Minggu, 03 November 2013

Sustaining the Local by Embracing the Global: Theatre and Contemporary Javanese/Indonesian Identity

BY Barbara Hatley
University of Tasmania, Australia
blhatley@postoffice.newnham.utas.edu.au 

Ketoprak di Jawa (www.antaranews.com)
This paper arises out of 25 years of theatre-watching in Indonesia, particularly in the city of Yogyakarta. Here I studied the popular melodrama ketoprak in the late 1970s, and have continued to observe ketoprak, modern Indonesian language theatre, teater, and other varieties of performance ever since. Yogya as the acknowledged heartland of ketoprak activity in the 1970s, the site of the greatest number of troupes, was my choice for the initial study. Later explorations of the social meanings of various forms of theatre for their Javanese-Indonesian participants have likewise been based mainly in Yogyakarta. But not exclusively so - where Yogya performance practice compares significantly with developments elsewhere, or where a wider perspective has been needed to encompass a particular topic, my gaze has been broader.

Here I will concentrate mainly on the ways in which Yogya theatre groups engage with globalising, modernising social currents and theatrical forms, while maintaining a distinctive local identity. At the same time, the performance approaches and styles of several groups in Solo provide insights into alternate ways of experiencing and expressing through theatre a sense of identity as Javanese in contemporary Indonesia. While Yogya theatre engages directly, at times in a concerted movement, with contemporary social and political conditions and global cultural trends, Solo performance appears more heterogeneous and more independent of general trends, fine a local identity independent of and at times resistant to the tide.
Yogya Ketoprak in the 1970s as a Wong Cilik Art Form
Yogyakarta as I experienced it in the 1970s had a distinctive identity coloured by its long history as a court city, and more recent past as the centre of nationalist perjuangan in the Revolution, followed by the political mobilisation and polarisation of the Sukarno years. The aura of the kraton, the mystique of its culture and the social influence of the inhabitants of the aristocratic dalem was still strong, within the kampung neighbourhoods bearing the names of the great houses or particular groups of court soldiers, and well beyond. At the same time, fostered in a general way by the presence of the court, traditional Javanese arts and cultural traditions - wayang, classical dance, gamelan, tembang singing as well as legends, histories, sayings and expressions – were ingrained in local life. The perjuangan history lived on strongly in the memory of older citizens and was recalled yearly in enthusiastic celebration of  tujuhbelasan,  17th August, independence day. The time of parties and rallies, of stirring political rhetoric, of a strong and influential leftist movement brutally decimated as the New Order regime took power in 1965/66, could be spoken of only guardedly and obliquely. But it formed a significant underlay to everyday life in the early years of the New Order, even as the practices and ideology of the new military-controlled, development-oriented state, took hold.
Ketoprak performance fitted within and gave expression to these formations. In 1977-1978 Yogyakarta had five ketoprak troupes which performed commercially each night in locations in and around the city. From time to time they performed appropriately costumed Middle Eastern (Mesiran) or Chinese stories, illustrating  ketoprak’s open, inclusive repertoire, and its historical  influence from  the hybrid Malay-Middle Eastern opera Stamboel and its offshoot forms. Their core body of stories, however, were set in Javanese royal courts, those of the most recent  Mataram dynasty or the earlier East Javanese kingdoms, Majapahit, Kediri, Singosari.. In addition to commercial shows there were also many privately-sponsored, all-night performances for weddings and circumcisions, which in more remote villages might attract several thousand viewers. Government bodies sponsored public performances for state occasions such as Education Day or National Awakening Day. Meanwhile village and kampung community celebrations for Independence Day provided the opportunity for a ketoprak performance by myriads of local amateur groups. The weekly television broadcasts which had commenced a few years earlier, presenting a new streamlined, compact and scripted version of the form, were likewise a big focus of attention. In the village where I lived, for example, on ketoprak nights the front rooms of the two families who owned television sets were packed with neighbours. But many regarded this filmic medium as an interesting novelty rather than "real ketoprak". It was ketoprak on stage, playing out stories of Javanese history and legend through improvised dialogue and familiar characterisations and scenes, which kampung people referred to as "our own art form", through which they claimed to learn their own history and cultural traditions.
The use of "our" here suggests a sense of commonality with other kampung and village dwellers -  small farmers and farm labourers, urban workers, street stall owners, becak drivers, the social group classically defined in Javanese as wong cilik   "little people", “commoners”. Historically wong cilik constituted the lower end of an aristocrat /commoner priyayi/ wong cilik divide. Distinguished by occupation and wealth,  priyayi and wong cilik nevertheless shared a common culture. Aristocratic values and social behaviour formed the model for the wong cilik, and constant interchange occurred between the artistic practice of court and village.. Yet over the years  the privilege of the aristocratic/bureaucratic elite intensified through colonial connection:  priyayi families gained access to Dutch schooling and adopted European cultural pursuits. A sense of fundamental difference solidified between the well-born, Western-educated, white collar inhabitants of the brick and concrete gedongan houses lining city streets, and uneducated rural folk as well as the labourers, servants, small shopowners and tradespeople living in the crowded kampung neighbourhoods between the main urban thoroughfares. It was this latter group who took up ketoprak acting as a profession and past-time, and largely people like themselves who gathered to watch.
When this social divide became politicised in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as the Communist Party and associated organisations championed the cause of the underclass, the rakyat, ketoprak  unsurprisingly became caught up in such activity.  A former Central Java head of LEKRA, Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, the socialist-oriented “Institute of People’s Culture”, reports that the organisation was concerned to foster the cultural development of the underclass, to direct attention to cultural  expression which had not received it before, while also promoting political awareness. He personally had long been angered by the disdainful yet hypocritical attitude of the social elite towards ketoprak. Publicly dismissing it as a common, lowly entertainment of  kampung folk, unsuitable for performance in respectable parts of town, they had to keep their private enjoyment  unacknowledged. As a school boy in the early 1950’s he had ridden by bike at night through the rich suburbs, past the houses of those who publicly scorned ketoprak and its practitioners: many radios could be heard  tuned to the weekly broadcast of ketoprak on the state radio station RRI!  He  wanted to give the form its proper place - Jangan itu dianggap kelas kambing, dianaktirikan “Don’t let it be regarded as rubbish ( literally “goat class”), don’t let it be treated as a step child” was his wish. In his position as advisor to the ketoprak organisation Bakoksi he would provide correction of historical references, point out anachronisms, advise on costuming and language, as well as give guidance on the appropriate “message” to be brought out in a particular lakon.
The pre-eminent commercial group in Yogya during this period, Krido Mardi, was the home base of the LEKRA-linked All-Indonesia ketoprak organisation BAKOKSI. Several of its performers were members of LEKRA and some also of the Communist party, the PKI.   Two actors represented the PKI in the local parliament. Before the troupe went on tour outside the city, actors would consult with LEKRA and the communist party about current party policies as well as local social and cultural conditions in the regions they were about to visit, so as to be able to create appropriate performances. The stories presented were generally standard ketoprak repertoire, but presented so as to promote what was considered a “progressive” perspective. Prominent among these stories were lakon which depict a princely figure acting in an oppressive way towards virtuous ordinary folk, such as Ki Ageng Mangir, in which Senopati, first sultan of Mataram, murders the leader of the people of Mangir , an independent village area near Yogya,  because their independence  is seen as a threat to his total control of the realm. But there were other messages, too, such as the importance of education, promoted through the Chinese story Sam Pek Eng Tay, where a young girl disguises herself as a boy in order to be able to attend school.
