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COVID-19: Performing artists struggle to go on without a physical stage

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, April 3, 2020  /  12:53 pm
COVID-19: Performing artists struggle to go on without a physical stage

Staging a revival: Teater Koma actors rehearse a scene from 'Sampek Engtay' in 2013 in Jakarta. The troupe is reviving the drama as its first performance of the year to celebrate its 43rd anniversary at Ciputra Artpreneur Theater, but has had to reschedule from late March to August. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

With the government issuing policies in an attempt to control the movement of people to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, many performing arts events have called for postponement – or worse, cancellation.

This includes the 80th anniversary event of poet Sapardi Djoko Damono, who was to appear on March 20, together with stage actors Slamet Rahardjo and N. Riantiarno, at Teater Kecil of the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) arts center in Central Jakarta. No immediate information has been made available on when the event would be staged – if ever – as the center is closed until May 20.

The Ciputra Artpreneur Theater in South Jakarta has also temporarily closed its doors on all public performances.

One of these is Inggit Garnasih, a musical theater in which actress Happy Salma was to perform a monologue as Inggit Garnasih, the second wife of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno.

The show’s organizer, Titimangsa Foundation, announced that the musical would be postponed to Aug. 22 from the original date of April 18.

Woman with a monologue: Actress Happy Salma is taking on the titular role as the second wife of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno to deliver a monologue in 'Inggit Garnasih'. The musical theater has been postponed from April to August due to the COVID-19 epidemic.Woman with a monologue: Actress Happy Salma is taking on the titular role as the second wife of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno to deliver a monologue in 'Inggit Garnasih'. The musical theater has been postponed from April to August due to the COVID-19 epidemic. (Courtesy of Image Dynamics/-)

Meanwhile, the theatrical performance Under the Volcano was to have its Jakarta premiere on April 4-5 at Ciputra Artpreneur. Due to the pandemic, it is rescheduled to July 4-5.

A Komunitas Seni Hitam-Putih (Black-and-White Arts Community) production directed by Yusril Katil with music composed by Elizar Koto, Under the Volcano premiered internationally at the 6th Theater Olympics in 2014 in Beijing and in 2016 at TheatreWorks in Singapore. A shorter version of the theatrical drama was performed at the 2018 Borobudur Writers & Cultural Festival at the namesake temple in Central Java.

On hold: Theatrical performance 'Under the Volcano' was to have its Jakarta premiere on April 4-5 at Ciputra Artpreneur but due to the pandemic, it is rescheduled to July 4-5.On hold: Theatrical performance 'Under the Volcano' was to have its Jakarta premiere on April 4-5 at Ciputra Artpreneur but due to the pandemic, it is rescheduled to July 4-5. (Courtesy of Ciputra Artpreneur/-)

Brought by Bumi Purnati that presented the epic creation myth of Bugis people I La Galigo, the West Sumatra drama is based on Muhammad Saleh’s “Syair Lampung Karam” (Poem on the sinking of Lampung), published in 1883, about a witness’s account of the infamous eruption of Mount Krakatoa that same year.

Teater Koma also had to postpone Sampek Engtay, originally scheduled at Ciputra Artpreneur for March 28-29 to mark the seminal theatrical troupe’s 43rd anniversary.

As organizers scrambled to sign new dates for their shows, Teater Koma secured Aug. 15-16 for its first show of the year. In better days, the troupe held up to four major performances a year, not including private events and children’s shows at the National Museum.

“Everything is ready – the set, the costume, everything. We are always ready three months in advance and start selling tickets the month before [a show],” said Teater Koma manager Ratna Riantiarno. “We have sold 50 percent of tickets to three shows, including 500 seats at a 43 percent early-bird discount.”

She was grateful that the troupe could still perform at the original venue, as refunding the tickets was out of the question.

“We spent so much on preparations, but it’s still a good decision to delay [the show]. We really hope we don’t have to cancel it altogether, that would unimaginable,” Ratna told The Jakarta Post.

“Time is tough for us performers because of [the current] situation. None of us would dare do anything and we are not allowed to, at least until April. There goes our source of income,” she said.

Another group that has been hit financially by the epidemic is EKI Dance Company, which has dozens of professional dancers and musicians.

The cancellation of shows and the call for social distancing at first bothered the dance company’s patron, Rusdy Rukmarata, who shared his rant at being out of work on social media.

His frustration is understandable, as the dance company must still pay its artists and staffers their monthly salaries until the next show – as well as cover utilities and daily meals at its dormitory.

“But the responses and additional discussions later on made me realize that there are actually many things we can do as artists or performers,” Rusdy told the Post.

“We have the social responsibility to maintain art as an important [cultural] vein of this city’s pulse. Although it’s an important job, I don’t think using social media to campaign for social distancing is the job for us. We still have to produce art, no matter what,” he said.

While EKI is using its time staying “at home” by inventorying its archives and costumes, the company is also working on new choreography and plans to produce videos of its performances.

“We’ve seen how musicians have created digital concerts, while fashion designers and painters are releasing their new work on social media. I think the dance community should also join the cause of lifting the people’s spirit,” said Rusdy.

Ratna, however, believes that YouTube and other online platforms could never be a stage for live performances.

“We can survive for a while, but not if this situation goes on. I just hope we will get out of this situation smoothly,” she said. (ste)

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