Staged Life

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“Ketoprak” is a form of Javanese traditional folk theatre. A ketoprak with touring performance is called “ketoprak tobong”. “Tobong” is their knock-down bamboo huts, usually erected behind the central stage. Once very popular in Java, Indonesia, mainly in Yogyakarta, now many ketoprak groups, also ketoprak tobong groups, have been forced to break up due to shrinking audience. Following the booms of television and videos during Indonesia’s economic rise, many young people lose interest in traditional folk arts like ketoprak. There is no remaining ketoprak tobong troupe in Yogyakarta, except one.

In May to July 2010, I followed a troupe of ketoprak tobong called Kelana Bhakti Budaya (literally means “wandering in the service of the culture”). They came from Kediri, East Java, but have been performing around Yogyakarta since 2006. Last year, the proprietor announced that they run short of fund to keep the show going on, so they decided to freeze the troupe. Going back to East Java was also a choice, but only a few would take, since most of the troupe members have no other skills than performing. Besides, having been in tour performances since 2000, many have considered the tobong itself is their only home. So they moved out to their eighth location in Yogyakarta and stayed there until now.

It is a story of poverty, which is widespread across Indonesia, a country that has been celebrating economic growth in the past decade. It is unimaginable that these people can live on less than USD 10 a month, but yet it is very real. It is a story of people practicing a form of art that younger generation no longer cares about, not necessarily in order to preserve it, but because it is their way to make ends meet. It is a story of life, both on-stage and also off-stage, which somehow feels like it is just another stage to perform.

Budi N.D. Dharmawan © 2010