In the massacres and imprisonments of members of leftist organisations which followed the army-led coup attempt of 1965/1966,  the Yogya  ketoprak world was hard hit. Many members of the Krido Mardi group were imprisoned, and several died or disappeared; other troupes and actors also suffered. All performance activity ceased for a few years, apart from radio broadcasts. By 1977-1978 when I came to do research the scene had revived. Commercial and amateur groups were operating as just described; the memory of the earlier time was necessarily firmly suppressed.  The armed forces and government agencies now provided some institutional support for ketoprak, and promoted the dominant ideological values of social stability and economic development. A new group, Sapta Mandala, had formed in 1971, under the auspices of the Central Javanese military regiment, with Bagong Kussudiardjo, a well-known dance choreographer and visual artist of aristocratic descent, as titular head. Directly in charge of the activities of the troupe, its artistic leader and spiritual mentor until his death in 1991, was Bagong's younger brother, the writer and journalist Handung Kussudiarsono. The stated purpose of the founding of the troupe was to cultivate ketoprak of a high artistic standard, training actors in such areas as formal Javanese language and court etiquette, and producing quality performances for the edification as well as entertainment of the public. In a deliberate attempt to play down ketoprak’s populist heritage, it was described as an art form for “the whole society”, and emphasis laid on the need for skilled, sophisticated performances in keeping with the tastes of the educated middle class. Ironically, a number of the key performers of the troupe, including the director, a famous clown and the elderly actor who played the roles of  wise advisor and sage, were former members of Krido Mardi.  By undertaking, as an army-connected troupe, to monitor the activities of the former leftist actors, Sapta Mandala was able to appropriate their performing skills.  Denied the opportunity to work elsewhere because of their status as former political prisoners, the actors had no choice.

Yet, although the pre-1965 past could not be evoked directly, its memory was vivid.  Kampung neighbours spoke nostalgically of the group Krido Mardi and its prima donna, Kadarijah, released during my stay. They saw Sapta Mandala as something of a pale shadow of its greatness. Occasionally actors would quietly recount the way certain lakon were performed in the old days.  The former director of  Krido Mardi recounted, for example, that in Ki Ageng Mangir, as the title character made his fateful journey to the kraton of Senopati  and to his death,  all along the way crowds of  admiring local people tried desperately but vainly to persuade him to turn back.  A prolonged, emotion-laden display of people's solidarity took place. An actor from a different political camp during that period gave a more critical account, describing a crudely propagandistic atmosphere as “the people”  along Mangir’s route called out the slogans of the Barisan Tani, the communist-linked  farm labourers’ association. Among the myriad ketoprak performances I watched in 1977-19978 I saw the lakon Ki Ageng Mangir  performed only once,  by an East Javanese troupe, despite the intimate connection of the story with the Yogyakarta area  and its status a core ketoprak lakon. Its very centrality to the repertoire of socialist-oriented groups in the past was presumably a motive for its avoidance in a contrasting political environment.
There was opportunity nevertheless within less fraught narratives to play upon the standard conventions of stage representation of character, location and event so as to make reference to the social  experience and  ideological perspectives of ketoprak’s wong cilik constituency. Ketoprak actors in the 1970s often stated that their performances were about pemerintahan, governance. Their stories from court histories and depictions of kings, courtiers, heroic fighters and demonic enemies conveyed inherent reference to affairs of state, which took on a different nuance according to the sponsoring organisation and the social context. The same lakon presented for an official state function and at an informal neighbourhood gathering, for example, could convey different images of kingly power and relations between lord and underling. A performance by Sapta Mandala in a stately pendapa to celebrate an occasion such as National Awakening Day would involve long, serious palace audiences marked by displays of fine court etiquette and debates of weighty affairs of state. In a show for a village wedding, by contrast, untried amateurs would be cast in the roles of king and courtiers, and their stiff, hesitant interactions largely ignored. Meanwhile the crowd would delight in the raucous village scenes, amorous love encounters, and the teasing of their pompous aristocratic master by clown servants, played by famous actors from Sapta Mandala.  The celebration of Independence Day, 17 Augustus, provided the opportunity for scores of amateur groups to perform in their local community concert or malam kesenian, in stories of heroic struggle (kepahlawanan) and loyal service of little people to their king and country. A vital role of Yogya  ketoprak in the 1970s was expression of the cultural concerns and sense of self of its lower class (wong cilik) Javanese performers and audiences. My researcher's observations were confirmed by participant views that ketoprak represented "our own art form", a medium for learning Javanese history and language. 
This sense of identification did not keep ketoprak performers and fans from involvement in and enjoyment of other kinds of performance. Wayang kulit was widely watched and listened to. Ketoprak actors commonly listened to all-night radio broadcasts of wayang after the show; many ketoprak audience members interviewed for a survey of performance tastes reported frequently watching wayang, and vice versa.  Some performers had previously played wayang wong, human dance drama based on wayang stories; some actresses danced occasionally at tayuban parties and other occasions; some young people performed in Indonesian language plays at school and enjoyed pop music. But none of these other forms bore the sense of collective ownership for village and kampung people associated with ketoprak.
Teater  in Yogya in the 70s and 80s–Students, Actors and NGOs
Meanwhile another genre of performance was growing in importance as an expression of identity of a distinct, though somewhat overlapping social group. Modern theatre, teater, formerly a cultivated pursuit of the highly-educated, derived from European models and heavily reliant on adaptations of foreign plays, was expanding in popularity as it took on a more local face.
The developments occurring in modern Indonesian theatre during the 1970s are well-documented  – the new freedom for experimentation opened up by the establishment of the Taman Ismail Marzuki Arts Centre in Jakarta; the move away from the Western-derived model of a linear, text-focussed, realistic play, and the rapprochement with traditional, regional theatre forms. Elsewhere I have written of the political reverberations of the evocation of  “tradition” among theatre groups in Central Java, as the conventional images of Javanese theatre tradition, the characterisations of  kings, courtiers and humble subjects, were satirised and subverted, with critical reference to contemporary  powerholders.  As New Order officials drew upon the symbols of Javanese cultural tradition to strengthen their own kudos and legitimacy, theatre represented these same “ traditions” as flawed, corrupt, exploitative.
Originator and dominant figure in this process was the dramatist and poet Rendra, living and working in Yogya with his group Teater Bengkel. The chief constituency for Rendra’s performances was the student population of Yogya and other cities where the group performed. The mid to late seventies were restive times in university circles, with the demonstrations over the Malari affair, the student White paper challenging the government and trials of student leaders, the campus protests and finally military retaliation and “normalisation” of  campus life in 1978. Rendra’s poetry readings and plays fed into and enriched this mood of political resistance. Huge crowds of young people roared with delight, for example, at his portrayal of an avariciousness queen, universally interpreted as President Suharto’s wife, sycophantic government officials and exploitative foreign powers in the play Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga, wayang-like in form but inspired by a contemporary conflict between local people, government officials and big business in Kalimantan.
When Rendra was silenced by a government ban in 1978, the group Dinasti  took over the lead in representing through theatre the consciousness of politicised students and other young people. They extended the use of idioms and themes from Javanese theatre and cultural tradition. Their first play, for example, Dinasti Mataram ( The Mataram Dynasty) by Fajar Suharno,  is a reworking of the tale of Ki Ageng Mangir,  a famous ketoprak lakon, mentioned above as a key vehicle for attack on  “feudal” elite authority the 1950s and 60s  and avoided during the 70s presumably because of this past history. The Dinasti play at first follows faithfully the ketoprak version of the story, depicting Senopati as an august ruler and Ki Ageng Mangir as an egalitarian-minded leader unwittingly deceived into marrying the daughter of Senopati, Pembayun, disguised as a ledek dancer. Ki Ageng Mangir is then obliged to travel to the court of  Mataram to his father in law; here the distinctive features of Dinasti  presentation come into play. A long, serious discussion of state politics takes place between Senopati and Mangir , in which Mangir endorses Senopati’s aim of unifying and developing the kingdom, but asserts that this development must be the joint responsibility of all the people of the land as active participants. The great kings of old whom Senopati cites as his models all failed in one respect, according to Mangir - they failed to create lasting institutions by inspiring and training future generations.  Such sentiments would have resonated strongly with the views of young, educated audience members, critical of authoritarian government structures and top-down development programs. Like other Dinasti plays of this period Dinasti Mataram engages seriously, albeit critically, with Javanese “tradition”, in keeping with the stated aim of the group to open dialogue with the authorities and menyadarkan penguasa  “conscientasise the powerholders”.
