Faiza Mardzoeki

REPORT: Nyai Ontosoroh Theatre Project

Nyai Ontosoroh Theater Project
Pontianak – Bandung – Solo – Jogja – Lampung – Surabaya – Jakarta


The idea of adapting Pramoedya’s novel for the stage, focusing on the story and character of Nyai Ontosoroh, was first proposed by Faiza Marzoeki. She has written this adaptation of Pramoedya’s novel, which he wrote in Buru Island prison camp, This Earth of Mankind. She had previously initiated and, with other activists and artists, produced the play, Women at Point Zero, based on the novel by the Egyptian feminist, Nawal El Saadawi.

This Earth of Mankind records part of the Indonesian people’s journey as a nation. And it contains important lessons about being a woman, and being a human being, When we read This Earth of Mankind we are provoked to think about who we are, why we are like we are, and what we intend to do about it? This is most clearly displayed in the character of Sanikem, alias Nyai Ontosoroh. Her story is narrated by Minke, a character inspired by Tirto Adhisuryo, the pioneer of the national awakening among the Indonesian people.

Nyai Ontosoroh tells the story of Sanikem’s struggle. She was a women whose freedom was stolen by her own father and whose dignity was denied to her by her society. Her reality, chapter after chapter, meant she re-created herself as a new character. She chose the path of resistance, to fight. The struggle of Nayi Ontosoroh, though set in the days of the Netherlands Indies, remains relevant today.


It is on the stage that this character of Sanikem can be brought to life Theatre has its special strengths to present ideas, to challenge with demands, to provoke reflection. The study of the text, of characterization and the long rehearsals are activities with many enriching lessons. The whole process has taken two years: research, writing the play, discussions, formation of the team, the search for funding, and for the actors; then the rehearsals.


Nyai Ontosoroh is a joint, not-for-profit production by Institut Ungu (Women’s Art and Culture Centre), Jaringan Nasional Perempuan Mahardhika (Women National Network) and Perguruan Rakyat Merdeka (Community of liberated people). It has been supported by Elsam, Jari, Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia , Kalyanamitra, LBH APIK, Perkumpulan Praxis, Kontras, Komunitas Ciliwung, Perkumpulan Seni Indonesia, Pramoedya Institut Solidaritas Perempuan, Voice of Human Rights dan Yappika

Faiza Mardzoeki and Andi K. Yuwono are the producers, supported by a strong team comprising Irina Dayasih, Dewi Djaja, Yulia Evina Bhara, Vivi Widyawati, Tedjo Priyono, Katarina Puji Astuti, Efriza, Siti Ma’rifah, Ratnaningsih, Eko Bambang Subiantoro, Lilik Munafidah, Warsito, Sigit Pranowo, Agung Yudhawiranatha, Listya Sidharta, Ripana Puntarasa, Putri Miranda and Myra Diarsi joint overall coordinator with Faiza Mardzoeki..

Most of the performances in the regions were organised by Perguruan Rakyat Merdeka (PRM) bringingartists and activists together for the production.


The original plan was for the Jakarta performance to be the climax of a series of regional performances up until December 2006. It was scheduled for April 2007.

Ken Zuraida was scheduled to be the director for the Jakarta April performance. The collaboration with Ken Zuraida began with informal discussions between her and Faiza Mardzoeki, Myra Diarsi, and Dolorosa Sinaga. This was followed by Ken Zuraida’s participation in a workshop on the play and the platform for cooperation in July, 2006.

In August 2006, Ken Zuraida participated in the auditioning of actors and rehearsal began in October 2006. Then in February 2007, exactly 55 days before the scheduled performances, Ken Zuraida resigned as director.

The organizing committee resolved even more firmly that in these circumatnces the performance must still proceed. The consequences were additional costs, as a new plan and budget had to be formulated and a new director appointed.

In March 2007, the organizing committee auditioned several people as director and appointed Wawan Sofwan, from Bandung, a widely experienced director, who was also enthusiastic about the Nyai Ontosoroh project. The organizing committee together with the director then selected a new cast. Rehearsals began in April, 2007.

