Monday , March 4 2024
Funding for the Arts is a major issue not only for us, but generally in Singapore.

Interview with Vasudha Gangadharan of Temple of Fine Arts’ (Singapore) ‘Dharma Ashoka’ – A Transformative Journey

Temple of Fine Arts (Singapore) will be presenting a dance drama, Dharma Ashoka – A Transformative Journey, as part of Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations aka SG50 Golden Jubilee. The dance drama will run at Republic Polytechnic’s TRCC Theatre from 27th to 29th August 2015. Admission is by invitation only, which is available at Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), telephone number: 6535 0509, email: [email protected].

Dharma Ashoka tells the tale of the metamorphic journey and spiritual awakening of the mighty Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who upon witnessing the suffering brought about by his greed and desire for conquest, seeks inspiration from teachings of the Buddha, relinquishes violence, and instead adopts peaceful modes of ruling his city.

This production is timely as Singapore too had leaders who fifty years ago uprooted this country from conflict and confrontation, and successfully propelled her into becoming an exemplary island-city-state through co-operation of its people, thereby achieving the ideals of peace and togetherness.

We talked to Vasudha Gangadharan, who is the Production Coordinator for Dharma Ashoka. This is what she had to say about this upcoming production, funding for the Arts in Singapore, and what life lessons she learnt from overseeing this tale on Buddha.


VasYou’re the Production Coordinator of Dharma Ashoka. How did you come to take up this position?

For any major stage production, the TFA Committee will ask for a volunteer for the task. I agreed to do it, having coordinated many of TFA’s major productions in the 1990s and 2000s as well.

How has the experience been so far?

As TFA’s objective in all our major stage productions has always been to provide maximum joy and happiness to our audience who come to view the program; we aim for excellence, and that in itself is a major challenge we set for ourselves.

Though challenging, the experience has been manageable and rewarding in itself mainly through the cooperation of all team leaders and members of the various task areas, working together in the same oneness of spirit.

In addition, most of us are Hindus by religion, and to bring forth a major program with a Buddhist theme did seem daunting. However, our Guru and Founder of TFA, Swami Shantanand taught us to embrace all religions, and doctrines, and His guidance is the reason why we are even embarking on a production like this. He has spoken to us in detail about Buddhist ideology, and we believe all paths are but variations to reach the same final destination, which turned out to be our strength in the context of this production.

What have been some of the challenges?

It is very challenging to bring together a major production like Dharma Ashoka, as I am dealing with people from various age groups, with varying views, and coordinating many different teams focused on different tasks (production team, costumes team, sponsorship & finance team, marketing and publicity team, stage management and props team, sound and lighting team, invitations team, provision of meals team, etc.)

We chose put up this production in August 2015 as our contribution to the nation’s 50th Golden Jubilee. The challenge here is that as there are so many programs going on in August 2015 in Singapore, in celebration of SG50, it is a daunting task to draw the attention of the public to Dharma Ashoka. In this our marketing team has been challenged to reach out to as wide a spectrum of society as possible.

Funding is always an issue with productions in Singapore. How did you and your team overcome this?

Funding for the Arts is a major issue not only for us, but generally in Singapore. However, we were fortunate that we had a good sponsorship team who relentlessly sought donations from sponsors, the National Arts Council, The Arts Fund, donors, and other well wishers. We have been fortunate that for this particular production, our donors have been generous and we think we should be able to recover the cost of our production budget of S$100,000.

Can you tell us what audiences can expect from Dharma Ashoka?

Although the theme revolves around Emperor Ashoka and his transformation after adopting Buddhist principles of peace, harmony and oneness of humanity, the essence of this belief is relevant today as it was in the yesteryears – especially in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi- religious society like ours where we can each learn to adopt the best from each other and live together in harmony and peaceful co-existence, irrespective of our differences in background, ethnicity, religion, and so forth.

Also the cast has been practising their dances continuously for the last 6 months to perfect their dance moves and sequences. Together with the sound, lighting effects, props and unique backdrops, for approximately an hour and a half, we aim to bring the audience to a different world of absolute joy, heightened exhilaration, happiness and peace within.

The SG50 spirit moved us re-visit the ideas of peace, of one-people, one nation living together in renewed graciousness and uplifting ways of thinking, by adopting the principle of harmony and peace, as we have done in the last 50 years, and will continue to do so in the years to come. We hope to give the audience an unforgettable experience.

In terms of marketing and publicity, has there been any interest from our local media?

We had an article in Tamil Murasu and we placed advertisements and obtained a listing in Tabla newspaper. Media interests and attention may be not be what we expected, due probably to the various activities in August 2015 as well as the anticipated upcoming ‘election season’.

Any life lessons learnt from producing Dharma Ashoka?

I will take away the Buddhist principles of peace, patience, tolerance and most importantly how to remain calm and collected as we adjust and accommodate to all situations and challenges faced in everyday life, with equanimity and harmony within, and continue our life journey forward in the awareness of the oneness of the human spirit.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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