Introducing Drama to Indonesian Children
Tasa Nugraza Barley (The Jakarta Globe)
Malik, look what you’ve done to us!” Jasmine cried out. Malik looked guilty — he knew he’d done something terrible. He tried to speak but his mouth wouldn’t form a single word.
Malik had accidentally pushed a button on the Professor’s teleportation machine. Now the group didn’t know where they were, and the Professor’s face turned pale as he realized the machine was broken. They wouldn’t be able to go back if he couldn’t fix it.
“Where are we?” Nana asked, looking very afraid.
“I think we’re in the jungle,” Ega said, glancing around cautiously. He was amazed by the thickness of the jungle. He saw big trees and weird animals that he’d never seen before.
While the Professor tried to fix his broken teleporter, the children decided to explore the jungle to see if they could find someone who could tell them where they were. While they were struggling through the bushes and dodging jungle insects, they heard a melodic sound in the distance.
“Wait, do you guys hear that?” Nana asked excitedly. They all began running, wanting to find out where the sound was coming from.
They finally came upon a group of beautiful young women in traditional Indonesian clothes. Not only were these women chanting, they were also dancing.
“Oh, I now what that is,” Jasmine yelled to her friends. “It’s an Acehnese dance called saman.”
“That means we’re in Aceh. We’re in Sumatra, guys,” Nana shouted.
In mid-November, Sekolah Cikal, a national plus school, held three days of activities at the Salihara arts complex in South Jakarta. The event was titled “Playground of Andalas” (Andalas is another name for Sumatra).
Besides displaying artworks inspired by the nature and culture of Sumatra, members of the school’s drama club performed a musical of the same name. The characters in the play had the same names as the children who played them.
The cast spent three weeks rehearsing to develop the show, which told the story of a group of children who ended up on the island of Sumatra after they accidentally pushed the wrong button on a teleportation machine invented by their friend, a genius professor.
By the end of the story, which was written by their teacher, the children had shown their audience how beautiful Sumatra is, through song and dance.
Though subjects such as art, drama and music should be part of mainstream education, they are often seen as non-academic and left off the curriculum.
Syanda Kunto, Sekolah Cikal’s project and development manager, said it was unfortunate that theater was not a more popular activity in Indonesian schools.
“Most parents don’t see the connection between studying theater and a child’s future success,” Syanda said.
“Many people are scared to speak in front of others — which is related to their confidence — despite the fact that it’s a very important skill in the work field. Through learning theater, kids can practice that skill in a fun environment.”
Theater is also a way for children to explore ideas and emotions in a safe environment.
“Through theater, kids have an opportunity to act out different roles. They can be a father, a mother, a happy person, a mad person or anything else. By doing that they can express their emotions and also develop sensitivity,” Syanda said.
Rizki Pradana has been involved in the theater club at the State University of Jakarta for nine years. He also teaches drama at several schools across the capital. He said that over the years young people had started showing more interest in such extracurricular activities, and more and more schools and universities in Jakarta now had theater clubs.
Dwi Cahyadi, a playwright from Teater Canvas (Theater Canvas), agreed that many schools in Jakarta had added theater as an after-hour activity.
But both Rizki and Dwi said that, in general, theater was still often seen as only for children who were artistically gifted.
“Most people in Indonesia still see theater as an exclusive world that can only be enjoyed by [an elite few],” Rizki said.
He said that was a misleading perception and in many other countries people embraced the theater as entertainment everyone could enjoy.
To counter the attitude here, Dwi said it was important for schools to introduce drama and theater as soon as possible to their students.
“We need to familiarize our children with theater as early as possible,” Dwi said. “By letting the kids learn about theater as early as possible, they can see that drama is another exciting activity, like sports and music. Who knows, some of them may grow up to become Indonesia’s next generation of famous playwrights, actors or actresses.”
He added that participation in theater programs could improve children’s intelligence and teach them to be more creative by letting them play different kinds of characters.
Syanda said that theater also helped children develop other talents and skills. “Through drama, children can improve their confidence by practicing talking and acting in front of many people,” Syanda said.
Jasmine, 10, is in the 5th grade at Sekolah Cikal. She has been in the drama club for more than three years and acted in “Playground of Andalas.” She said she joined the club because she wanted to build her confidence, and that she enjoyed participating in theater because it allowed her to explore many different characters.
Jasmine said the things she found the most challenging were trying to portray emotions through facial expression in her acting and memorizing dialogue.
Rengga Radwifa Pradityo, 10, another drama club member, said he used to be very shy, but through his involvement in theater he had gained the courage to speak in front of people. He said his confidence has increased and he now participates more actively in classes at his school.
Besides directly learning things such as public speaking skills, Rizki said that theater could be used as a bridge for students to learn other things, such as language skills.
“Some of my plays are in English, so by practicing drama my students also learn how to speak English with confidence,” Rizki said.
Arswendy Nasution, the head of theater at the Jakarta Arts Committee, said that it was important for the government to support the theater so that more young people could participate.
Previously, he said, Ali Sadikin, Jakarta’s governor from 1966 to 1977, supported the development of theater by building art and cultural centers in Jakarta.
But that was back during the glory days of Indonesian theater, when such well-known playwrights as WS Rendra, Teguh Karya, Arifin C Noer and Putu Wijaya provided a significant portion of the nation’s entertainment.
It was also before TVs were available in almost every household and soap operas, variety shows and infotainment had taken over families’ evening leisure hours.
“Today, our government doesn’t give enough support to the theater world. Artists always find it hard to get a venue,” Arswendy said. He argued that this lack of funding and lack of visibility for the arts made young Indonesians reluctant to join theater groups.
Arswendy said the government needed to use more than just simple economic facts in making spending decisions.
“Culture is not considered important in this country. And that’s so wrong because culture is actually a very critical investment in every country,” he said.