Ranga Chandrasekaran feels at home onstage
He first stepped onto a stage at age 4, and whenever Ranganathan Chandrasekaran isn’t working in theater — directing, writing or acting in his own plays — there’s a gaping hole in his life.
For example, the frustrating six-year gap that occurred after he joined UIC and had to concentrate on achieving tenure.
“I felt a big vacuum,” said Chandrasekaran, who goes by Ranga, his full name being a mouthful.
“Something serious was missing. I discovered I was missing the theater side of me.”
Chandrasekaran, associate professor of information and decision sciences in the College of Business Administration, rounded up a few friends who were feeling a similar need and began staging plays for Indian immigrant groups.
He founded a theater group that, in a short span of three years, has presented more than 30 shows all over the country.
“I started reliving my college days,” he said.
“I was able to balance my work” — he’s director of graduate studies for management systems — “and my theater.”
“I was immensely happy.”
His theater company is called Triveni Arts. Triveni is a Sanskrit word that stands for a union of arts — music, literature and theater.
“Sometimes we do musicals,” Chandrasekaran explained. “I usually write, act and direct.
“We started staging full-length plays, and local Indian publications started writing about us,” Chandrasekaran said. “Once they heard about us, there was no going back.”
Since forming in 2009, Triveni has mounted five productions, ranging from 1½ to 2½ hours in length.
“We’ve done performances coast to coast,” he said. “That’s where my summers are spent.”
The troupe has performed in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Houston and Cincinnati. Next summer it will present plays 15 to 20 times all over the country.
There are about 15 people in his troupe.
“We live together on weekends,” he said. “We go to somebody’s house to rehearse, and bring our kids along. It’s like my extended family.”
In 2010 he had the opportunity to work with Indian theatrical performer Y.G. Mahendran after the actor’s U.S. tour was canceled.
“I had to convince him,” Chandrasekaran said. “It took me 30 minutes on the phone.”
As an experiment, Mahendran agreed to direct two plays for the Chicago troupe.
“We did our rehearsals on Skype, tele- and videoconferencing,” Chandrasekaran said. “Then he spent 10 days with us in person. We sold out shows in Chicago and Milwaukee. He’s my friend, mentor and guide. Working with him was a big, big step for me.”
Triveni’s most recent production, staged in October, was “Honeymoon Couples.”
“Most of what we do are comedies,” the playwright said. “That’s what audiences expect from us. There is enough drama on TV and in movies.
“We try to address immigrant-related themes. They’re laced with humor. I look back on my experience and it’s full of comedy.”
That experience began early for Chandrasekaran.
“There was no TV and we couldn’t afford movies,” he said. “My grandfather would tell me a lot of stories from Indian mythology, and I would narrate them to other kids.
“My grandfather heard me and put me on a stage.”
In elementary school he performed whenever he got a chance, and “I bloomed into a writer and director in the 10th grade,” he recalled. “I would gather all the children in my neighborhood, write a skit and stage it.”
One of his teachers took note of his talent and gave him opportunities to perform, and before long he was on local TV, presenting a 15-minute skit.
Chandrasekaran continued his theatrical activities in college, adding knowledge of sound and lighting. Then, in graduate school, he joined a theater company and staged a number of his own plays.
At UIC, Chandrasekaran directs new research into health care informatics, electronic security and privacy.
“I work with professors from the colleges of Medicine and Nursing on how technology can make a difference to businesses,” he said. “One of the industries that’s been lagging behind is health care.”
Chandrasekaran grew up in Chennai, India. At the Birla Institute of Technology and Science he stood first in the master’s degree program. He took his Ph.D. at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
He worked two years as a management consultant for Exeter Group in Cambridge, Mass., before teaching at Southern Illinois University for a year. He joined UIC in 2001.
Chandrasekaran is a three-time winner of the paper awards competition by the Society for Information Management. He received the Best Teaching Case award at the International Conference on Information Systems; at UIC, he received the Favorite MIS Professor award and Teaching Recognition Program Award.
His wife, Srividya Ranganathan, is a software professional in UIC’s Office of Business and Financial Services. She’s a dancer, and their son, Rishabh, 9, began stage performances as a violinist a year ago. They live in Westmont.
“My theater experience helps in the classroom,” Chandrasekaran said.