A specific local style of modern Indonesian theatre was emerging, giving expression to the combination of  Javanese cultural roots and modern Indonesian social/political consciousness of educated young people in Central Java. Critical, satirical representations of dominant, court-centred Javanese “tradition” arguably resonated with the political dissatisfactions and desire for greater personal freedom of youthful theatre audiences. At the same time, in a variant interpretation of Javanese “tradition”, the groups Jeprik and then Gandrik developed the so-called sampakan style of performance - simple, humorous, lively, recreating the intimacy of folk theatre. Gandrik performances in the later 80s attracted a large following, consisting of people from a wider social spectrum than the usual audiences for modern theatre performances. Live performances drew mixed middle class crowds, including professionals, traders, housewives and their families along with the expected students, intellectuals and journalists; tv broadcasts of their plays brought in more ordinary folk. Performances which playfully mixed together Javanese and Indonesian language, juxtaposing snippets of wayang-style dialogue and movement with contemporary bureaucratic speak, recalled the inter-linguistic, intercultural joking which occurs in everyday modern Javanese life. Audience members, themselves operating constantly in the intersection between Indonesian and Javanese language and social practice, presumably enjoyed a sense of recognition of their worlds. Rather than problematising Java-in-Indonesia through combative interpretations of Javanese history and contemporary Indonesian politics,  Gandrik parodied and satirised particular social ills, while at the same time celebrating the rich complexity and capacity for play of mixed Javanese/ Indonesian identity.
Gandrik productions were developed through a creative process said to resemble that of folk theatre, through improvisation by the group as a whole upon a skeletal written script. This practice was extended further by NGO groups working in village communities who staged group-devised, improvised sampakan style performances focussing on local social issues. Meanwhile, as such rapprochement with folk theatre practice was occurring in modern theatre , major changes were underway in the world of  Javanese performance, narrowing the gap from the opposite direction.
Moving on – Yogya in the 1980’s  and 1990’s
Radical changes in the physical shape and cultural milieu of the city of Yogyakarta in recent years have brought challenges to the conventional form of ketoprak, and destabilised its grounding  in wong cilik social consciousness .
During the 1980s and 1990s, rapid economic growth saw Yogya opened up to the forces of capitalist development and globalisation. Multi-storied international hotels and sumptuous bank buildings were erected along the main thoroughfares, middle class housing complexes spread into the rice land on the edges of town, and tourist guest houses and restaurants sprang up in the crowded alleyways of kampung neighbourhoods. Alongside huge, colourfully painted billboards depicting government development projects, others appeared celebrating familiar brand names and images -  Marlboro, Coke, Kodak. On the historic main street, Malioboro, with its handicraft stalls, foodsellers, buskers and pickpockets, there appeared in 1992 the amazing apparition of the Malioboro mall, a gleaming, many-levelled shopping mall, with escalators, designer clothing boutiques and a MacDonalds outlet. On the roads the traffic, the relentless stream of cars, buses, taxis and myriads of motorbikes, grew ever denser, noisier, more intrusive.
In the field of arts and media, the boom was marked by the establishment of four new commercial television channels alongside the single government station which had operated previously. Observers noted an erosion of communally-oriented lifestyles, as both rural and city householders stayed indoors, clustered around their individual television sets, transfixed by the glamorous images of global media, rather than spending their evenings gathering with neighbours. By the early 1990s all five commercial ketoprak troupes which had previously performed nightly in the environs of the city had gone bankrupt and disbanded.  Two stage presentations per month by the government radio group were the only regular public performances. The big East Javanese troupe Siswo Budoyo came to town in 1994 to perform in the city square for several months. But they, too, had begun to struggle, and by 2000 had also disbanded. Performances for village weddings reportedly still occurred, albeit less frequently. Neighbourhood Independence Day celebrations were more likely, it was said, to be marked by a pop music or dangdut concert than ketoprak. Some kampung no longer had access to an appropriate space for a performance, due to city development, as in the case of Sosrowijayan Kulon which lost its community hall (balai kampung) in the late eighties with the building of a multi-storey tourist hotel.
If stage performances of ketoprak had previously given expression to the values and sense of shared identity of wong cilik communities, how should the disappearance of such performances be understood?  As the cultural dispossession of ordinary people by the forces of "development" and globalisation, so that they no longer produced their own performances, and had no channel of expression for their cultural perspectives? Or as evidence that these perspectives were themselves changing, and that the old “fit” between the stage world of ketoprak and the social experience and concerns of ordinary folk was less keenly felt?
To form an authoritative view on these questions issues would require detailed information on the cultural attitudes and contemporary recreational tastes of Yogya kampung communities, data to which I don’t have access. Intuitively one  that somehow that ……
What I have been able to document, however, is the way ketoprak practitioners responded to this situation. Many certainly stopped performing and sought other ways of making a living as commercial troupes disbanded. But others found new alliances, made new kinds of social connections, engaged with the changing landscape. Arguably in their hands ketoprak continued to give expression to significant aspects of the local cultural identity of Yogyakarta, but that of a differently constituted social group from the wong cilik kampung and village folk who had previously formed its social base. This process followed on and extended major shifts in the aesthetic form of ketoprak  which had set in train in the latter half of the 1970s.
Modernising Ketoprak – the Sapta Mandala Factor
From the late 1970s onward, a modernist and modernising agenda applied to ketoprak saw the widespread introduction of written scripts, Western concepts of dramaturgy, filmic techniques and the use of Indonesian language. The activities of the prestigious, elite-connected group Sapta Mandala were central to this process. The leader of the group, Handung  Kussudiarsono, had a vision of ketoprak which involved both high artistic standards  and the need for constant innovation. Along with correct use of formal Javanese language and court etiquette mentioned earlier, Handung also promoted the re-working of conventional elements seen as out of keeping with contemporary expectations (characterisations lacking psychological realism, for example), and the development of new approaches appropriate to a changing world. He arranged lectures for Sapta Mandala players on the concepts of Western dramaturgy, and wrote scripts which they memorized and rehearsed for special performances and television broadcasts. On occasion, when performing on national rather than regional television, the language used was Indonesian rather than Javanese
To actors steeped in the spontaneous improvisation of conventional ketoprak performance, this was unfamiliar territory, entered with some reluctance. There were grumblings about the stiff, awkward quality of memorised dialogue and the restrictions it placed on actors’ creativity.   Strong opposition greeted revisions of standard characterisations which impinged on the status of heroic figures seen as representative the ordinary folk. Some performers probably consciously perceived that their form was being appropriated and redefined, that artistic conventions were being transformed in ways that had significant implications also for its social identity.
But the innovation and written scripts gradually took over from the old ways. Until 1981 Sapta Mandala performed each night in villages in the environs of Yogyakarta, staying around 2 months in each location, playing out well-known stories according to standard ketoprak convention.[1] In that year the troupe moved to a permanent theatre building, given to them by presidential grant, in the Janti area on the eastern border of the city. But the venture was not a success - audiences soon dwindled to a trickle and there was no money for the high maintenance expenses of the building. So in 1984 Sapta Mandala ceased its routine, nightly shows.
