Oyos Saroso H.N.
One evening in April 1997, hundreds of high school and college students packed the yard of the Lampung Cultural Center on Jl. Cut Nyak Dien, Bandarlampung, waiting for the start of a theater show.
For most students in Lampung at that time, going to the theater was a luxury, because there were hardly any performances in the province with direct student involvement.
Therefore, when Teater Satu, the city’s theater group under Iswadi Pratama, invited students to watch Lysistrata, a play by ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes, their response was overwhelming. The two-day performance drew no less than 1,000 visitors, who were eager to see how the serious and philosophical work could, with a touch of local culture, be transformed into an entertaining show.
“Iswadi Pratama’s unique flair for the stage turned weighty dramas into enjoyable shows. Up to then the general public had generally considered such plays too hard to digest,” said Isbedy Stiawan Z.S., one of Lampung’s observers of the arts.
Iswadi Pratama acknowledged the staging of Lysistrata in 1997 was a milestone in Teater Satu’s professional management, with ticket sales, sponsorship and wide publicity. Previously, all such events were free of charge, with no sponsors or promotion.
“After enjoying this drama, many of the students were finally prepared to join Teater Satu. It is these students who have become our leading players over the last 13 years,” said Iswadi.
With its stage experience of more than a decade, Teater Satu has emerged not only as the best troupe in Lampung and the most prominent one in Sumatra: In 2008, Tempo magazine awarded Teater Satu the title of “Best Theater Troupe in Indonesia”. As well as the group’s longevity, Tempo’s evaluation was based on the quality performances of its predominantly student players and the various national awards conferred on its director.
Teater Satu has always staged successful shows that prompt public debate among media circles, artists and NGOs in Lampung and Jakarta. “We hardly ever stop rehearsing throughout the year, working on two to three theatrical pieces annually. Routine exercises and training make beginners reliable stage actors and actresses,” added Iswadi.
Teater Satu is also known as a literary community in Lampung, turning out gifted poets and writers. Among its young bards and novelists are Dina Oktaviani, Ruth Marini, Hamidah, Nersalya Renata, Diah Indra Mertawirana, Inggit Putria Marga, Jimmy Maruli Alfian and Hendri Rosevelt.
Iswadi said in its early years, (1996-2000), Teater Satu staged serious works that enabled its players to develop their acting abilities. The dramas presented included Monologue of Prita Our Wife, by Arifin C. Noer (1996), Lysistrata by Aristophanes (1997), Groping, by Arifin C. Noer (1997), Cries at Dark Night by Rolf Lauckner (1998) and Hermit Crab, by Arifin C. Noer (1998-1999).
Entering the 2000s, Teater Satu developed into a more modern art community. From 2000 to 2003, Iswadi and Imas Sobariah, managers of the group, were formulating and carrying out internal training programs in a more measured and direct fashion.
These programs took the form of workshops on stage directing, acting, artistic handling, stage management and theater organization. While they were all part of the process of theatrical production, the activities also prepared the entire troupe to go national. The opportunity first arose when Teater Satu represented Lampung at the Sumatra Cultural Center meeting in Jambi in 2000 with its production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Ahmad Jusmar.
In 2001, the group was invited to stage the same play at Teater Utan Kayu, Jakarta. It seized another chance when the Kelola foundation held a contest for their art grant in 2002. Teater Satu succeeded in winning the grant and performed Godot at the Lampung Cultural Center, Yogyakarta, Tasikmalaya and the Bandung Cultural Center.
Unlike the early years, when group dynamism depended on the initiatives of Iswadi and Imas or project orders, from 2003 to 2007 Teater Satu was working as planned. However, some projects frequently had to be reprioritized for reasons of funding, badly needed for its organization and operation. During this time, the group was increasingly consolidating and paving the way for its international debut.
In the Indonesian Alternative Theater Festival held at the Jakarta Playhouse (GKJ) in 2003, Iswadi Pratama’s Nostalgia for a City performed by Teater Satu took several GKJ awards, including for best script I, best group III, best director III and best actress II. This achievement led to performances in many Indonesian cities as well as in other countries.
In 2004, its Nostalgia won Kelola’s art grant to do a tour of various cities across the country. A year later Teater Satu performed the same play at the International Performance Art Mart in Nusa Dua, Bali.
Following its monologue, Women at Zero Point, adapted from the novel by Nawal L. Saadawi, in Kuala Lumpur and Steeltown, Australia, in 2007, the group was invited to present two monologues in Cologne, Germany, in May 2009. They were Surti and Three Sawunggaling by Goenawan Mohammad and Wanci by Imas Sobariah.
After 13 years on the stage, still today most Teater Satu performers are students. Nonetheless, the members of the troupe have always received a fair honorarium per show, which, without naming the exact amount, Iswadi said was “enough to pay tuition and school fees”.