The committee considers on reflection that the resignation of Ken Zuraida was a result of different understandings of the process that was underway. Between July 2006 and February 2007, several times different viewpoints emerged on a number of practical issues, such as the difficulty in getting a rehearsal location, or the slow pace of obtaining sponsors. Thee issues were solved after dialogue and discussion. However it appears that the “struggle” process involved in producing Nyai Ontosoroh was not compatible with her resulting in Ken Zuraida’s resignation.


One lesson the committee draws from this experience is that is not easy to build collaboration between artists and activists from a broad spectrum of different backgrounds. In addition this was the initiative of an individual which then spread to become a joint initiative of a broader community. There were many challenges. People had to carry out the work in between other jobs. We had a very minimum of facilities. There was a very minimum also of support from the government and prove difficult to find funding support. However the enthusiasm and commitment of both the production and artistic team ensured that the effort was there to bring the performance to the public.

The performance in Jakarta turned at to be a major success with all performances before a packed house and with wide media coverage and reviews. The performances in the regions were also very well attended and always provoked lively discussions in the area.

The performace of Nyai Ontosoorh was not simply a performance for performance sake. It was a part of a public campaign to raise women’s rights issues, human rights as well as to showcase art that is partisan in the interests of women. This was reflected in the many reviews in the print and electronic media, as well as blogs. Apart from comment on technical issues, such as the stage set, acting, and issues of theatrical adaptations and so on, the main themes were about the liberation and resistance of women.

The Nyai Ontosoorh project taken in total – performances, public forum and workshops – have contributed to Indonesian cultural activities and perspectives.


1. Workshop on the Platform of Cooperation and on Play Manuscript, June 2006

In June 2006, facilitated by PRM, the artists and activists together from around the country held a workshop together. We have held two public discussions: “Nyai Ontosoroh and its relevance to the women’s movement today” as well as “Women characters in Pramoedya’s novel”. The participants came from Padang, Lampung, Jakarta, Bandung, Jogjakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, Pontianak, and Bali.

At the start of the process, we held a three day workshop, 14-16 July, 2006 in the Cooperatives Building, Jakarta:

Platform workshop: This workshop discussed in detail the aims of the project and itsa collobarative character in seeking to advance peoples’ sovereignty. Why “Nyai Ontosoroh”? Why theatre and wyh through the different theatre forms from different parts of Indonesia? Why a collective approach involving different kinds of cultural workers? The hope was for the emergence of a common, shared perspective, with a synergy developoing between differetnt strategic orientations and different participants.

Script Workshop: This discussion examined and investigated the comprehensive concepts that constituted the main contents of the manuscript as well as how to develop a performance atmosphere. The discussion also focussed on understanding the characters in the play. The aim was to reach agreement on the form of the theatre performance that would be presented. The form would be determined at th elocal level by the project implementing groups.
Approximately 70 people attended the workshop, with about 25 representatioves from the regions. The regions represented were: Bali, Pontianak, Semarang, Jogyakarta, Solo, Surabaya, Padang, Lampung, and Bandung..

2. Auditions

Auditions were held by the producers committee and the director for the Jakarta performance in August, 2006. Sixty (60) people auditioned and 25 people were selected.

3. Rehearsals

Rehearsals began in September, 2006, They were first held in the secretariat of the NYAI ONTOSOROH PROJECT, and then in the Blossom International School, a few times in Bengkel Teatre. Finally, with the recommendation from the Director-General of Tourism ande Culture, we obtained the use of the National Gallery.

4. Public Forums
On Friday 16 February THE NYAI ONTOSOROH PROJECT held a public forumwith the topic: “Women in the literature of Pramoedya Ananta Toer”.Around 200 people crammed into the auditorium at the Taman IsmailMarzuki to participate in a lively discussion.
The speakers were: Rieke Diah Pitaloka, Dita Sari, and Eko Kurniawan.The forum was reported in the following media: National daily Newspaper, Kompas, Sinar Harapan and Jurnal Nasional.
Another public discussion was held in December 2006, with the topic: “Nyai Ontosoroh and the relevance with the women situation today”, at Goethe House, Jakarta.

