by Faiza Mardzoeki
A MONOLOGUE THEATRE PERFORMANCE
“PEREMPUAN MENUNTUT MALAM”
(WOMEN SEIZE THE NIGHT)
On the occasion of International Women’s Day March 2008
Violence against women continues. Violence is always close to all women, of all classes, from the poor, middle class to the upper class. Violence against women occurs in all times and places: in private space, domestic locations, public places, and workplaces. It is embodied in laws hiding behind traditional cultural norms and the idea of destiny, making this violence seem normal, something that women should accept.
Many do not yet grasp that this thinking in society can be removed, can be resisted. It is indeed a big challenge to convince people that these prejudices and stereotypes against women can be changed, and that women have the right to live their lives free of violence.
So there must be the media and the maximum space to speak out that such discrimination can be ended. One medium can be artistic activity, including theatre.
Theatre is an alternative creative media for the innovative and unique articulation of women’s rights. Performance arts can reach a wide audience, including indeed the mainstream world, the general public. Those from the general public who come to enjoy performances can in turn become voices for the ideas of women’s equality and progress.
Apart from the audience, these theatrical activities also draw in the participating artists and the media. These two sectors of society have the potential to bring significant influence on society.
Performing The Theatrical Monologues
“Women Seize the Night”
“Women Seize the Night”, comprised 4 manuscripts – with three being performed at each performance. Three were written by Faiza Mardzoeki and Rieke Diah Pitaloka. These were: “A Plate of Fried Rice”, “Under a street light”, and “A busy morning”. “The dance of the Empu” was written by Tati Krisnawaty.
These performances entitled “Women Seize the Night” was inspired by the “Reclaim The night” movement organized by activists in Rome in 1976. Around 10,000 women and children turned out on the streets to demand and end to sexual violence against women and children. This was a movement of “Breaking the silence of Men Sexual’s Violence”. This movement has now spread to many other countries.
In patriarchal societies, violence against women finds form in almost every corner of life. These plays have emerged from rejection of this.
The writing process involved various activities, and not just sitting with a laptop at a desk. There was a process of interaction with friends and colleagues, with ideas and suggestions, responses to what was in the media, communicating via SMS and telephone. This proceeded from November until the present moment.
During rehearsals also, the scripts were not static words on paper but underwent changes here and there, with more suggestions, from the actors but also from other members of the crew.
“Women Seize the Night” wants to communicate the message that all women have the right to be free of fear; to be free from all forms of violence and have the right to full participation in the public arena.
“A busy morning”, tells the story of Ani, (Rieke Diah Pitaloka), a politician, and also a wife and mother. The media is always biased in their treatment of her: and so to society and her fellow members of parliament. “Is everything alright at home? You seem so busy doing other things …….?”
“A plate of fried rice”, relates the experiences of Ranti (Ninik L Karim), a housewife who discovers that her daughter is suffering the same fate she once suffered. She is being physically abused by her husband. The dialogue between mother and daughter ranges over love and her husband, and is the beginning of a new consciousness for them …
“Under The Street Light”, tells of Khadijah (Ria Irawan), a commercial sex worker arrested several times while on the street. One day, during a raid, one of her customers joins the gang which raids the area where she works. She muses savagely on the hypocrisy of the patriarchal society she lives in.
In “The dance of the Empu”, Cahya, (Maryam Supraba), opens up telling her experiences of the difficulties she went through, with the bureaucracy as well as socially, because she married outside the administrative system. How does Cahya deal with these difficulties?
Rehearsal venue changed three times as needs changed and also taking into account distance. During the first two months rehearsals were carried out at Yayasan Pitaloka. Then they moved to the Faculty of Cultural Studies at Universitas Indonesia, Depok. Finally, when preparing for the performances in Bandung and Banda Aceh, rehearsals were held in the Sasana Seni Budaya Krida, in Cempaka Putih, Jakarta. The three months of rehearsals involved discussions of the scripts (essential features and what artistic goals were to be achieved), breathing techniques, body movement, voice exercises and blocking.
The performances took place in the Graha Bhakti Budaya building, Taman Ismail Marzuki, 8-9 March 2008, 20.00-22.00 hrs.
The Jakarta Arts Centre provided the venue in return for 60% of ticket sales. The project’s income from ticket sales as taxes had still to be deducted from revenues, as well as taking into account the provision of free tickets to some sectors.
