B Charles is a multi-faceted theatre technician based in Chennai, India, who is equally adept at lighting design, sound, sets, stage and event management. He is a META-nominee lighting designer, with a decade long experience in working with Indian classical & contemporary dance, theatre and stand up specials within India and abroad.
During this period, he has worked with almost all the major theatre groups in India such as Indianostrum, JustUs Repertory, Mellow Circle, Boardwalkers, Stray Factory and Crea Shakti, to name a few.
Charles has also been very actively involved with the Tamil theatre scene, having worked with Shraddha Theatre, Sriram Sharma (Velu Nachiyar), Crazy Mohan (Crazy Creations), Bharati yaar (SB Creations) and Theatre of Maham.
In 2017, Charles launched Chennai Art Theatre (CAT), a performing arts management company based in Chennai that aims to support, host and promote performing arts groups in India. It integrates planning, marketing and executing art events by providing logistical and technical support. Since then, CAT has hosted and co-hosted several successful shows. Its annual festivals, namely, the Fringe Festival, Erotica and Theatre Binge have run to full houses.
We asked Charles about some insights on CAT as well as the other renowned projects he has worked on. Read on further to know his thoughts.
- You’ve had an incredible journey from being a technician to also becoming a producer and curator through Chennai Art Theatre (CAT). Could you tell us a bit about how this happened?
From the time I was with Chennai theatre veteran Mithran Devanesan, I had the chance to be part of the technical process behind the scenes. I got first hand experience as part of the production team for plays that he directed and produced. With other theatre organisers also, I got a lot of ideas but found that I was bound by limitations and also never had the space to try out my own ideas. That kickstarted the thought process of wanting to start my own company to host and produce my own shows.
- How involved are you in the creative process for the shows you put up as CAT? Do you give the creators complete freedom or do you have rules/guidelines that you require as a producer?
I prefer not to interfere in the creative process other than to explain and discuss the theme and initial ideas around the theme. Once that is settled, we discuss logistical and technical details such as rehearsals, lighting and set design, sound requirements, props and other backstage work.
- One of the shows you put up as CAT was Erotica. Was the audience receptive to this theme or was there some opposition or constructive debate? What was your takeaway from exploring such a provocative theme?
This is not a new theme. It has been used in every art form over the centuries. The only difference is that it has usually been ‘part’ of a production, never centre stage. I looked at it as the central theme and curated a whole series around it. Another reason why I chose this theme is that there are a lot of religious, patriotic and comedy-based plays but nothing around this concept.
We did get calls from within and outside the community pointing at the posters being explicit. Others felt that I chose this theme probably because sex sells! But I was confident that it was time to give this subject an honest and sensitive treatment and was rewarded with not only full-houses but greatly appreciative responses from the audience too. I was satisfied that I could pull this off in a city that banned a similar play called The Vagina Monologues a few years ago. I feel the city is going forward in its acceptance of such themes. The audience turnout and response in both Chennai and at Ranga Shankara in Bangalore was overwhelming.
- How do you see sustainability and/or growth with putting up shows in a city like Chennai, where the theatre scene leans more towards being semi-professional?
Theatre is certainly and sadly not a profitable place to be! We barely scrape through. Also, audience turnout is a bit limited and so ticket sales are not always a reliable source either. Unlike in other countries, there is no support either from the government or private agencies. Therefore, a lot of people do not get into this professionally, which is why it is a part-time or secondary activity for most people. Only with better support can practitioners as well as producers feel enthused and have the financial means to take this profession up full-time. That will lead to better quality shows, which in turn will bring in a larger audience.
- As a lighting/sound technician, what would you say have been the biggest differences between working on a play and working on a dance production?
In a theatre play, the script has cues and the director will generally have an idea of at least the basic design. In dance, one can be more creative and add to the visual element with one’s own ideas too. Of course, there are some necessary rules like sufficient lights on the face, for example. In dance, I have to follow the technique, tradition and design at all times. In theatre, minimum design and lights are enough. But for dance, there is always a requirement to go beyond the basics.