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Teater Mandiri still going
strong at 40

Looming large: Teater Mandiri, founded by poet Putu Wijaya, stages the trilogy Trik to commemorate its 40th anniversary at the Jakarta Art House on Friday and Saturday. JP/P.J. Leo
Looming large: Teater Mandiri, founded by poet Putu Wijaya, stages the trilogy Trik to commemorate its 40th anniversary at the Jakarta Art House on Friday and Saturday. JP/P.J. Leo

Are we free yet? A man dies on the street. To where does the compassion disappear?

Sir, we have to stop sharpening the brains of our children. We have to sharpen their dull hearts!

These lines appear in a prologue delivered by poet Putu Wijaya at a play recently staged by Teater Mandiri as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations.

At the special event, the theater, which Putu cofounded, staged Trik (Trick) at the Jakarta Art House (GKJ).

Trik is a trilogy: Apakah kita sudah merdeka? (Are we free yet?), Aduh and Setan (Devil), with Putu delivering the prologue and epilogue. He wrote all the plays, penning Apakah
kita sudah merdeka? in 1995 when former strongman Soeharto was still in power.

“At the time people did not dare to speak of freedom. Gus Dur [late former president Abdurrahman Wahid] was the only figure with the courage to question it,” Putu said.

He added that many people often questioned if the nation won real freedom, a theme discussed in the play.

The second play, Aduh, tells of a group of people facing a dilemma when a dying stranger enters their lives. Instead of rushing out to help him, they ask him many questions and argue among themselves. The man later dies.

This second play featured a dozen actors, arousing emotions and inviting laughter from the audience.

Aduh, which Putu wrote in 1972, won a competition held by the Jakarta Arts Council. It was the first play staged by Teater Mandiri at the Taman Ismail Marzuki performing arts center in 1973.

“Aduh is a conflict that occurs in humans, both as individuals or as members of society. Sometimes society wins and the individual is sidelined, or vice versa,” he said.

The third play, Setan, tells of a teacher concerned about the current education system, which emphasizes intellectual development, but not moral or conscience aspects.

The teacher decides to leave his job and establishes a free school to teach morality. No students show up until the devil, who dreams of being a hero, enrolls.

“Setan reflects my concerns about the blueprint of our education system that only aims to create sharp and competitive people. This is dangerous. What is the use of brainy and victorious people who fail to understand other people’s suffering and diversity?” Putu said.

The entire performance is enforced by the gripping play of shadows on the backdrop. Putu, who has penned 40 plays, said the shadow play was popular with foreign audiences.

He said Teater Mandiri staged the three plays together to spice up the national theater scene. Putu chose his own works, saying he did not dare treat other people’s plays the same way.

When asked why he titled the performance Trik, Putu said he wanted to insert tricks in his performance to keep the audience asking questions until they found the answers in the play.

He compared himself to magicians and quacks who employed tricks to achieve their ends.

“I want to convey something through theater. In order to skip censorship and avoid anger and hatred, I insert a humorous style and strange story such as probing a dying people with questions until he dies,” he said.

The trick, he said, had worked very well for 40 years, saving his troupe from falling into the hands of the authorities.

Actor Dorman Borisman praised Teater Mandiri, saying it managed to stage consistent performances since 1971. The three plays in Trik deliver messages about freedom, conflict, education and heroism. If you miss this weekend’s performance, Teater Mandiri is set to perform Aduh at Taman Ismail Marzuki on July 15 and 16.

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