The speakers were: Agung Putri (Director of ELSAM), Aritides Katopo (Intellectual, senior journalist), Gadis Arivia ( feminist, Jurnal Perempuan) and Imas Sobariah (woman director from Teater Satu Lampung).

The forum was reported in the following media: Kompas and Sinar Harapan and attended by arround 300 people.

A 15 minutes reading of a fragment from the play was also performed at this forum.

5. Drama Session at the Women Playwright International Confrence

Faiza Mardzoeki, as author of the play and producer invited to make a presentation at the 7th Women Playwrights International Conference held from 19-26 November, 2006 in the National Gallery, Jakarta.

Faiza Mardzoeki made presentation explaining the process of adaptation from the novel, “Bumi Manusia” (This Earth of Mankind) and discussing the themese and content of the play.
There was also a 15 minit performance of a fragment of the play.

More than 100 people attended the session, the most well attended session in the course of the conference.

6. International profile
We would also like to report that as a result of all the above activitywords has spread further of this project, and we have received anexpression of interest from women acativists in Hong Kong and Malasyia in producing aperformace theathre also.

7. Action on the street

In commemoration of Kartini Day (Kartini is early feminist Indonesia) on April 21, 2007, The Nyai Ontosoroh Project has held an action with “Fighting Spirit” as the main theme. The venue was in Hotel Indonesia roundabout and attended by 60 activists and artists. It was also covered by media, both print and electronic.

8. Performances

Jakarta 12, 13, 14 August 2007

The director is Wawan Sofwan. He is an experienced director, starting his activities in the Bandung StudiKlub. He has directed many classic western texts, including Bertold Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui., He has also directed musical theatre.

Happy Salma, a TV actor and presenter, model and writer, who is also known for her love of Pramoedya’s works, plays Nyai Ontosoroh. The cast includes:. Nuansa Ayu (Sanikem) Williem Bivers (Tuan Mellema), Temmy Mellianto (Minke), Madina Wowor (Annelies), Hendra Yan (Ir. Mauritsz), Restu Sinaga (Robert Mellema), Teuku R. Wikana (Robert Suuhrof), Fellencia (Maiko), Harrist (Babah Ah Tjong), Joind Bayuwinanda (Bupati Brojonegoro), Bowo GP (Sastro Tomo), Pipien Putri (istri Sastro Tomo), Budi Ketjil (Darsam), Ayu Diah Pasha (Minke’s mother), Ayes Kassar (Jean Marrais), Sita RSD (Magda Peters), Rebecca Hensckhe, Rusman and Rudi Wowor.

The set designs are by the well-known Indonesian female sculptor, Dolorosa Sinaga, with a team headed by Gallis AS, a mask artist who has participated in many theatre projects. The colonial world will be brought to us through at least 50 different costumes, designed by Merdi Sihombing. The prolific film and theatre musician Fahmi Alatas has written the music and the sound engineer is Mogan Pasaribu. Lighting is by Aziz Dying assisted by Sari Suci. Pipien Putri has done the choreography for the performance. Jerri Pattimana is the stage manager.

Faiza Mardzoeki and Andi K. Yuwono are the producers, supported by a strong team comprising Irina Dayasih, Dewi Djaja, Yulia Evina Bhara, Vivi Widyawati, Tedjo Priyono, Katarina Puji Astuti, Efriza, Siti Ma’rifah, Ratnaningsih, Eko Bambang Subiantoro, Lilik Munafidah, Warsito, Sigit Pranowo, Agung Yudhawiranatha, Listya Sidharta, Ripana Puntarasa, Putri Miranda and Myra Diarsi joint coordinator with Faiza Mardzoeki..

A total of 127 people participated in the Jakarta performance, comprising actors, the artistic team, the production management team, the stage crew and volunteers.

Nyai Ontosoroh has been the collective effort of a spectrum of people. These include activists, feminists, theatre artists, film actors, sculptors, costume designers, musicians and those new to the world of the stage.

