Having secured his directorial stint since 2018, Gaurav Kripalani currently sits on the board of Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) serving as artistic director for over 15 years. He has produced over 150 productions and amassed an impressive track record serving on various boards like the National Heritage Board and the International Society for the Performing Arts, but the festival director started his journey in the arts as a performer and avid consumer of the arts in part through family exposure. “I acted in my first play when I was six. And I was like, this is it. I’m gonna be in Theatre Arts for the rest of my life,” Gaurav reflects on his time growing up.
“My mission in life really is to make sure that we reach a point when it comes to the weekend where every Singaporean says “What should we do today?” and the first thing they think of is “What show is up?”, affirms Gaurav Kripalani, current festival director of the Singapore International Festival of the Arts.
Acting may not have panned out after his first role in the stage club pantomime at six and graduating with an acting degree from drama school, but he soon found his passion for running a company with then lean three-man team at SRT by which acting naturally took a back burner. He acknowledges that having supportive parents also played a part in enabling him to pursue a career in the arts:
“When I was growing up, the thing that influenced me and shaped a lot of my taste and direction was seeing things I’ve never seen before in the Singapore space. I want to give that experience to young people. And I want to give that experience to artists as well who may not have the opportunity to travel.”
Even with an eminent run having steadily built the audience pool year by year by bringing in the the best artists in the world alongside growing the SIFA brand, Gaurav and his team built the festival programme according to three pillars: programming game-changing artists, commissioning Singaporean works and collaboration. Through it all, he still believes in the importance and power of education in the arts:
“Very often, students were always at the back of the theatre because those were the cheapest tickets. By putting them in the front row, you give them an amazing experience. Also, young people are much more enthusiastic and their positive energy ripples through the entire auditorium. Therefore, the guy in the suit behind has an even better time, because there’s someone in front of him having fun,” discloses Gaurav on his thought process behind inducting the affordable $10 front row ticket program for youth and education.”
He recounts being uninspired by the academic approach by which literature was educated in the classroom and having a terrible teacher back in school. “You know I just found the way it was taught in school wasn’t incredibly inspiring, and I didn’t get it. There was so much emphasis on the academic element of it as a literature text that I found incredibly dull. But it wasn’t until I saw a Shakespeare in the park production abroad that it all made sense and I had this epiphany,” recalls Gaurav.
In looking at the big picture of his three-year assignment, Gaurav and his team were conscious to ensure that different communities were being serviced with each annual festival season. He also believed in the importance of securing a large scale spectacle for audiences and quotes this year’s opening ceremony by Grammy and Academy award-winning composer Tan Dun conducting the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), and a 100-pax strong chorus from Internationale Chorakademie Lübeck and the Singapore Symphony Chorus in a majestic six-act oratorio, Buddha Passion as that highlight. He details it in this video:
Gaurav also believes that SIFA is in the perfect position to introduce lesser known game-changing artists and aficionados at the pinnacle of their profession. Examples include New York-based tap dancer Michelle Dorrance and German choreographer Sasha Waltz whom SIFA brought into Singapore back in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The approach towards addressing Sasha’s introduction to Singaporean audiences was by showcasing her most renowned piece ‘Körper‘ before easing them into her other lesser-known works.
In his directorial position, Gaurav has taken the necessary strides to convincing millennials and young professionals the importance of consuming and investing in art. He acknowledges that for a 55-year-old country, Singapore is progressively shifting towards a more arts-oriented and culturally aware first world country. “Millenials are now making sure that their kids are watching shows are are involved in some sort of drama or music camp,” notes the theatre enthusiast. On reflecting on why there is still room for growth in the appreciation of arts in Singapore and its culture, Gaurav explains:
“It’s exposure. If you look at a country which has 200-year history, going to see the Nutcracker every Christmas is normal. It’s a tradition to see the Christmas pantomime, or going to see the ballet in the middle of the year or the first opera of the season. My western friends would always do that. They look forward to it,” expresses Gaurav.”
As Gaurav perfectly sums it up, “With these two to six year olds now taking art classes, In 10 to 15 years, I genuinely believe we will be doing exactly what I’m striving to make happen. That they will grow up thinking “Ah, I’m free. Let’s go see a show!” And we will get there.”
SIFA V2.020 currently runs virtually through the rest of the year with the recent announcement of the return of film programme ‘Singular Screens‘ curated by the Asian Film Archive (AFA). It showcases 7 international films available both on-demand and for theatrical screening at the Oldham Theatre. Gaurav also stars in the upcoming short film ‘The Pitch‘, a cross production between WILD RICE, Pangdemonium & SRT to be released on 31st August, 9pm on Youtube.