The Jakarta Post
Standing tradition: A 'wayang orang' show typically presents adaptations of classic epics and is performed on a low stage, as seen in this file photo predating the coronavirus outbreak and attendant restrictions. (National Geographic Indonesia/Paguyuban Wayang Orang Bharata)
The restrictions on social and physical activities currently in force have unexpectedly given new hope to wayang orang artists.
Prabu Corona Birawa, with his iconic red face, has proclaimed his malicious intent to steal Dewi Wara Sembadra from her husband, Prince Arjuna. In the deadly fight that ensues, Arjuna uses all his might to defeat the evil Corona and save his princess.
The story is a classic one that has been used over and over in many works of literature or action film, but it is not simple to deliver virtually as a wayang orang theatrical piece.
Wayang orang is a Javanese operatic dance theater that traditionally presents dramas adapted from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana epics. It is usually performed in an informal setting, where the audience sits or reclines on the floor before a low stage to watch the hours-long show, throwing cigarette packs stuffed with cash onto the stage at the end to show their appreciation.
Composite action: Hero Arjuna (right) battles the evil Prabu Corona Birawa in a scene from Wayang Orang Bharata's 'Sirnaning Pageblug' (Vanquishing the Epidemic), a timely adaptation of the classical tale streamed on June 27 via Zoom using chroma key compositing. The play has been listed in the Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) as the first livestreamed 'wayang orang' performance. (National Geographic Indonesia/-)
Sirnaning Pageblug (Vanquishing the Epidemic), which was streamed via Zoom on June 27, presented a completely different can of worms.
A collaboration between the Jakarta-based Wayang Orang Bharata troupe, National Geographic Indonesia (NGI), and state-owned energy holding company Pertamina, the virtual theatrical performance followed the public health protocols so strictly that its three actors performed separately at home – even during rehearsals.
The show's director, Teguh "Kenthus" Ampiranto, said the production had just one month to prepare before it went "live".
"We thought about continuing to perform, even if it meant [us] performing separately at each of our residences. We could manage the wardrobe and make-up ourselves as we usually do, but we weren't confident in our technological [know-how]," he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday in a phone interview.
The troupe welcomed the offer from NGI to livestream their performance, which eased their technical worries.
To create the illusion of a single, unified performance, the individual video streams were composited digitally using the chroma key technique, with each actor hanging a green cloth behind them to create a makeshift green screen. Meanwhile, the production crew readied a variety of virtual backgrounds and settings for the show.
Only two or three production technicians were sent to each actor's house to manage the camerawork and the necessary visual effects, and the musical accompaniment was arranged and recorded beforehand.
"The past month was the hardest," said Kenthus. "There were problems every time. The digital background for Prabu Corona Birawa disappeared [at one point], and my heart skipped a beat."
On another occasion while rehearsing the fight scene between Arjuna and Corona, a lag was detected in one of the cameras, so the technical crew tried filming the scene using different cameras and laptops over several takes until they hit upon the right combination.
"All that hassle for a show of less than 30 minutes," said Kenthus.
New horizons: Kartika Fitri Ampiranti, plays Dewi Wara Sembadra in Wayang Orang Bharata's 'Sirnaning Pageblug' (Vanquishing the Epidemic), the first livestreamed 'wayang orang' performance. Digital technology has prompted the renowned troupe to start developing other ways of presenting the unique form of Javanese operatic dance theater. (National Geographic Indonesia/Paguyuban Wayang Orang Bharata)
But all that trouble paid off in the end: On Monday, the Indonesian Museum of Records (MURI) entered Sirnaning Pageblug as the first virtual wayang orang performance to be streamed on Zoom.
MURI founder Jaya Suprana also entered National Geographic Indonesia and the team from Pertamina's CSR program in its records as the first to organize the virtual performance.
More than 1,000 viewers signed up on Zoom to watch the free show on Saturday evening, although the show time was pushed back due to technical glitches.
Some viewers in the virtual audience watched the wayang orang show from Singapore, Berlin or Dubai.
Zoom's in-room chat filled with praise for Wayang Orang Bharata, as well as requests for the troupe to hold regular online shows, with some viewers even asking to be part of the next performance.
A message from 6-year-old Rania said that she often went with her grandmother to watch the troupe perform at its home theater, the Wayang Orang Bharata Theater in Senen, Central Jakarta.
"I would love to be in the show," she posted, adding that she could play the part of a princess.
Curtain call for the performance involved the production crew "removing" the sophisticated digital backdrop to reveal the actors and a glimpse into their humble homes, their makeshift green screens hanging askew on the wall behind them.
Actors Supriyadi as Prabu Corona Birawa, Adi Rusmantyo as Arjuna and Kenthus’ daughter Kartika Fitri Ampiranti as Dewi Wara Sembadra greeted the audience in a live chat at the end of the show.
NGI editor-in-chief Didi Kaspi Kasim said that Sirnaning Pageblug was a model for digital performing arts.
“We believe that more artists will surpass tonight’s epic performance,” said Didi.
He added that the virtual show was also intended as a fundraiser to encourage wayang orang enthusiasts to help the troupe's actors and their families to overcome their current financial struggles.
Wayang Orang Bharata returns to its home theater on July 4 to perform Cupu Manik Astagina from the Ramayana, but without a physical audience.
“We will reduce the number of [stage] crew and actors to half the usual 60 people. The show will be livestreamed on our YouTube channel,” said Kenthus.
He added that the troupe's actors would maintain safe physical distance while performing, even during fight scenes that usually involved close proximity.
“We’ll make it interesting. Just [wait and] see,” he said.
Although the troupe would take to the stage again, the director said it would also focus on developing more virtual performances.
“Using technologies that we can't apply to a real stage has actually prompted new ideas on how wayang orang theater could be [presented],” he said.
“I’m so excited to realize that, with the help of [digital] technology, we will actually be able to promote and preserve this traditional heritage for a long, long time.”
Your premium period will expire in 0 day(s)close x