Profile: R Chandran

Published on 2 August 2016

He may be past 60, but veteran theatremaker R Chandran continues flying the flag for children’s productions.  

BY JO TAN

Rama Chandran (better known as R Chandran) is aware of how theatre can transform young people. After all, he’s experienced it himself.

“Since childhood, I’ve found it difficult to interact with people,” he reveals. “Instead, I had a whole imaginary world full of stories to retreat to. I eventually developed the urge to share these stories and found an outlet through writing, or turning into some character very different from the real me, all of which actually helped me connect with others. In 1979, Radio and Television Singapore [now Mediacorp], was auditioning for actors and writers, and I got in. We started doing some productions for children, which was magical. I’ve always been more comfortable with children than adults.”

Since then, Chandran has written, directed, and performed as a host of fantastic characters, mostly with Act 3, Singapore’s first professional theatre company, co-founded in 1984 by Chandran, Ruby Lim-Yang and Jasmin Samat Simon. While the company has since split into two independent halves — Act 3 International and Act 3 Theatrics — Chandran continues creating children’s theatre through the latter, aided by his wife (actress Amy Cheng) and inspired by his sons.

“I walk my eight-year-old, Jivan, to school every morning. I’ve been seeing the little things that interest him: counting snails, looking out for tiny creatures…. It takes you back to the fascination and meaning of childhood. Times change and youngsters’ interests shift, so as a children’s theatremaker, it’s good to be in contact with young people to know what they like, and to ensure the element of human connection remains paramount.”

Accordingly, the theatre Chandran makes often eschews glitz in favour of intimate interaction with his audiences. You’ll often see him creating interactive theatre in museums, or more recently, teaching children with special needs theatre skills, and even staging productions with them.

“The first few times we started the special needs drama programmes, we felt like failures, especially when the autistic children don’t even look at you. But we’ve been finding different ways to enter their world — that’s when the magic starts. You’ll notice little milestones: some kids are very nonverbal, but start making their first sound in relation to what you are doing; some begin following instructions; and all generally start learning social skills through drama.

“We saw a group of children progress from not even wanting to look at strangers to performing to an audience at Esplanade’s Octoburst. When children’s theatre was very new in Singapore, developing that was an adventure. Now that scene is strong, and I want to embark on a new adventure with these special needs children.”

Coming up, Chandran, who plays a main character in this year’s National Day Parade, will be working with — you guessed it — kids. “My character is a grandpa, and I’ll be performing alongside many children… one of whom is Jivan!”

Isn’t it tiring though, teaching and performing in such high-energy projects? “Now that I’m past 60, the bones and muscles can get a bit reluctant to do all that work, but working with children, looking through their eyes everyday… it keeps you young.”

Catch the live telecast of National Day Parade 2016 on 9 August, Ch 5, 6.05pm.

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