During the remainder of the eighties the group gathered for regular rehearsals of dramatizations of Pak Handung's scripts which were staged at special invited performances and broadcast frequently on television. A competition run by the local BERNAS newspaper, whereby readers guessed answers to questions about a mystery story currently being serialized on t.v. helped keep ketoprak in the public eye. And via such television broadcasts in particular, it is said, the Sapta Mandala model of innovative ketoprak, script-based, strongly influenced by Western drama and film, spread widely and became entrenched as a new kind of standard. Another key medium for the spread of this model was the yearly ketoprak competition between the 5 kabupaten of Yogyakarta. Often a script-writing competition was held as part of the exercise, with participating groups choosing one of the scripts as the basis of their show.  Senior ketoprak performers acted as advisers to the groups, and participated along with theatre academics and cultural experts in the judging of the shows. The style of performance practiced in these contexts was given a specific name - ketoprak garapan, literally "worked on/crafted ketoprak" – and acquired official recognition. A government-sponsored seminar in 1990 defined ketoprak garapan in terms of script-use and dramatic plot structure, as well as freedom from many of the conventions of standard ketoprak, such as exclusive use of Javanese language and gamelan accompaniment. The new form was recognized as a distinct genre marking the latest stage in ketoprak's development, like ketoprak lesung, the simple folk-play accompanied by rhythmic rice-pounding music from which ketoprak is said to have originated, ketoprak pendapan, the style of performance cultivated by some aristocratic figures in the 1920s and ketoprak panggung,  that practised by commercial troupes.
Meanwhile, by the mid-1980s, Pak Handung had begun to share his ideas and some of his responsibilties with an assistant, Bondan Nusantara. Son of the star actress of the Krido Mardi group, Kadarijah, who had been imprisoned at the time of the anti-Communist reprisals in 1965,  Bondan had been performing ketoprak since the early seventies with various touring groups but returned to Yogya and joined Sapta Mandala in 1980. Starting with lowly soldier parts, he was later promoted to assistant director for routine stage performances. Then came encouragement from Pak Handung to think and write more ambitiously. Pak Handung organized a position for him with the Javanese language magazine he edited, Mekasari, where Bondan learnt much about writing. He began producing scripts for television broadcasts and acting as assistant director to Pak Handung for Sapta Mandala's experimental performances. For  a number of years he worked in the public relations division of the Yogyakarta daily newspaper Berita Nasional. After Pak Handung died in 1991 Bondan became leader and artistic director of Sapta Mandala, while also playing a key role in all kinds of other ketoprak activity taking place in Yogya – as organiser,  advisor and judge in the annual inter-kabupaten competition, as the director of grand performances held to mark such occasions as the anniversary of the founding of Gadjah Mada University, as script writer and director of many television productions.                        
Two other children of former ketoprak stars hit by the 1965 anti-communist actions, who had become itinerant commercial performers, returned to Yogyakarta during the 1980s and became prominent local figures – Marwoto and Nano Asmarandana. Nano, in addition to his involvement in Sapta Mandala, became active in ketoprak festivals, formed a young people’s people’s ketoprak group, wrote many scripts for his own and other groups, and received invitations from government officials to direct performances celebrating the history of their areas.  Marwoto, trading on his prodigious comic talents, from the mid-eighties onwards became increasingly popular as a comedian, with invitations to perform with many different groups. He formed a highly lucrative association with the ketoprak performer and comedian Yatie Pesek (the name making reference to Yatie's trademark, her pesek snub nose) and Didiek Nini Thowok, a well-known dancer and female impersonator. Didiek's fame, extensive contacts and business acumen ensured frequent engagements and high performing fees for the trio at official functions, private parties and in television appearances.
It is intriguing to see these three figures, by family background and personal experience intimately familiar with ketoprak’s past populist links and wong cilik social base, actively  promoting its artistic and social transformation, engaging confidently with the worlds of bureaucracy, big business and popular media. In the main those currently  involved in ketoprak production, in directing, acting, writing scripts and developing new styles of performance, are from the same class of people who have played equivalent roles throughout  ketoprak’s history. Most are the descendants of actors, often over several generations, while others have become involved through activities such as participation in ketoprak festivals. While the initial impetus for modernisation of ketoprak might have come from outside the established ketoprak community, from a figure of differing class background, “insiders” quickly became involved. There is no sense of a take-over of performance production by an outside, middle class group.
In conversation in the mid 1990s, Bondan  Nusantara spoke  explicitly of his understanding of the aesthetic qualities and social connections of ketoprak. He descibed the ketoprak of the future (using English terms) as "theatre art" rather than an ongoing tradition with conventions grounded in Javanese cosmology. Performances of this traditional kind had been based in an agrarian society which was now being rapidly transformed. The ketoprak of today had to find its support in the city, since village people now had different priorities. Whereas conventional ketoprak, in his view, encoded the Javanese attitude of acceptance that all would be well if each individual behaved rightly, he believed problems had to be solved more rationally. He acknowledged a big debt in his thinking on these issues to Pak Handung, after his long apprenticeship to the high-born, modern-minded intellectual. But whereas Pak Handung associated ketoprak with the priyayi world and its aesthetics, he, Bondan, focussed on "the middle to lower class" (kelas menengah ke bawah).
In moving outside the boundaries of Javanese popular tradition into the domain of contemporary stage and film media, ketoprak performers likewise came into interaction with a wider world of performers, journalists, producers. Mention was made above of the involvement of modern theatre practitioners and academics in the training of ketoprak actors in Western dramaturgy, and in judging ketoprak competitions. Modern theatre actors participated in the ketoprak  competitions and in television broadcasts. At first the traffic was one way, and occurred largely in the sphere of experimental artistic activity with limited public impact. But later ketoprak, modern theatre and other forms of Yogya performing arts came together in collaborations  with wide-reaching reverberations, artistically, social and politically. 
The first of these collaborations bust into public attention and became an instant sensation in the latter months of 1991, after the Sapta Mandala troupe performed the standard ketoprak favourite Damar Wulan in a subversively humorous style which they designated “ ketoprak plesedan” – plesedan meaning literally “slipped”, and  figuratively perhaps “perverted”. A huge audience attended, including large numbers of the students, youths and young professionals who had formed the standard constituency of modern Indonesian language theatre. Many other performances followed, on stage and television, audiences boomed and the media avidly followed the phenomenon.
The Ketoprak Plesedan Phenomenon
The phenomenon was not a wholly new one. Peformers of ketoprak and other Javanese theatre had long been playing with language in the plesedan manner, through a "slippage" of sound between words to produce contrasting, nonsensical meanings. Before his death in March 1991, Pak Handung had conceived of the strategy of staging ketoprak humor "humorous kethopak" to attract young viewers and counteract the decline in popularity of stage ketoprak. A few experimental ventures in that direction had been undertaken. But it was collaboration between Bondan from Sapta Mandala, the modern theatre actor Butet Kartaredjasa, son of Pak Bagong, and critic and writer Indra Tranggono, which brought ketoprak plesedan as such to the stage. The initial production, Damar Wulan, was followed in succeeding months by lakon including the Chinese tale Sam Pek Eng Tay and Suminten (Ora) Edan set among rival warok, rural strong men. Lampu Aladdin, Aladdin's Lamp and Cleopatra were likewise spectacularly successful. In these performances the title roles were taken by comedians - generally Marwoto and Yatie Pesek - with Didiek Nini Thowok as comic maidservant, and Sapta Mandala actors playing the other parts. Didiek also contributed his skills as a choreographer, and the Sapta Mandala gamelan provided accompaniment.
