Lighting is like a character on stage: Victor Paulraj
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
May 14, 2012
Based in Chennai, Victor Paulraj started his career as assistant to veteran set and light designer Mithran Devanesan. In 1998, Victor started his company 'Studio 7' and is a much sought after sets and lighting designer for theatre and contemporary dance programs. He has been associated with prominent theatre groups in Chennai including MTC Productions, Madras Players, ThespianEn, Masquerade, ASAP, EVAM and has served as the technical lead liaison for international theatre and dance companies performing in Chennai (including those hosted by the Inko Centre, Max Mueller Bhavan, British Council, and Alliance Francaise). He is the technical director for all events and festivals conducted by Prakriti Foundation.
Victor is the technical director for Anita Ratnam’s dance productions and all programs and festivals conducted by Arangham Trust. He has also worked with dancers like Lata Pada and Hari Krishnan from Canada. Victor shares his thoughts with narthaki.com in an exclusive interview.
What got you interested in stage craft and lighting?
My father was in charge of the Museum Theatre from 1970 till 1990. He used to construct sets and support the technical aspects of all the big productions from abroad presented by the ICCR and the British Council, and also for all the amateur Tamil plays which were performed at the Museum Theatre. I used to accompany him since my school days and assist him with the technical aspects whenever I found time. My fascination for colours and assisting my father got me interested in the field of performing arts. I was also attracted by the process of the execution of the technical setup and its creative results.
What are the most valuable lessons you have learnt from your mentor Mithran Devanesan?
In 1981, Mithran Devanesan was directing and designing the sets for a play called 'LUV' at the Museum Theatre as the rent for the theatre was very low. I had finished my 10th and during my holidays started to assist him in painting and some carpentry work for the sets. He took an instant liking to me and asked me to work with him. Since then I have worked with him in more than 500 productions be it sets or lighting designs. I started to work on my own from 1995. From him, I learnt how to visualize a performance, be it theatre or dance, the technical aspects of positioning the lights and how to use colours and combinations effectively. He was more than a mentor he was also a source of inspiration.
How different is lighting for theater and lighting for dance?
Lighting for theatre is totally different from that of doing a light design for dance. In theatre, there is constancy and there are only few areas which we have to blend or isolate in the design because it is more action and dialogue oriented and the emphasis has to be given for mood lighting and background. For dance, specifically the contemporary or modern dance, the lighting plays an equal role. It is like a character in the stage like that of a dancer. The lighting alone provides the necessary dimension for the dance which is flat. Imagine the stage as a canvas and the dancer as a painter; then the lighting represents the colours of the painting.
Your comment on the tech facilities available at the different metros in India.
The technical equipment, be it lights or sound system available in all the metros, are almost the same. But the technicians’ support varies from state to state and also it is largely dependent on the venues and the attitude of the organizers. But the key thing is the good relationship which I maintain with the suppliers and technicians.
Recently, during a performance in Chowdiah Hall in Bengaluru for which I designed and executed the lighting, I had tremendous support from the Transmedia tech (the technical branch of Attakkalari) from whom I hired the lights. The team was really wonderful and I was stunned by the way they executed the technical part.
What are the challenges in executing light designs in Chennai/India with the available infrastructure?
Most of the time, the available venue may not support the design or we won’t be able to source all the technical requirements and many a time, the support of technical staff in the auditorium will be nil. The basic challenge of a light designer lies in adapting to these restrictions and added to these will be the pressure from the performers to finish the design on time and give them time to rehearse.
Do you think dancers now pay more attention to lighting design than a few years earlier?
Yes, dancers do give more importance to the lighting as they have realized its importance in a
Do you think that expert lighting helps sometimes in masking the drawbacks of a dancer in performance?
Yes, for sure it does mask the drawbacks but not always. If a dancer misses a cue or finishes the position ahead of time of that of the rehearsal, we kind of manage that with the lights.
Any suggestions on how facilities can be made better for dance in Chennai/India?
The government can give various grants to the artistes and build some rehearsal spaces for upcoming performers.
Any delightful experience / harrowing experience in your career that you will never forget?
Every show for which I work gives me delight. Small or big doesn’t matter as it is a personal journey every time for me as a designer. It is like a child’s birth for a mother. So I can’t specify any particular one show.
A really harrowing experience was when I had a heart attack just before Anita Ratnam’s show at Hyderabad a year back and though the symptoms had been predominant, I had not given it much thought as I was very much absorbed in the work. I finally fainted. With no help from the organisers, with great difficulty Anita (who was all ready for the show) arranged to get me admitted in a nearby hospital where I was diagnosed with a block in the heart. With no one to attend and family miles away, it was really a harrowing experience.
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