John Hoffmire: When I met you in Oxford last year, I recognized that you where someone who followed their passion and worked in two very separate fields. Tell me more about that.
Sashane: I do straddle two different industries. In my day job I work on innovation in the fashion industry as part of a team that seeks to create new apparel for the fast changing market place. Specifically, I manage new product development for MAS holdings, South Asia’s largest manufacturer of intimate apparel, sportswear, performance wear and swimwear. I lead new product development for one of the up-and-coming technology platforms for MAS, engineered knit with the hope of growing it from a 10 million dollar business to 50 million dollars in the next five years.
At the same time, I have maintained my passion for theatre. In the past 15 years I’ve acted in over 20 productions and subsequently become an Artistic Director for StageLight&Magic, one of Sri Lanka’s premier theatre companies. Since my debut production in 2012 (“Men Without Shadows” by Jean Paul Sartre) I’ve produced 6 shows over the past 8 years, which have been critically acclaimed in Sri Lanka. These shows included a Tony Award winning musical “Fun Home” and my most recent production, “Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar”.
John: Are there common denominators with your work in both fields?
Sashane: Absolutely! They both require creative innovation, product development, team and partnership building, collaboration, and management. Both the retail and theatre industry are facing all sorts of disruptive changes and challenges during this Covid-19 pandemic. My role both at MAS and at StageLight&Magic is to create infrastructure that harnesses innovation, talent, and productive and profitable change.
John: That is a tall order. Are there are elements of your work that are related to social innovation as well?
Sashane: Indeed. I am very proud of the work MAS is doing in the area of social enterprise. They recently made the news this year by successfully achieved original commitment to the Universal Access Project of the UN Foundation (UNF), of providing health and well being, education and services to 10,000 employees ahead of the 2021 deadline. In my theatre world, I’ve recently participated in the Young Vic’s Directors Program that offers directors a unique opportunity to exchange experiences with peers and be part of a network of talented directors, designers and producers working and living in the UK.
John: I read a review in the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) about one of your recent productions. It reads, “There’s no doubt that Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar was a litmus test for Perera who proved his mettle as a versatile director and validated his ability to effortlessly tackle project outside his comfort zone.”
Sashane: Directing and producing theatrical experiences for a diverse audience is not all that different from successful fashion product development for a diverse and ever-changing market, especially in such disruptive times. They both require stepping outside one’s comfort zone and thinking outside the box. Also vital is creative vision and leadership, making a space for collaborating and creative innovation, and ultimately the results are entirely a team effort.
John: Tell me about your experience as a scholar at the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP).
Sashane: In my quest of absorbing new knowledge and adding value to myself, I applied for the CRISP Fellowship in 2019 and was accepted to the University of Oxford as a Chevening fellow. I was privileged to attend the program as one of the two Sri Lankans of the 2019 cohort. During the course of this program, I was able to collaborate with multitude of enterprises and individuals in the science and innovation arena. Being a Chevening fellow was game changing for me — it helped me re-invent myself and plan a course of action for my future.
John: It was a pleasure to get to know you last year in Oxford and to learn more about the many hats you figuratively wear. I wish you every success in your many creative and business endeavors.
Sashane: Thank you, John. I wish the same for you.
Sashane Perera is Manager, Concept Creation, for MAS Holdings and an Artistic Director with StageLight&Magic Inc. in Sri Lanka. He is also an alum of the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP) at Oxford (2019)
Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty, the Director of Employee Ownership at Teamshares, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business
Click here to see the original musical comedy about a young William Shakespeare, who frequents Elsie’s Bar and is inspired to write his famous tragedy ‘Hamlet’ by observing the lives of the patrons of Elsie’s Bar. Written by Feroze Kamardeen and Directed by Sashane Perera.