Where the humour of other Javanese theatre performances had used verbal slippage and play, in ketoprak plesedan not only language but all aspects of performance could be subverted and overturned - characterization, plot, standard interactions and scenes. The "hero" figure in the standard version of a story might be depicted through theatrical codes associated with villainous character, and appropriately suffer defeat; a supposedly dignified ruler like the sultan in the Aladdin story might stumble off stage, announcing he is going to the toilet. Toy guns might appear anachronistically in fight scenes, and a supposedly dying character make a joke. At the same time, with the opening up of dramatic form, innovative dance choreography could be brought in for the staging of battles and other encounters, and gamelan and keyboard combined to provide creative musical accompaniment.
The "openness" of plesedan performances encompassed also expression of social commentary and critique. Topical political issues were referred to directly - demokrasi, keterbukaan, penggusuran (democracy, openness, land eviction), in the often very Anglicised Indonesian language of contemporary political discussion, rather than Javanese. In the lakon Suminten Ora Edan, for example, Raden Subroto, ordered by his father to marry Suminten, responds by calling his father's approach authoritarian (otoriter), out of keeping with the aspirations of the people (aspirasi rakyat). His father has promised openness (keterbukaan) but where is the openness, the demokrasi when young people's views are silenced in this way? Should he protest (protes) in the streets? His father replies with a lesson about respecting the culture of his own people and the kind of democracy they have developed over the ages, demokrasi Pancasila, democracy reflective of the Pancasila state philosophy, not the liberal democracy (demokrasi liberal) of the West. In the play the character Subroto acknowledges his father's superior knowledge of these matters, and accepts what is in fact an iteration of the official, government line. [2] Whether audience members were similarly accepting, or reacted cynically and mockingly to the father’s words I do not know.
Bondan explains the relationship of the different aspects of the performance - the overturning of standard stage conventions, farcical humour and social criticism - in terms a general approach of of pendobrakan tradisi, breaking down of tradition. Both the conventions of the form and the values they encode are questioned and challenged. He cites the examples of a minister seated higher than the king, the anti-heroic portrayal of king-to-be Damar Wulan, and the survival of the lovers in Sam Pek Eng Tay in place of their usual suicide. All examples suggest the possibility of varying, even reversing conventional rules and expectations if they are out of keeping with current social reality. Such material, Bondan recounts, turned out to be very popular among and presumably reflective of the attitudes of young people - he describes plesedan performances as "a portrait of the young people of today through ketoprak."
Young people indeed predominated in the huge crowds who came to watch ketoprak plesedan. Newspapers of the time report that  they were apparently largely from middle class backgrounds. Among ketoprak players and afficianados there was much enthusiasm about the ability of plesedan performances to attract young people back to ketoprak, and optimism that the young might thereby become interested and involved once again in more mainstream ketoprak.  Some older players and commentators, however, roundly condemned the new form as crude, facile and threatening to the standards of conventional ketoprak. Cultural commentators, meanwhile, speculated in interviews and in the press on the source of the attraction of plesedan performances, and the nature of the connection between these shows and their social context. Was it resonance with the shifting realities of daily life, particularly the substitution of bland euphemisms for straight truths ("karyawan" "worker, employee" for buruh "labourer; wanita tuna susila "amoral woman" for pelacur "prostitute" etc) which audiences found appealing? Was the plesedan phenomenon an extension of the long-standing Javanese strategy for coping with difficulties by making fun of them - a strategy all the more necessary today as life becomes more complex and demanding? If, as one writer suggested, young people hemmed in at every turn by established structures in their own lives revelled in the subversion of structure of ketoprak plesedan, should this experience be seen as liberating or simply escapist?
The plesedan craze continued into 1992, with performances sponsored by hotels, department stores and newspapers, appearances in the election campaign of the government party, Golkar, broadcasts over Jakarta television and even a presentation at the Indonesia in Miniature theme park, watched by President Suharto. But in September of that year, after two people had been detained for use of  “insulting” plesedan speech on stage, came an announcement from Pak Bagong that Sapta Mandala's ketoprak plesedan performances would cease. Officially the decision was prompted by these detentions, and the perceived dangers of uncontrolled plesedan activities. While Sapta Mandala's performances were never intended to attack or offend, and were strictly monitored to that end, other groups might be less careful. But other factors, including frictions between the star performers and Sapta Mandala management over money, and rivalries within the management group itself, were also rumoured to be involved.
When I met up with  the Sapta Mandala group  in January 1993, several actors greatly lamented the forced cessation of plesedan performances, seen as the most exciting and successful development in ketoprak in recent years. With the phenomenon of ketoprak plesedan had come a break through in the pattern of “consumption” of ketoprak. Up till that point the efforts of ketoprak reformers such as Pak Handung and the organisers of the ketoprak competitions to attract interest from middle class viewers had met with only limited success. People working in “white collar” positions, teachers, journalists, medical technologists and the like, might attend a ketoprak performance staged for celebration at their workplace.  But they did so as a social obligation connected with their position, rather than out of interest in ketoprak per se. Performances without these institutional connections, such as the yearly ketoprak festivals with their scripted garapan performances, attracted very sparse audiences. But plesedan's particular blend of zany humour, spectacle and social critique, its sophisticated, satirical approach, had attracted large numbers of middle class people, particularly the young, to its live performances and television broadcasts. Appearing at a time of supposedly greater freedom of expression in the political sphere – the policy of so-called keterbukaan “openness” – the new ketoprak craze occurred at the right historical moment, resonated with shared feelings, played out images and ideas which could be identified with across social class lines.  Once again ketoprak was giving significant expression to a sense of local identity, but of a differently  constituted social group. 
Short-lived though it was, the plesedan craze had important legacies. One was an entrenching of the model of humorous, parodic performances, staged live and broadcast through the mass media. Another was continuing contact and collaboration between ketoprak performers and figures from the world of modern Indonesian theatre, in performances engaging with major political developments and with middle class, largely student audiences.
The group Marwoto, Didiek Nini Thowok, Yatie Pesek and friends entitled their camp interpretations of existing lakon, intended solely  to amuse and entertain, ketoprak humor and later ketoprak jampi stres "kethropak for curing stress".  They performed frequently on television, and for commercial shows in venues such as big city hotels, presenting either a full lakon or, more often, brief comic skits. Bondan, too, turned to comic performances focussed especially on the electronic media.  With a group made up of some actors from Sapta Mandala and some new performers, he directed a series of programs for the Surabaya state television taking the form of a family serial, a Javanese "soapie", set among the members of the family of a tumenggung (middle ranking official) and termed ketoprak guyonan, literally "joking ketoprak".  Maintaining a number of features from ketoprak plesedan - emphasis on humour, play on words, particularly new English-derived terms, discussion of contemporary issues – the programs were also inspired by the foreign-produced and Indonesian-dubbed serialized melodramas Cassandra and Maria Mercedes, hugely popular among Indonesian audiences at this time. The political reference of ketoprak plesedan was replaced by moral and domestic themes. Suggesting that serials work by engaging audiences emotionally both with the characters and the problems they face, Bondan wrote scripts centring on issues such as tensions between parents and teenage children and conflicting expectations of gender roles. Along with television appearances the group also received invitations to perform at events such as the anniversary of the founding of a bank or a conference dinner in a big hotel.  Bondan’s group adopted the name Dagelan Mataram Baru “New Dagelan Mataram”.  Like the original  dagelan Mataram  a comic genre developed as an offshoot of Yogyakarta ketoprak in the 1960's, dagelan Mataram Baru consisted of short, humorous skits located in contemporary, everyday settings
In these activities Bondan claimed to be following a similar vision to that of Pak Handung before him, innovating in accordance with the movement of the times so as to maintain ketoprak's social relevance. In this context it made no sense to try to avoid Western influence - globalisasi tidak bisa ditolak  "Globalization cannot be resisted" he asserted. He used many English expressions, directed to the specialized concerns of particular audiences (economic expressions for a bank-sponsored celebration; medical terms for health awareness day), often checked with his university-educated son and written out phonetically for actors with a minimal knowledge of English.
