groups in the Works,” Straits Times, 8 May 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

Further resources
About Us,” The Necessary Stage, accessed 20 October 2016.

Goh Su Lin, “Letter – Play’s Creators Did a Super Job,” Straits Times, 19 June 1998, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Haresh Sharma,” The Necessary Stage, accessed 20 October 2016.

Ong Sor Fern, “Sharma Strikes a Chord,” Straits Times, 19 February 2000, 16. (From NewspaperSG)

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.


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