Ticket sales were very satisfactory. 600 tickets were sold on the first day, in addition to special invitation tickets we provided to people. We also provided 200 tickets to sectors that would not be able to afford to buy tickets. In order to do this, we worked with two community organizations, National Freedom Women and Indonesian Women’s Coalition.
The mixed audience comprises high school and university, artists, performers, professionals, housewives and activists.
We noted that the audiences stayed for the whole performance (except on the first day when three people left early.) On both nights, 90% of theatre capacity of 900 was filled. We estimate that 75% of the audiences were women. Ticket prices ranged between Rp 25.000, Rp 50.000, and Rp 75.000 to Rp 100.000.
Generally, the production process in Jakarta proceeded will and the performances were well received by the audience and in the media.
The performance took place on 24 March 2008 in the Taman Budaya Nangroe Aceh Darussalam building. Institut Ungu and Yayasan Pitaloka worked with a local partner, Komunitas Tikar Pandan. Tikar Pandan is a cultural programmes organization active in Aceh.
The process for Banda Aceh was different than for Jakarta and Bandung. There were some suggestions that the play. “Under the street lamp”, built around a sex worker, would be too “liberal” and might create a problem in Aceh, where Islamic law is in effect. After discussion with those in Aceh, it was decided that this segment would be replaced with a play dealing with the issue of concubinage through use of traditional religious practices (kawin siri). The manuscript “The dance of the Empu”, by Tati Krisnawaty, was written for this. This was considered an important issue for women with the rise of the phenomenon in Aceh.
There was also an issue with obtaining permission to perform. In Aceh, it was necessary to obtain permits from three institutions: (1). The Ulama Assembly of Banda Aceh, (2). the provincial police, (3). the head of the Taman Budaya Banda Aceh as well as a letter of recommendation from the Banda Aceh city government.
These permits were obtained. The Ulama Assembly of Banda Aceh had one condition, namely, that men and women should sit separated on different sides of the hall. As the audience entered they mixed and men and women sat together. However, on official instruction, people were asked to segregate about ten minutes into the evening. This occurred without incident.
Another issue was whether or not a silhouette scene of a woman bathing in “A busy morning”, where the impression was given that she was naked, could be performed. (The actress actually wears tight fitting clothes.) There was some concern that this scene may be banned, due to the provisions of Islamic law, which was also mentioned in the Ulama Permit. In response to this and local sensitivities, a compromise was decided upon where the scene would be shortened and where the performer would be fully addressed. A joke was inserted with the dialogue: “this is the first time in my whole life I have bathed with clothes on”. There was great laughter in response, although some of the audience was startled by the scene.
Another issue was the condition of the venue. The Taman Budaya building in Banda Aceh had been renovated after the Tsunami. Facilities were minimal. There was no make up room, no chairs, no air conditioning. With an audience of almost 1,000 people, all sitting on the floor, people were also suffering from the heat. Equipment such as sound system, lighting, and so forth was brought in from Jakarta or hired. We also rented a generator in case there was a black out, as did occur during rehearsals the evening before performance night. This was the first theatre performance in the building since the tsunami.
All in all, things went very well in Aceh with an audience of 1,000 in a theatre with a capacity of 600. People crowded in standing at the backdoor in the upstairs balcony.
There was a very positive and happy response from the audience. This was also evident in the extensive media reportage as well as direct feed back from the audience. The audience comprised students, activists and the general public. Participants in a seminar on women’s, participation on politics organized by UNIFEM-Aceh also attended.
Performances in Bandung were on 28-29 March, 2008 in the Taman Budaya Jawa Barat building. The Bandung performances also went well. About 1,300 people attended over two nights in a theatre with a 700 seat capacity. We also worked with the Faculty of Indonesian Literature ad Language at the Indonesian Education University (UPI) to promote the performance among its students. About 300 UPI students attended. Also about 70 students from the State Institute for Home Government (IPDN), an institution infamous for its cases of violent bullying, also attended. Apart from the general public, lecturers and artists were prominent in numbers among the audience.
Ticket prices were 15.000 for students and an Rp 20.000 general ticket price. Ticket sakes money was donated to MAINTEATER, the local theatre group that managed the preparations for the visiting production.
A press conference was attended by about 20 media, local and national. On Mach 20, the script authors and actors were invited to a discussion with students at UPI. There was a lively discussion focusing on themes, acting, and the issue of the position of women. There were questions about what is feminism and how does it apply in Indonesia.