In contrast to the intimacy, informality and humour of Dagalan Mataram Baru performances  were the occasional huge, spectacular, lavishly-costumed and highly-crafted presentations of stories from Javanese history which Bondan directed, both alone and later in collaboration with two well-known modern theatre actors and directors, Jujuk Probowo and Bambang Paningron. Dubbed “ketoprak kolossal”, involving scores of performers, and incorporating sequences of forms such as court and folk dance and wayang, as well as filmic techniques, these performances were presented in the context of major political events and issues of the time. While the artistry and spectacle of  these events celebrated the grandeur of adiluhung Javanese court tradition, aspects of  plot and character portrayal implied critical reference to contemporary political  issues.
The 1995 production of Sumunaring Surya ing Gagat Rahina, (roughly “The Sun rises on a New Dawn) for example,  celebrated  50 years of Indonesian independence with a fictionalised evocation of the period of  power struggle between the 16th century kingdom of Pajang and the rising realm of Mataram. The first presentation of the play took place in April 1995 at the Purna Budaya theatre building, sponsored  by the Bernas newspaper.  In May it was broadcast on tv, and in September staged in the palace of Yogyakarta,  marking the 50th anniversary of the maklumat by Hamengbuwana IX,  father of the current sultan, declaring support for the  Republic of Indonesia  vis-à-vis the returning Dutch colonists. Audiences composed largely of students, journalists and other middle class people are described as having sat “riveted” (terpaku) through a playing out of events understood to reflect on the issue of succession in contemporary Indonesia.[3]  After thirty years of Suharto’s rule, discussion was rife of taking place of possible scenarios for his replacement. The play ends with acknowledgement by the old king of Pajang of the legitimacy of Senopati’s championing of the people’s struggle against Pajang’s harsh regime. As the king dies, the figure of Senopati  of Yogya appears silently at the edge of the stage, prefiguring a new era, the “new dawn” of the title.
At the end of 1996, the issue of the flaws of the present political regime and the need for change was taken up directly by Senopati’s present-day successor as ruler of Mataram, sultan Hamengku Buwana X. A series of three performances, of ketoprak, traditional and contemporary music, and modern theatre, were staged on the alun-alun, the city square in front of the sultan’s palace, on 8th. 9th  and 10th December, to mark the first windu, eight year period, of the sultan’s reign.  The event was titled gelar budaya rakyat “people’s culture show”, the theme was political leadership, and the criticism was relentless.
The first night's performance, described as "ketoprak kolossal", once again directed by Bondan Nusantara, Bambang Paningron and Jujuk Prabowo, combined a variety of different theatrical forms within the overarching narrative framework of a ketoprak lakon. Entitled Bagaskara ing Padahangkuru (Sun on the Fields of Kuru), it  depicted events leading up to the Bharatyudha war, the great battle of brother against brother at the end of the Mahabharata,  normally depicted by wayang rather than ketoprak.  Shadow theatre techniques featured prominently in the show, The experimental form, wayang ukur, projected on a huge screen at the back of the stage,  portrayed battles, journeys and interactions between puppet and human characters.  Then lights dimmed and traditional wayang, presented by  the young dalang Seno Nugroho and the "grand old man" Timbul Hadiprayitno, completed the show. Bondan explained the choice of this lakon, in terms of wayang's embodiment of traditional Javanese concepts of leadership. In wayang these principles are found in a pure form not yet contaminated by the complications of history. The setting of the Bharatatudha war also reflected the current state of the Indonesian nation, returning to titik nol "the zero point", a time of unavoidable change and upheaval.
In the show the prospect of cleansing, restorative war was enthusiastically embraced. The existing authorities, rulers of the Ngastina kingdom, the Kurawas, were depicted as having power, control and material wealth but no moral authority. The challengers to the the throne, the Pendawas, were weak materially and numerically but had no moral legitimacy and popular support.  For Javanese/Indonesian audience members, association between the Kurawas and the New Order government - powerful, long-established, ubiquitously controlling - and links between the Pendawas and forces of opposition would have been crystal clear. Such connection was underscored by statements from the Kurawa asserting the intent to preserve their own position and prosperity, and humorous references to the special business privileges enjoyed by Kurawa family members. In these conditions the Pendawa had a clearly superior claim to the throne. Thus it was time to bring on the war which would ensure their victory.
In the modern theatre performance,  Duta dari Masa Depan (Ambassador from the Future), written and co-directed by En\mha Ainun Nadjib, the attack on the Suharto regime is more direct and srident. The focal character is an aged, decrepit but still despotic king, with a forceful bossy daughter, obvious caricatures of President Suharto and his daughter, Mbak Tutut. The play shows the king denounced for his oppression by a series of figures from Javanese/Indonesian history and legend, and almost lynched by a mob of angry citizens who have broken into the palace. The people shout for Petruk, the clown servant from wayang tradition, to become their king. "Long live Petruk! Petruk for king!" But Petruk refuses; his role is that of adviser only. So he sends them out into the streets to find their own leader. "You are the just king. You are the ones who must establish a new era". The masses spill off stage in search of a leader - an image seemingly endorsing popular democracy but potentially also conveying a sense of uncertainty and lack of direction. Without a clear leader "the people" appear as a confused mob.
The sultan was well aware of and presumably endorsed the content of the performances. In conversation the sultan's brother recounted how the palace had vetted the shows, and in the case of Emha's play requested some curtailment of political critique. That the sultan himself attended rehearsals is something I can attest to personally.[4] Actors certainly believed that he was supporting, indeed promoting their political message, protected them through his patronage from retaliation by the authorities. "Who would have thought" asked Emha, backstage at the performance of this play, "that we would have seen the sultan using the artists to attack Suharto?" Representatives of the palace might not have described their stance quite so bluntly. But by encouraging the artists to represent critically the theme of "leadership", the sultan knew exactly what the results would be.
The performances presumably contributed to the building for the sultan of an image of modern-minded, progressive political leader as well as sustaining and protective king. Several years later this image came to full flowering, as one million people gathered peacefully in the main square of Yogya the day before Suharto’s resignation to listen to the sultan’s message of concern, solidarity and blessing. His traditional kingly aura augmented by reformist political credentials, he was able to serve as a symbol of unity and promise to this huge diverse crowd.
For the ketoprak director Bondan Nusantara, the sense of protection from sultan was actively energising and enabling. After many years working for elite patrons, within the Sapta Mandala troupe and in other contexts, to produce artistically rich but politically constrained evocations of Javanese history, Bondan now broke ties with these sponsors. He left his day-time job with a local newspaper, joined a newly-created advertising firm, and started producing his own performances. These shows were contemporary, entertaining and political. They applied the  light-heartedly humorous style of Dagelan Mataram Baru to major political issues, in plots set in a family business firm or other group standing for the nation. They satirised government authorities and often conveyed support for the then oppositionist political leader, Megawati, in her struggle against the Suharto regime. Giving him the courage to be so outspoken, Bondan reported  at this time, was the knowledge that the sultan, in his power and influence, supported what he was doing.
