BWW Interview: Ebi Shankara of TROPICANA at Capitol Theatre
Ebi Shankara is an actor, host and all around Arts advocate based in Singapore. Ebi holds both a diploma in Theatre and a First Class BA (Hons) in theatre arts from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), the latter was which obtained in NAFA's partnership with East-15 Acting School at the University of Essex. Besides being a familiar face on local television, along with his numerous hosting gigs, Ebi is also the artistic director of the Ravindran Drama Group Company, a local Theatre company that specializes in creating unique and dynamic Indian Theatre. He recently closed a successful run of Tropicana, a musical about nightlife in 1960s Singapore.
Tell us about your experience with Tropicana?
Tropicana has been amazing. The content of the work is new fresh and exciting. Period plays are always exciting. The director and cast are a witty bunch so it's always laughter all day long.
You've worked with Haresh Sharma (writer of Tropicana) many times before, how has the experience been similar/different from any of the previous times you've worked together?
It's really different because the times I have worked with Haresh, either Alvin Tan* or himself will direct us. And they are very specific about the interpretation of the text. This is the second time I've been directed on a Haresh Sharma script without Haresh being directly involved. He gave us more freedom to play with it and allow us to discover things. It was also his first time writing a musical so it gave us a chance to breathe by allowing interpretations to linger longer before the director streamlined it.
There seems to be a wave of musicals that hit Singapore in April, do you think the industry is slowly beginning to change?
We are growing for sure. This is not the first time we've had a year packed with musicals but this time we have surpassed the previous marks. The industry, in my opinion, has phases. We go in and out of it and now it's the musical phase. We have played around with it and mixed it up. This keeps it exciting and also allows us are practitioners to grow and explore. So changing? Yes for the better but I choose to see it as growth. Positive change. Change is the only thing in life that's constant.
What was the most interesting run you had of Tropicana?
Everyday was interesting on stage. It's new and we were always finding new things. But there was one night where I choked on my saliva as I was belting out my solo. But I recovered gracefully, I think. Haha!
You also run your own drama company, what inspired that? How are you different from other drama companies in Singapore?
I took over the artistic directorship of a long standing Tamil Theatre company. I guess the fact that there were not many full time Tamil speaking Theatre practitioners at the time and the company was looking to change from a society to a company, they needed someone who was active in the industry. We are different mainly because with are an ethnic theatre group, we cater to a niche audience but we've also revamped ourselves as Indian opposed to just Tamil. This has opened up more collaborations with Indians from all across the globe. And also allows for a bigger voice to be heard than just one group of Indians. We stage works that are more universal now. Being niche has its pros and cons but we are still evolving so that's good.
Besides running your company and being an accomplished stage actor, you also have a vast career in the film/TV industry, how do you like the experience of being able to act in such a variety of mediums?
I've been really lucky. It has given me range for sure. And it's always good to be able to mix things up so there's always something new to look forward to. The knowledge that you gain from one medium always helps with the overall upgrading in character and personality. Something which you can apply to other mediums when needed. So it's been really great.
Who inspires you as an actor/artist?
Dream role as an actor?
Every role is a gift. To be able to act and do what I love itself is a dream. But the dream is to act alongside Denzel.
What is your outlook for the Theatre scene in Singapore?
It's growing and artists are stepping up. I hope we push and try to show more of our works internationally.
One piece of advice that you would give to aspiring actors/artists?
Believe in your ability, trust yourself. If you don't then, there's no need for anyone else to. So believe in yourself. Think big, as you think you become. But be smart about the things you do. Allow yourself to learn from the hard times and minimize the mistakes in future. There's no right or wrong, only good and bad decisions. Learn from the bad ones and be thankful for the good ones.
*Author's Note: Alvin Tan is the Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage in Singapore, of which Haresh Sharma is the resident playwright.