Mar 03, 2021 Last Updated 4:08 AM, Feb 22, 2021

Essay: Don’t forget to wash up

Published: Jan 31, 2021
Locked out of live theatre, Dina spent time pondering the meaning of physical space, enjoying rest time and helping others stay safe
Versi Bh. Indonesia

Dina Triastuti

A small, independent theatre group, Kalanari Theatre formed in March 2012 with plans, a yearly agenda and high ideals. We rented a small house, a physical space where we could gather as group and discuss and exchange ideas. Fortunately, it had an open yard that we could use as a rehearsal space. Everything grew organically. A house on the edge of the rice fields south of the city where hot coffee was served with a plate of fried bananas each afternoon. Where friends sat together in a circle talking about art. Sounds great doesn’t it?

In 2020 we planned to hold a series of workshops and collaborations (more often described as ‘rehearsing together’) between March and May, intensive rehearsals from August to September, then a performance at the end of October or November. To maintain our idealism and group identity we always like to stage one performance independently. In addition, we put together an agenda of small, routine events such as ‘temen ngobrol’ (‘friends talk’, a series of conversations), rehearsals and play reading classes.

How did we support the group, or how did the little group support itself? Arts grants and special government funding are luxuries that don’t come every day. Good luck of that sort is not something we could always depend on. If fortune came we had to know how to save wisely. But there were times when we had to draw on the group’s cash box very sparingly. Kalanari’s book publishing arm, Kalabuku later managed to support itself reasonably successfully. As an independent publisher it was very small and only printed books on demand. But at least it was able to maintain the spirit of a small movement promoting theatre literature and performance culture.

While living in a country described in a famous saying as ‘loh jinawi tata tentrem karta raharja’ (rich and prosperous), we find it’s not possible to make a living by solely relying on the art world. Kalanari theatre sometimes represents a place to simply drop by or a door leading to a wider life. We realise we’re not artists who have been rich since birth, nor the children of rich artists. Problems of economic survival are something that has made each member of Kalanari a super human who can do everything, creative and unique. Indeed, it is this which makes us rich. Rich in potential which often can’t be measured in money terms. We’re happy to let this be our major resource.

In a time of pandemic

In March some friends who were outside Indonesia at the time sent us reports of a virus called covid-19. I recall buying a book titled Sampar, a translation of La Peste (The Plague) by Albert Camus. I picked it up and read right through to the end! My friend and I started communicating more intensively, asking about the situation in the other’s location and discussing what a pandemic was and what it would mean. I was dazed and confused for a few days. At a time when other countries were imposing lockdowns I could still go to the market and buy vegetables, tofu and soybean cake. And for the first time in my life I heard about something called a ‘zoom meeting’.

At 9pm on Friday 28 March, Joned Suryatmoko and Naomi Srikandi invited me to meet with them via zoom. ‘Is physical meeting still necessary in our theatre and sex?’ was the topic of our conversation. About twenty artist friends attended, all facing the similar trials. Certainly, from that day on we recognised that we still placed our hope in theatre. Still, it felt very strange chatting and keeping my spirits up with close friends in different places and times, each in front of their own computer screen but probably experiencing the same feelings. From then on my diary was full codes, meeting IDs and passwords. I joined all kinds of livestreaming and zoom events and YouTube broadcasts just to escape my boredom and anxiety.

How was it possible that as people used to physical contact, action and reaction, and responding to movement we had to simply stay quietly at home? We couldn’t meet, there were no rehearsals, and all performances were cancelled. Reluctantly we had to live on our almost non-existent savings. For us there was no normal, certainly not a ‘new normal’. Difficulty paying the rent was the first problem which arose. We thought hard. But our first priority was making sure that friends in the Kalanari circle remained safe. Although at first overwhelmed with confusion, eventually we were able to gather donations and distribute rice, instant noodles and milk to a small group in greatest need. The shock of the pandemic was something we shouldered together.

Slowly we tried to respond to the pandemic through art. Potluck Theatre was a platform developed by a collection of Yogyakarta theatre groups. Paling Pulang, a short work we created in digital form depicting family members returning home during the pandemic, was broadcast over this network. Next, we were involved in a photo exhibition focusing on Yogyakarta art groups. Then a meeting with Alfian Widanto, a photographer with National Geographic who was interested in our story, was recorded on camera. Focusing on these little activities helped us stay positive, and we took part cheerfully.

The future: still waiting

December was harvest time for projects. Proposals spread around, new groups suddenly emerged and performed, many new things emerged accompanied by new terms that were quickly absorbed into everyday usage. While many groups were busily performing online, taking risks, recording sounds and video, we, in contrast, were avoiding exhaustion and not diving into this digital world.

Making a recording that costs twice as much as a live performance but still has to be paid for out of the budget for a single show doesn’t make sense to us. In terms of energy, time and resources none of this is easy. We prefer to wait until we can meet directly. Don’t actors, audience members and a performance space have to be present together? The energy produced can’t be replaced by a virtual screen. At least that’s what we think. How long will this go on? Let’s hope we can meet soon….

Rest and quiet are very valuable. They give space to breathe and feel relieved. Sometimes during this rest time I take a deep breath and ask ‘Is physical space still necessary? What’s the meaning of physical space? Is it still important for us to work together as a group?’ I note that many artists have agreed to unite in the Penastri (Perkumpulan Nasional Indonesia PTN Indonesia, the Association of Theatre Artists) which emerged during the pandemic and will hopefully go on to thrive.

A party leaves behind a pile of plates and empty glasses. Even though the pandemic is no party we still have to clean up together. Don’t forget to wash your hands, wear a mask, keep a safe distance from others and avoid crowds. This is our way of life today. As the pandemic is not yet over we need to wash up sometimes in order to stay clean, safe and healthy together.

Dina Triastuti (dina.triastuti@gmail.com) is a theatre practitioner and researcher, production manager and a founding member at Kalinari Theatre Movement.

Inside Indonesia 143: Jan-Mar 2021

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