Indeed several performances by Bondan's group Dagelan Matarma Baru received overt palace endorsement. The production Gendul, Gelas, Peyek ("Bottle, Glass, Peanut Snacks") of June 1997, playfully critiquing the conduct of the elections in May of that year, was followed up in early August by Kudu Manthuk, Ora Kena Gedheg, ("Nodding Compulsory; No Head-Shaking"). Here a woman performer is ostracised from a ketoprak troupe for being too much influenced by her father, a famous actor - an unmistakable reference to the ousted PDI leader, Megawati, daughter of the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno. The show was introduced by the sultan's brother, Joyokusumo, who stated with some regret that its audience was made up of those "who are not directly involved in decision-making", since it would make excellent food for thought for those in power. This was one of several theatrical/artistic events supported by the Palace during 1997 as a follow-up to the gelar budaya rakyat. The sultan's brother explained that these had the same aims as the gelar budaya rakyat - to give artists a voice, since they had interesting and important things to say.
Through performances such as these, Bondan’s group began to gather a mass following among students and other young people similar to that which had been attracted to ketoprak plesedan some years earlier. [5] And in 1998, in the heated political atmosphere leading up to and following Suharto’s fall,  Dagelan Mataram Baru, along with other Yogya artists and performers, responded dynamically to this time of student protest and celebration. In April of that year, for example. Bondan’s group appeared before a packed audience of students in a theatre on the edge of the Gadjah Mada university campus: in the same program the actor Butet Kertarejasa performed one of his famous impersonations of President Suharto. The lakon for the dagelan performance was set in a failing business firm owned by an aristocratic figure named Den Har, with obvious reference to Suharto's economically bankrupt Indonesia. Clown references to bunderan and  panti rapih, the roundabout at the main entrance of the campus of Gadjah Mada university and the Panti Rapih hospital on its southeastern side,  where daily confrontations were taking place between protesting students and the military, were followed by several appearances of a slight figure in jeans pursued across the stage by a heavy, lumbering moustached man brandishing a club  - a student demonstrator and a policeman. As the show finished audience members thronged the stage, congratulating and feting Bondan and the actors. Young people who would have had little interest in dagelan or ketoprak in the past, would never have gone to the theatre to see such a performance, had thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Theatre of the Reformasi

After the resignation of Suharto, Dagelan Mataram Baru continued to engage with the evolving  political situation. In mid-1998 they staged a performance Mbak Siti Har… dramatising the death of a prostitute and inspired by the attacks on prostitution complexes and other putatively immoral sites by orthodox Muslim groups around that time. It, too, was well-received by educated, critical audiences. In the Yogyakarta arts festival in June 1999, DMB stage a performance on the theme of that month's national elections.  Titled  Sripah,  "death" it opens with the death of the father and head of a family firm, followed by discussions of  attempts to trace the father's  corrupt wealth and the holding of a free election for a new director of the firm.  The young female winner of the election announces a new non-authoritarian management structure and a focus on worker's welfare, but is interrupted by a fearful report that the father is not dead.  The father's voice is heard stating that despite his physical death his regime goes on.  In a performance staged later that year entitled Celeng Dheleng, the deposed Suharto has become a  huge, greedy pig, captured by village people, tied to a pole and borne triumpantly offstage. Once again his menace continues, in terrifying sightings of the pig, though here the perpetrator is a contemporary official wearing the mask. The new lurah, Gareng, owns a toy aircraft factory, peppers his speech with English phrases, and hopes for re-election at the next meeting of the village council, in obvious reference to Suharto's successor as President, Habibie.  The character Gus Dirjo, meanwhile, played by the veteran Yogya comic Dirjo, wears dark glasses, sits in a wheelchair, talks in cryptic contradictions and speaks of political dangers requiring a second Gologanjur meeting  - all clear markers of connection with  Abdurrachman Wahid or Gus Dur, and the meetings at his home in Ciganjur of the group of political leaders  who came to be tagged the "Ciganjur four".
But by 1999 the economic crisis which began in 1997-1998 had hit hard. Bondan’s position with the advertising firm had disappeared, and sponsors for performances were hard to find. The sultan, Bondan reported with disappointment, was no longer interested in supporting the arts, being too preoccupied with business. Moreover the rise in inter-communal, inter-religious violence which had occurred with the slackening of New Order social control threatened security at live performances. Some conjectured that Bondan would face particular difficulties as a Catholic with a Communist family background in satirising the presidential regime of Gus Dur, as a revered Muslim leader. Economic pressures are said to have played a part in weakening group solidarity. Whatever the relative strength of the contributing factors, during 2000 Bondan's Dagelan Maram Baru group disbanded. Other ketoprak groups likewise report a continuing decline in performing opportunities, as business firms and former individual sponsors cut back on expenditure, and mass media invitations also lessened. [6]
In  January 2001 Yogyakarta ketoprak performers from different groups, along with several modern theatre figures, came together to pledge cooperation in promoting their art in this period of crisis and challenge. A new organisation, the Forum Komunikasi Ketoprak Yogya, the "Yogyakarta Ketoprak Communication Forum" was announced, with the stated aims of creating solidarity among ketoprak performers, holding workshops, discussions and other activities to train young performers and develop new ideas, and collaborate with various bodies to strengthen ketoprak's social position and market. In June a big performance was held, bringing together four generations of ketoprak  performers from the 1960s-1990s, and sponsored by a range of public and private institutions, The lakon Krisis Mataram, "Mataram Crisis" written by Bondan, concerned political intrigue in the early years of the Mataram dynasty, with various layers of reference to contemporary events. A team of modern theatre directors and ketoprak artists directed the show, on the model of the gelar budaya rakyat performance several years before. The performance was dedicated to the memory of S.H. Mintardja, a famous author of Javanese historical romances and prolific writer of ketoprak scripts, who had died several years before.
Just a month later, at the beginning of July, came another production, involving many of the same actors and the same team of modern theatre directors, focusing again on a revered veteran, a "grand old man" of the Yogya ketoprak world, Ki Sugati,  long-time leader of the troupe P.S. Bayu.  Pak Sugati being very much alive rather than a deceased figure, was presented with an award at the beginning of the show. Then he played himself as director, in a performance entitled Ketoprak Interaski which dramatised the interaction between the backstage and onstage worlds. On a "stage within a stage" the classic lakon Arya Penangsang is presented, with the famous comic actor Marwoto playing relatively straight in the title role. Between episodes of the story, supposedly played over three nights, the cast gathers for instruction and discussion. Conflicts between individual actors are played out realistically and amusingly, for audiences well-acquainted with these figures and their histories. Pak Gati struggles with the problems of keeping the troupe afloat in a time of declining audiences. An official arrives to demand payment of the compulsory performance tax. Gati argues passionately for the need to maintain traditional standards of excellence in performance, opposed by Marwoto and the female comic star Yatie Pesek, who stress the importance of moving with the changing times, global trends and public tastes. Given that the debate is so actual and current, with participants representing roughly their own real-life positions, these discussions have great resonance. The plentiful humour is often sharp-edged. When a reporter brings news, for example, that a foreign foundation wishes to help the troupe, Marwoto steers him away from Pak Gati towards himself -  an echo, one might say, of  the vigorous marketing activities of Marwoto's group in recent years.  Marwoto's  company "Marwoto enterprises"' was the chief sponsor for the show, along with others.
In 2002 and 2003 there have been further developments and changes. A new group of actors, many from modern theatre backgrounds, came together during 2002 under Bondan’s direction. The DMB was revived but given new interpretation, in a move away from dagelan style to more serious drama, in the staging of a Javanese language adaptation of Oedipus Rex. Use of filmic techniques, depicting, for example, the natural and human disasters of floods, landslides and wars assailing the land of Thebes, applied modern global technology to this iconic European tragedy. At the same time, Javanese language and stage convention, and mention of the specific human disasters of debts and communal violence ravaging the realm, which Queen Yokasta and her consort are unable to stem, bring the reference back home.