The media has covered the whole process, starting from rehearsals, through to the public forums and then the performances themselves. There were scores of interviews with the actors and producers. The media pursued issues relating both to the actors role in the process, the basic concept of the project and the position of women and on International Women’s Day itself. Media coverage also used our press releases as well as questions at press conferences. Among the materials collected by our documentation team is reportage from: the dailies Kompas, The Jakarta Post, Koran Sindo, Media Indonesia, Sinar Harapan, Sura Karya, Republika, Koran Tempo, Tempo magazine, Gatra magazine, Dewi Magazine, and other dailies Pikiran Rakyat (Bandung) and Serambi (Aceh). We are sure there are other reports we have not seen.
Several television channels, including Metro TV for their show Show Biz News on location filmed at our locations at TIM, interviewing all the actors, director and producers. The programme covered the theme of the plays, interviewed the organizers on their views on these issues, and also on technical issues of the performance. Their programme went for 30 minutes and was broadcast on TV twice. 23 March at 3 pm and on 24 March, at1 am. TVRI interviewed in the studio Faiza Mardzoeki and Rieke Diah Pitaloka on the live talk show “Tanya Hughes” around the theme International Women’s Day. Other good coverage was broadcast on Go Spot RCTI, Was Was SCTV, Kiss Indosiar and Good Morning Trans TV.
In Banda Aceh on 23 March at 10.30pm, local Aceh TV interviewed Faiza Mardzoeki and Fozan Santa from Tikar Pandan for a “live talk show” with the theme “What’s happening with women” for one hour, and which received a good response from viewers
Kompas daily newspaper and Tempo and Gatra weekly magazines published major reviews of the performance. They commented upon aspects such as the script, acting, directing as well as the debate over “campaigning versus art”. Most critics are still seeking, we noted, to impose a gap or distance between art and campaigning. At the same time, there were those critics who were conscious of the appropriateness of using art to take up campaign issues, such as those relating to women’s liberation issues. (see clippings in attachments).
Our research has shown also that many members of the audience maintain blogs and used these blogs to comment on the performance: both criticism and praise. Overall, we noted, there was considerable enthusiasm for theatre that takes up the problems faced by women. They also posted photos that they were able to take at the performance.
Public Discussion: “Quo Vadis Indonesia’s Women’s Movement?”
Ten days before the performance in Jakarta, on February 29, in the Galera Cipta III room at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta, Institut Ungu and Yayasan Pitaloka organized a public forum with the theme “Quo Vadis Indonesia’s Women’s Movement?”. This discussion helped start the 2008 events discussing IWD and the reflections upon the state of the women’s movement ten years into the Reformasi period.
IWD marks an important development in the struggle by women for progress in their situation. On March 8, 100 years ago in New York, thousands of women factory workers came out onto the streets to demand decent wages, shorter working hours and the right to vote. Two years later in 1910 at a meeting if the International Socialist Gathering in Copenhagen, March 8 was declared International Women’s Day. What about in Indonesia?
Tati Krisnawaty, one of the speakers at this forum, explained that Indonesian Minister for Women’s Affairs explicitly refused to commemorate this day because of its connection with the international socialist movement. Tati went on to add that building a women’s movement in Indonesia during the 1990s meant awakening a political awareness about the position of women and then starting a systematic resistance, all the time under the shadow of state violence and facing apathy from the comfortable sections of society.
Another speaker, Mariana Amirudin, director of the Women’s’ Journal Foundation, spoke about women and culture. She said that women were in confrontation with culture, because of the repressive nature of the culture that existed. She stated that this culture stood in confrontation with the ideas of the global women’s movement: ideas of equality, solidarity and justuice between men and women.
The forum was chaired by Tommy F. Awuy and was attended by more than 100 people.
Poster and Photograph Exhibition
A Poster and Photograph Exhibition depicting aspects of the Indonesian Women’s Movement was organized in the foyer of the Graha Bhakti Budaya building at TIM over March 8-9 March 2008, ending after the final performance. The 2,000 or so people attending the performances were the main targets of the exhibition.
Themes and issues depicted in the exhibition included those relating to HIV-AIDS, women’s political rights, migrant workers, violence against women, trafficking in women and children, women in Islam, education for women, the protests against the Pornography and Porno Action Bill, sexual harassment, domestic violence, the Jugun Ianfu Women’s Tribunal in Japan, and exhibits relating the performance of the play “Nyai Ontosoroh”. The materials were loaned by various organizations.
