In Indonesia, like other parts of the world, in the beginning theatre has functions for: calling ancestor’s spirits, picking up ancestor’s spirits and coming to the stage, calling good spirits to push away the bad spirits, for example, for healing sick people, and to remember their ancestor’s greatness by performing braver and heroic plays. Even until now, these functions still exist in traditional Indonesian theatre.
In Indonesia, there are three types of theatre found; traditional theatre, classical theatre and modern theatre.
Traditional theatre is influenced by cultures of different ethnic groups.
Classical theatre is based on the life of royal families adapted to Hindu epics and the Ramayana or Mahabharata plays.
While, modern theatre is influenced by European cultures. The story is more about the life of common people, and use music and lighting just like modern theatre. Traditional theatre has been existed along with the cultures of many ethnic groups. It often can’t be separated from traditional and religious ceremonies.
This means that traditional theaters are only performed in some particular ceremonies, for example, circumcision ceremonies, wedding, benedictions when moving to new homes. In the case of someone moving into a new home the host or the family who holds the ceremony would pay all the expenses, so the theatre can be watched by all the guests and people around the house. The stages can be put anywhere from the front yard to gardens and even the village meeting hall.
This theatre is often performed in a Palace or in a 5-stars hotel.
The story is usually about the royal family’s life and its good values of the king, and this theatre is usually patronne by the royal family. The stories usually involve the Hindu epic of Mahabharata and Ramayana, but have already adapted to the royal family’s life. This theatre includes Wayang Kulit which are leather puppets, Wayang Golek which are wooden puppet, and Wayang Orang. The stories of those wayangs are the same, the difference is if it is performed with puppets or a person.
Indonesian modern theatre is a mix of many genres. It mostly uses traditional stories, but uses modern style music by sometimes using a mix with traditional music and modern background which means using modern furniture and modern paintings in the set. The performance is more in order because this type of theatre has a director. Modern theatre in Indonesia started in 1920, where the performers use both European style performance from the Dutch and Asian style performance such as Chinese, Japanese, traditional Indonesian. Later, these styles will be mixed together. The story can be about the life of common people, adapted stories from European literature like in Shakespeare’s plays and Chinese legends.
In Indonesian there were many different traditional puppets used to represent many things. Wayang Kulit was the first that came up in the search. In Central and East Java, the most popular types of wayang are leather puppets. The narrator is called a dalang or a puppeteer. Besides being the narrator, he is also the one who controls the puppets and the plot of the story. This shadow puppet is flat and made of buffalo or goat skin, with movable arms and legs. In Bali and Java, wayang kulit shows often combine Hindu stories with Buddhism and Islam. It also tells religious stories, folklore and myths are usually used. This puppet show often inserts humor or good advice about life and religion. In its performance, shadow puppets are accompanied by Javanese traditional musical instruments, gamelan, with songs, woman singers singing with gamelan orchestra. To continue the search the next puppet that was found was the Wayang Beber puppet.
Wayang beber is one of the oldest forms of wayang in Indonesia. In this narrative show, a long drawing sheet is described by a dalang. The oldest of these puppets can be found in Pacitan, Donorojo, East Java. Mahabharata and Ramayana stories are used but, wayang beber also uses stories from folklore as well. The next puppet is the Wayang Bambu.
Wayang Bambu is made from bamboo, wayang bambu is one of the rarest kinds of art in Indonesia that comes from Kampung Cijahe, Curug Mekar Village, West Bogor District. Wayang bambu is made of bamboo, more from an inner bamboo rod though. The shape and costumes of a bamboo puppet is similar to those used in the other kinds of puppets. The only difference is that it is made faceless. It is made faceless so the audience is free to imagine character in their own way. The technique to play the bamboo puppet is similar to wayang golek Langkung.
Wayang Golek Langkung is a typical puppet from the Jepara regency. It was established in 2005 by the locals. The puppets are made of bamboo and its head is made of a coconut shell. The name has a deep philosophy. Golek, comes from Javanese language, means look for. While the word langkung which is also a Javanese word, means more, so the name Wayang Golek Langkung means looking for more. People are expected to think beyond worldliness. “Being more useful for other people, preparing to face the afterlife (death), and having a meaningful life are what this kind of puppet teaches.” The story is also taken from the socio-cultural themes, the arts, and the environments. And the final puppet in Indonesian Theatre is Wayang Kayu. Kayu is a Javanese word which means wood. From the name, the material used to form this puppet is wood.
The puppet shadow show in Indonesia also has its own style of speech and uniqueness, which is the Indonesia’s original masterpiece. Wayang has undergone several changes throughout time. However, this change of wayang art culture did not affect the identity that has been embedded in wayang itself because of its solid main foundation. ‘The main foundation consists of three principals, which is the nature of Hamot that is the openness to receive influence and input from within and outside; Hamong which is the ability to filter the new elements in accordance with existing puppet values; and Hamemangkat, the ability to add a new value to the story so that it is able to follow the changes and the development of the times.’
The main look of the wayang figures is the wayang kulit, or shadow puppet made of perforated, elaborately painted leather. The plays that use wayang puppets are set in mythological times and dramatize episodes from the Hindu epics Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata.
Some are of Javanese creation, being further elaborations of the Mahābhārata legends of the five heroic Pāṇḍava brothers. These highly ritualized midnight-to-dawn show can be viewed from either side of the screen, some of the audience sitting behind the dalang, but most audience member would rather watch the figures as shadows cast on the screen. When the characters are introduced, the figures representing the forces of good are on the right, the evil ones on the left. The stylized shapes and movements of the early wayang kulit puppets were imitated by other forms of wayang, notably the wayang golek, or three-dimensional wooden figures manipulated by rods; the wayang Wong, a pantomime by live actors; and the wayang Krunchil, wooden puppets in low relief. Though they are also found in China and throughout Southeast Asia, they do not have the same ‘mystical and religious’ context that they have in Java.