2003 appears to have been a relatively quiet year for ketoprak performances. A newly formed arts institute, Yayasan Tembi, located near the Indonesian Arts Academy south of the city is staging performances each month by local groups, and ketoprak was staged as part of the yearly Yogyakarta Arts Festival.  Modern theatre, meanwhile, seems to have featured prominently in this very lively festival, with its theme focussing on the involvement of young people in artistic activity. A huge theatre event took place, for example, entitled “Yogya Theatre on One Stage”  which involved performers from around 13 campus-based and independent theatre groups, plus a team of prominent modern theatre figures as directors and artistic advisors. The theme was described as a “thematic exploration of the development of Yogyakarta culture from the time of Mataram, the time of transition to Independence, the New Order and the period of reform”. (Kedaulatan Raykat May 28 2003)
The example of this last performance in a sense articulates some of the key features of Yogyakarta performance I have been attempting to review – a common sense of engagement with local social and political events and conditions, and occasional movements bringing groups together to perform collectively with this agenda.  Such features constitute a distinct local identity, but an ever-changing one, shifting with changes in the society in which it is grounded. There is a dynamic energy, an ever-present openness to change and sense of eager enthusiasm to be part of modern Indonesia, whatever form that may take. In the case of ketoprak, the once distinct reflection of lower class, wong cilik identity has been lost as galloping social change and global cultural influences have undercut such a view of the world. But ketoprak in Yogya  has transformed itself in accordance with such changes, and made new alliances, attracting audiences of students and other middle class people, and collaborating with practitioners of other genres. Current ketoprak performers, of the same family and class background as their predecessors, engage actively in the new processes.
Time constraints in finishing this paper do not allow for a following up of developments in modern theatre in recent years to match the review of ketoprak activities. My impression is that theatre productions as such have been less involved recently than modern drama techniques and the participation of individual actors, directors and critics in the kind of “theatre movement” I have been describing. But the situation may be shifting with the economic decline, as the drying invitations from business sponsors and government institutions restrict ketoprak, ever dependent on private and public patrons. Modern theatre groups with wider social and intellectual networks and connections with funding sources may do better. Political developments on the national and local level and how theatre interacts with these will be an important factor. For in expressing a sense of local identity intimately connected with a changing social and cultural landscape performance is necessarily dependent on the nature of such change.
The same time constraints also prevent what should have been a much more extensive review of some alternate approaches to the expression of local identity through theatre, by individuals and groups which all happen to be based in the city of Solo. In a much earlier article[7] I compared modern theatre activities in Solo and Yogya; to analyse how the differing approaches might connect with the overall political, social and cultural landcapes of the two cities would be a most interesting project. Here, though, there is time only for brief mention of a few examples from the performance world.
Earlier the group Gapit explicitly decried the impact of modernisation and globalisation through a distinctive combination of raw theatrical realism, rough Javanese language and visual and verbal poetry  expressing a bleak vision of  the  contemporary wong cilik  social world. While Gapit’s plays to some extent fit the picture of   “resistant” local identity in Castells’[8] sense, both thematically and aesthetically, the approach of other performers is perhaps better seen as maintaining local distinctiveness by standing outside, while nevertheless commenting on contemporary change. Slamet Gendono’s wayang suket, for example, combines pasisisiran music and a rich story telling technique with literal “grass roots” wayang and dynamic dance in totally unique yet locally-rooted style. Some performances are light-hearted and satirical, some more serious, such as a 2002  invocation of the story of  Dewi Kunthi, Karna and the violent confrontation between brothers of the Bharatayuda war in apparent commentary on  recent communal violence. Wahyu Widayati, of Inonk, who formerly gained prominence in the role of wise old women figures in Gapit performances, has drawn on and developed the persona of the iconic grandmother-sage Mbah Kawit in dance-based performances with several other women. With stiff bodies, lined faces and whitened hair, attired in the dress and/or accoutrements of market women, they perform the palace dances srimpi and play out segments of wayang wong, simultaneously subverting the hegemony of court culture and the dominant codes of female beauty and grace. The appearance of the bodies of old, poor women defying the constraints of the “beauty myth” might be seen as quite in keeping with global feminist thinking, but the idiom is wholly local, and individually developed.  Somewhat similarly, a recent performance by the theatre group Gedag-Gedig of the Calon Arang story depicts the widow “witch” as a smart, strong woman attempting to defend her rights and those of her daughter, and the king’s men sent to captureand kill her as bumbling macho fools. The performance extends the thematic interests in women’s rights and the simply folksy performance style which the playwright and director, Hanind, has developed over the years, quite independent of recent invocation of the Calon Arang tale by prominent Indonesian literary figures, in the context of widespread condemnation of violence against.
In Yogya  theatre groups working in common, either collaboratively or combatively, to engage with social and cutlural trends; in Solo doing their own thing individually,  in their own idiom, commenting on, but standing at some removal from the tide of events and issues.  Two approaches to the expression of local identity fascinating to observe. Which approach might be more effective aesthetically and socially is a question  left open at this point.

Dipaparkan dalam PILNAS HISKI VIII di Universitas Airlangga, Surabaya, tanggal 26—28 Agustus 2003.



[1] In a unique arrangement, each night actors were transported by van to and from the performance location, rather than sleeping in makeshift quarters at the back of the stage in the usual manner of professional troupes. Compared to the rough-and-ready off-stage lifestyle of the other groups performing around Yogya, with their late-night card-playing and carousing and intermittent scandals, Sapta Mandala projected an outward image of order, stability and respectability
[2]  Bondan, as director and scriptwriter, explains the development of  the conversation between  Subroto and his father  in terms of  a policy of deliberate  even-handedness in  ketoprak plesedan, resembling  a newspaper in reporting all perspectives, rather than promoting particular causes.
[3] Budi Santoso, who was present at the first performance of this play, describes the reaction of his fellow viewers in this way in his book Imaginasi Penguasa dan Identitas Postkolonial Penerbit Kanisius Yogyakata 2000 p.83
[4]Climbing a ladder up to an area at the back of the immense stage during the dress rehearsal for the ketoprak performance, I saw Anjar, an actor friend, standing on my left. To someone on the right who was not yet visible he announced "This is Ibu Barbara who has been studying about ketoprak for decades". I looked over to see none other than the sultan.
[5] Indeed the plesedhan model itself was recalled and extended in a mid-1997 performance styled “Ketoprak     Plus” in reference to the incorporation into the show of different  genres of entertainment – body building, a fashion show, dangdut singing and street buskers.  This presentation of the  Middle Eastern story  of Abunawas,  like ketoprak plesedan , also combined zany humour with political reference, with camp Didiek Nini Thowok in the title role victorious over a corrupt government-business alliance, witty commentary on the just-completed elections, and bold statements about equality and human rights. The audience was evidently drawn from the same social grouping as plesedan – largely youthful and middle class.  See Susanto  2000 p. 109.
[6] The enormous popularity of  television broadcasts by the Jakarta-based group ketoprak humor has reputedly had a negative effect on the fortunes of Yogya groups, along with a change in the system of ketoprak  programming on the national station  TVRI in Yogya.
[7] B.Hatley ‘Constructions of “Tradition” in New Order Indonesian theatre’ in Virginia Matheson-Hooker (ed) Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia oxford University Press. Kuala Lumput 1993
[8] Castells The Power of Identity P.356

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