Eleven organizations based in Jakarta were invited to exhibit their posters or photographs, including: Komnas Perempuan, Kalyanamitra, JAJI (Jaringan Advokasi Jugun Ianfu), Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia, Solidaritas Perempuan, LBH APIK, Jurnal Perempuan, Kapal Perempuan, Migrant Care, Serikat Buruh, Migrant Indonesia and Institut Ungu.
Apart form those attending the evening performances, many others; including parents visiting TIM with their children, visiting TIM during the day were able to enjoy this exhibition.
A review of the project’s process – from initial concept, writing the script, building collaboration, production, and then the main events (performance, public forums and poster exhibition) allows us to conclude that the “Women Seize the Night” project succeeded as an artistic project bearing the voice of women. Indicators of this success include:
The media responded to the issues raised in the performances. Almost all media not only covered the artistic side of the performance, but also the substantive issues that we raised. The media coverage strengthened the consciousness that women’s voices should be heard and that there needed to be more artistic endeavors carrying such voices.
There was extensive comment and response from audience members. Of considerable interest were the extensive blog commentaries. These commentaries exhibited an impressive seriousness in their appreciation and criticism of the production. As with the media coverage, both artistic and issue content were discussed. Their writing was freer and more forceful than the media writing.
The audience numbers exceeded target. About 1,500 people attended in Jakarta, 1000 in Aceh and 1,300 in Bandung, making a total of around 3,800 people.
The performance was able to be taken outside Jakarta, to two significant cities, Bandung and Banda Aceh. This is always important in the Indonesian context. Contemporary theatre is still rare in Banda Aceh, let alone that bearing a feminist message. Bandung has a thriving artistic environment but still little feminist presence. It was a major step forward to be able to take “Women Seize the Night” to these two cities.
We succeeded in raising 80% of our target. Support came from donor institutions, overseas embassies, private companies, art institutions, NGOs and individuals.
“Learn while working, work while learning” was a part of this collective effort. The combining of the efforts of people with different backgrounds (activists, artists and professionals) meant that this project was also a location of learning, both in relation to feminist issues as well as theatre. It was also a learning process as regards open and professional theatre project management.
Evaluation and Reflection
There are also issues for reflection that arise from this experience.
There are still some rigid barriers between artists and activists. Artists feel that their creativity is being constrained when there is in depth discussion of the substantive issues of the performance are to be discussed. Generally they are suspicious that the artistic aspect will be hijacked as an instrument of a campaign by (women) activists. This is reflected in some of the questions asked by artist and also journalists in the course of the project.
On the other hand, activists are sometimes inflexible in relating to the style of working of artists, whose background experience is very different. There is also a gap sometimes in relating to artists who have a high profile in their industry and who have a work pattern very different than that of activists.
So while there was significant success in achieving collaboration between activists and the different kinds of artist involved, there were also examples of tensions, arguments and other tough knots to cut through in order to achieve a mutual understanding and to connect up goals relating to the substantive issues and ideas and what was desired to be achieved artistically.
There was also a challenge in overcoming a prejudice that “activist art” would never be able to live up to “aesthetic standards”.
Another concern that we continue to have is the short period of performances, which limits the numbers of people who are able to watch. This is a result of insufficient funds to finance a longer season, including ensuring incomes for all concerned: producers, actors, and other support crew. This is much to be regretted as there is a clear sign that there is a demand from a broader audience. There also remain insufficient facilities, such as rehearsal venues, provided by the government – as well as very minimal financial support
These difficult situations add to the problems faced in the creative process and inevitable impact on the creative process (please do not argue that difficulties just make the artist more creative):
But the spirit to face these challenged never wavered. The strong and enthusiastic public and media support also helps to provide the energy and momentum for more such activities. It is our hope that there will be more and more such artistic efforts that side with women in their struggle. So that we will end the sense of feeling inferior.
Art (theatre) can be a friend to all those speaking out for women and their rights.
Based on all the above considerations, we have some recommendations into the future aimed at supporting future “women’s theatre” and stimulating creative ideas to help in the progress and liberation of women. These recommendations are:
To spread feminist ideas among workers in the arts and other stake holders through feminist education, both relating to theory and practice.
Seek space for the public (audience members), such as publishing space in the media, to present their reviews and criticism, including feminist criticism. This could be facilitated by such initiatives as a review or theatre criticism competition at the time of a performance.
Increase the level of artistic activity raising awareness of the problems of women in more towns and also villages, so discussion of these issues spreads more widely.