Imas Sobariah, Putting women’s issues on center stage

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Oyos Saroso H.N.

Only a few women are willing and able to depend on the theater for a living; neither do many take on the roles of both actor and manager.

Imas Sobariah of Lampung theater company Satu Teater is an exception.

Imas, born in West Java into a non-theater family, began to become well-known in Indonesian theater in the early 1990s.

Now, after years working alongside her theater director husband Iswadi Pratama to build Satu Teater, Imas, 38, has carved out her own place, as theater director, writer, actor and theater manager, her efforts boosting Satu Theater – named Indonesia’s Best Theater Company in 2008 by Tempo magazine – into the country’s top ranks.

Imas, who studied acting at the Indonesian Art High School (ASTI) in Bandung, dreamed of becoming a theater director and manager since she was a child. She worked in Teater Ketjil, led by the late Arifin C. Noer for a year and flirted with dancing before setting up Teater Satu in 1992 with poet-cum-director Iswadi. At first her husband led the troupe and she acted, but over time she took on bigger roles – as playwright, director and manager.

“All artists like to act their own way, managing the company only by instinct,” she says.

“I tried hard to balance Iswadi’s artistic nature with good management at Teater Satu.”

Good management that pays off: “With hard work, our players can earn a good living.”

Three works written by Imas have been produced: Wanci (Time), Kamar Sebelah, (The Next Room) and  Si Aruk and Pangeran (Aruk and the Prince).

Plays she has directed – most of which feature strong female characters – include her own Wanci
(1995), Kosong (Empty) by M. Noor (1996), Lysistrata (Aristophanes, 1997), Antigone (Jean Anouilh, 2000), Pelayan (Waitress) (Jean Genet, 2003) and Nyai Antosoroh (Strong Women) adapted from the novel Bumi Manusia (Earth of Mankind) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (2007).

It was Nyai Antosoroh that really earned Imas acclaim and helped her gain a reputation for representing on the stage the social oppression of women.

Despite her busy schedule as manager of Satu Teater, Imas has trained many high school and university students in Lampung as well as speaking at national and international forums on theater and women. She provided material for the drama sessions at both the Woman Playwrights’ International Conference in Jakarta and Ubud in 2006 and the Exchange Playwrights’ forum in Malaysia in 2007.

Yet Imas never falters in fulfilling her obligations as a wife and mother to her 10-year old daughter, who is already part of the family “team”.

“Since my daughter Rarai started to walk she has been used to seeing us working in the theater. When she entered elementary school she took walk-on parts in a number of performances.”

Working with her husband, too, is important for Imas.

“However my husband and I are often ‘fighting’ because we have different artistic ideas when we are working on a show,” she says.

“Iswadi is a perfectionist while I’m a manager who also understands the artistic side. So I always emphasize the importance of efficiency. For me, being an artist performing in the theater doesn’t have to have an expensive and lavish experience.”
But if there is one place a woman can succeed, Imas says, it is the theater.

“We’ve been totally involved in the theater world where men and women are considered equals. When theater managers work professionally, theater companies led by women will also advance.”

She feels that, as a woman, she is more sensitive to people’s stories, with important humanitarian issues inspiring her work.

One such issue was the forced relocation of roadside vendors, whose traditional market in the middle of Bandarlampung city, Bambu Kuning Market, was bulldozed by the Bandarlampung public order police.This inspired Imas and Satu Teater to produce a show in the middle of the market, using their art to tell the stories of small people victimized by the powerful.

She has also performed in poor villages in the Panjang area of Bandarlampung, known as a red-light district, an expression of her concern for the welfare and status of women.

Now she has another opportunity to help women in the theater, taking over as operational manager of the Kala Sumatra Program, working with Satu Teater and Hivos from Holland to build the Sumatra Theater Network through a program called the Sumatra Period.

All the participants in the Sumatra Period are women, sent by their respective theater companies to take part in the program, which gives them training in acting, writing and directing.

“The Sumatra Period means now is the time for the theater art workers in Sumatra to show their skills in national performances. For scores of years Indonesian theater has been dominated by Javanese groups,” Imas says.

“After studying for some months, they are then given the chance to perform together with the company. The best will be given a chance to perform in Ismail Marzuki Par, the Salihara Community and some international culture centers.”

source; The Jakarta Post

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