As the curtains go up, the lights and the music set the mood. The facial expressions are accentuated; the right colours are used to drive home the subtle messages; the background score adds to the mystery… the list of tasks that stage technicians perform is no less important.
The technicians are considered part of the drama troupe and even participate in rehearsals to learn the dialogues, which they use as cues. Seated in the pit below the stage, they get a ringside view but their work goes largely unnoticed by the audience. Their work includes installing the onstage scenes, lights, mikes and speakers and deftly creating special effects, sometimes choosing from over 15 audio tapes to get the right sound effects.
“During the music season, we have concerts before plays providing us with very little time to set the stage. So we work through the previous night,” explained Chettah Ravi alias Ibrahim, who joined the ‘Boys Company' at the age of four. “Ours was a large family and poverty drove my parents to put me in the company. Apart from acting, I learnt painting, costumes, electrical work, make up and carpentry. I can manage every kind of work on a stage,” explains the veteran, who has also worked in S.V.Sahasranamam's ‘Seva Stage'.
“For 28 years now I have been with Y.Gee. Mahendra and sometimes when I make a mistake he would scold me. But later, he would apologise. He has taken me abroad on tours and lighting experts there have appreciated my work,” he says.
“Appreciation keeps me going. At the end of the play when I hear a word of praise it makes me happy. If an actor misses a line, we tell him using signs that he is off cue. We also make mistakes and sometimes and turn on the wrong lights. But all that is part of live theatre and we correct ourselves in the ensuing performances,” says P.Krishnan alias Kitcha, who comes from a family of sound and light artists. He has worked with many directors, including S.Ve.Shekher, Kudanthai Mali and Srirangam Rangamani. He lists the 82 scenes in an hour-and-half long play of Amritham Gopal where he provided lights and sounds as his best.
The payment is insufficient, but it is the passion that drives them on. There are only a handful of stage technicians as fewer plays are being staged. Gone are the days when there were 45 performances in 30 days. Hardly 10 performances happen in a month, say the technicians.
“Not many youngsters prefer our work as it involves a certain amount of risk. There have been instances of technicians falling from heights and breaking their legs. We do not have any benefits like PF or ESI. We are also not treated as professionals by those in the English theatre, which hurts us. If we had the right lights, we too could match their quality,” says Artistic Ravi, who is perhaps one of the last few from the younger generation to stay on the job. Apart from lighting, Mr.Ravi acts in Y Gee Mahendra's plays.