The arrival of Teater Satu has reoriented the focus of Indonesian theatre which was before considered too ‘Java-centric’. Originating from Bandar Lampung in Sumatra, the group has led the way for theatre communities across the nation through performances that foster social change.
“Theatre is a way of life, a pathway that should be crossed by the people towards a better life,” suggested founder and director of Teater Satu, Iswadi Pratama. Sadly, not many theatre groups in Indonesia live by this philosophy.
When Pratama and his wife Imas Sobariah first built Teater Satu in 1996, they struggled with the reality that most theatre groups were not even aware of the significant role they play in stimulating new ideas, as well as the formation of an open society. At the time, numerous theatre groups in Bandar Lampung tended to passively take on their directors’ lead instead of seeking out alternative ways to facilitate social transformation.
Further, both founders were confronted with a greater challenge as the majority of theatre groups in the country have yet to account for the non-artistic aspects of running an arts organization, such as the need to have strong management and basing their creative process on research. In turn, the works produced by Indonesian theatre today remains stagnant:
“Not many theatre artists have the courage to turn their attention to the managerial side [of running a theatre]. Meanwhile, from the artistic side, there are only few theatre groups that bring more progressive ideas to the table,” Pratama lamented.
Concerned by this reality, Teater Satu works to refine the nature of the arts in Indonesia by regularly organizing workshops that develop artists’ skills in ranging fields like acting, directing, leadership, journalism, and management. They realize that most theatre groups in Indonesia learn in a self-directed manner and are lacking reference points, so these workshops are consequently held to help artists better navigate their own ways and enhance their talents holistically.
And from a social viewpoint, Teater Satu believes that every performance needs to fulfil the purpose of inspiring change:
“If theatres take issues that are relevant to society, then they will remain an integral part of social transformation that can help encourage a move towards a more egalitarian society,” Pratama said.
One of their shows Death and the Maiden managed to take a particular issue that was relevant to the context of Indonesia’s political struggle. The original script, written by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman, describes a particular socio-political period under a dictator’s reign in Chile. Under his reinterpretation of the play, Pratama attempted to capture the fall of former President Soeharto’s reign of 32 years in Indonesia – with a touch of humour and suspense that allowed the audience to relate and reflect on the performance personally.
At present, the group is also planning an upcoming production called Dongeng Untuk Nala (The Tale for Nala), which projects a life where humans have further strayed from their own morals:
“Human’s alienation from their own values makes them existentially lonely and hollow. They become brutal, greedy, intolerant, and are losing their grip on moral values,” Pratama describes. Through Dongeng Untuk Nala, Pratama wishes people will restore their hopes, dreams and sense of humanity, just like the name ‘Nala’ that translates to ‘heart’ in Javanese.
Since 2008, Teater Satu has partnered with Hivos, an international organization that houses various programmes from all around the globe in order to address issues that take place in the respective countries, such as women’s empowerment, sexual rights and diversity, freedom of expression and sustainable food. With Teater Satu, the two have been working together in a programme called Sumatera Cultural Network and Movement to preserve local cultural heritage.
Through this programme, Teater Satu develops and modifies Bandar Lampung’s traditional theatre known as ‘Warahan’, which combines dance, literature, music, and local tales. By introducing Warahan, Pratama hopes to deliver performances that will engage the public regardless of their status or background.
The fact that Teater Satu endeavours to promote Lampung’s traditions is crucial to the history of Indonesian theatre. As it turns out, most of the major theatre groups in the country originate from Java, ever since the establishment of Akademi Teater Nasional Indonesia (ATNI) or The National Theatre Academy of Indonesia in 1955 by Usmar Ismail and Asrul Sani. Then, ATNI was the first modern theatre academy in Southesast Asia, which participated in the rise of more modern theatre groups and institutions in Indonesia, such as Teater Populer (Bandung), Studiklub Teater Bandung (Bandung) and Akademi Seni Drama dan Film (Jogjakarta) – all of which are from Java. Fortunately, the emergence of Teater Satu has paved the way for groups outside of the island to sign their names on the world’s theatre stage.
Aside from their bid to transform the nation and its people, Teater Satu has also succeeded in altering the lives of its own 20 members, who have gone from having no prior experience in theatre to becoming professional artists. Gandi Maulana, for instance, revealed that his journey in Teater Satu has earned him the opportunity of becoming both an actor as well as a schoolteacher. Others who take on jobs in the arts sector work as management staff, directors, and even lighting designers.
But more importantly, these people learn the values of the learning process that they may not have obtained from other formal institutions:
“Teater Satu has taught me that learning is about knowing when to use your mind, body and feelings in the right time. They cannot be mixed altogether,” Aliman Surya said, who recently graduated from a dance school.
By committing themselves to realizing social change, Teater Satu has not only made their mark in the history of Indonesian theatre, but will certainly leave a permanent one for many years to come. Brace yourself Indonesia, the new future of theatre has finally arrived.