Shymon Chelad, who has directed plays of his own, had been a lighting designer with the Bengaluru-based Attakalari for 15 years.

This Kerala man went from working in theatre to construction sites due to COVID-19
Features Human Interest Monday, July 19, 2021 - 21:23

A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, Shymon Chelad returned home to Kothamangalam in the Ernakulam district of Kerala. Before that, he had been in Bengaluru where for many years he worked as a lighting designer with Attakkalari, a centre for contemporary movement arts. The job kept him so busy he hadn’t the time to even read a book. So, in 2019, he decided to come home to Kerala and freelance for a bit.

Shymon had no idea that COVID-19 would soon cast its ugly net around the country, and trap people in their homes. There would be no more shows for Shymon to light for a long time. Dejected, he turned to a field his family had always been engaged in – construction work.

Shymon is but one of the many casualties of the dreaded pandemic eating up lives and livelihood.

“More than financial problems, it was to avoid mental health issues that I opted for this line of work. I had to do it for peace of mind,” Shymon says, having just returned home from a construction site.

His brother, who has been in the line of work, was surprised to hear Shymon ask one day if he could join him. But it is in these work sites that Shymon could revive himself. He, as a true dramatist – for he had been a student of theatre arts – observed the construction workers around him. And he even got them to act in a play that he directed – Ravunni.

“They were very shy, acting for the first time. Many didn’t even know how to read. But it worked out fine and we could play it in Kothamangalam. I had wanted to stage it in open areas, amid the public, but because of the rains that didn’t happen,” Shymon says.

His original interest was in theatre arts, that’s what he did his Bachelors in back in 2002, from the School of Drama in Thrissur. After that, he moved to Thiruvananthapuram for a while where he helped the late filmmaker Lenin Rajendran with a few stage shows. From there he took off to Hyderabad to do his Masters in Performing Arts.

Shymon, as a fresh postgraduate, began to direct plays of his own. “My first play was Avatharam, written by (renowned playwright) late G Sankara Pillai. Another was an adaptation of the Sanskrit play Mattavilasa Prahasana,” Shymon says.

He did a few more plays before joining Attakkalari in 2006, first as a technician and later becoming a lighting designer. While working there, he had little time to think about directing plays as the work kept him busy. “I must have done the lighting for more than a thousand stage shows, several noted dramas, and contemporary dance shows for Attakkalari, among others,” Shymon says.

Bhinna Vinyasa, a contemporary dance by Attakkalari, lit by Shymon / Credit - Vivek Prabhu

The first time he did lighting was for Richard Murphet’s Quick Death, directed by playwright Sankar Venkateswaran. Shymon also worked with Sankar, who was his classmate at the Thrissur School of Drama, for works such as Sahyante Makan – The Elephant Project. Other notable works were seen in playwright Sreejith Ramanan’s Mahabharata and Ekantham.

These are some of his favourites, Shymon says. Unfortunately, no one gives an award to the person who does lighting design, so he doesn’t have a shelf of trophies to show for his work.

Earlier this year, when it looked like COVID-19 was finally leaving our lives, Shymon got the opportunity to do lighting work for a solo contemporary dance show, a collaboration between Attakkalari and the Japan Foundation, New Delhi. That was in February 2021. Unfortunately, soon after that, the second wave of COVID-19 struck and Shymon has not seen another stage since. He is now keeping himself busy with construction work and the plays he gets his fellow workers to participate in.

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