· Audience

The performance reached its target audience successfully. More than 3,000 people watched the performance over three nights. Tickets were mostly sold out three weeks before the performance. The audience was very mixed, comprising university and high school students, professionals, activists and housewives.

· Media Coverage

The Nyai Ontosoroh Project has been reported widely in the media since it started, covering rehearsals, public forums as well as the performances. It has been covered by both print and electronic media. Media partners included Femina magazine, Kompas, Utan Kayu radio, Delta FM and Female FM.

· Print media

Reports and reviews of the Jakarta performance appeared in Tempo, Kompas, Sindo, Media Indonesia, Suara Pembaruan, Sinar Harapan, Tempo magazine, Femina magazine, Editor Choices, and Jakarta Post as well as detik Com. The press also carried interviews with Faiza Mardzoeki, Happy Salma, and Wawan Sofwan

News items also appeared in many newspapers, including in the regions, such as in Jawa Pos.

· Electronic Media

Radio and TV

Utan Kayu Radio broadcast a talk show about the Nyai Ontosoroh project with over the air dialogue with listeners. Televisions Stations such as ANTV, SCTV, METRO TV and RCTI all covered aspects of the project, from rehearsals to performance. Voice of Human Rights Radio Programme also covered the performance and broadcast the coverage to ist network all over Indonesia and throught its website.

· Performances outside Jakarta

As previously reported, local theatre groups have already performedtheir productions of NYAI ONTOSOROH:

A. In Pontianak, the Teater Topeng perfortmed the day in conjunction with commemorations of Human Rights Day on 8, 9 and 10 December 2006. About 1,000 people attended over three nights. The majority were senior high school students.

B. In Bandung, the performance was by the Teater Bersama, comprising mainly students, teachers and alumni of the Indonesian Arts Tertiarty Institute (STSI) in Bandung. They performed over two nights, 21 – 22 December 2006 in conjunction with commemorations of Indonesian Women’s Day. Approximately 300 people attended the performance at the STSI thetare auditorium.

C. In Solo, the Teater Gidag Gidig performed the play on 23 December 2006 and has also taken it to several other towns in java, including Klaten. The play was performed in Javanese language and adopted the Ketoprak (Javanese tradition darama) style. It was attended by a spectrum representative of the general piublic. About 300 people attended the Solo performance, not counting those who attended performances in other Javanese towns.

D. In Jogjakarta, the play was performed by a theatre group of students from Gajah Mada University on 28 December 2006. The play was performed on one evening in the students centre at UGM. A second performace was in a village in an area affected by the recent earthquakes, on 10 January 2007. The performances drew in, as actors, village members, as well as the student members of the theatre group. The performances took place in December and attended by approximately 500 people

E. In Lampung, a performance is scheduled by the Lampung (Sumatra) theatre group, Teater Satu, on 12 – 13 April 2007. Approximately 1000 people attended the performance

F. In Surabaya (East Java) the performance will take place on 30 April 2007 in the Balai Pemuda, Surabaya. Approximately 300 people attended the performance

G. Some of activist and artists have also shared the information that they will soon perform Nyai Ontosoroh and agreed with the platform, like in Palu and Semarang.

These performances already make NYAI ONTOSOROH one of the most performed plays in recent years taking the character “Nyai Ontosoroh”, the works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer and the idea of a strong, non-victim women roles and characters to a wider and wider audience.


Nyai Ontosoroh has received financial support from individuals concerned with issues of art, literature and also the situation of women (activists, journalists, academics, business persons and artists). In addition there has been big support from Embassies in Jakarta, such as the Finnish and Dutch Embassies, as well as HIVOS, CMC, and women’s rights and human rights NGOs. Private companies such as The Body Shop have also contributed. PT Danone, Cafe Darmint and have also helped. The Blossom kindergarten school and the National Gallery have helped by providing excellent areas for rehearsals. Goethe House provided its auditórium for a public forum.

Our media partners, Femina, Kompas and Radio 68 H, Radio Delta, as well as Female Radio have supported us by bringing news of Nyai Ontosoroh to a wide public.


Since the beginning, all of team members have agreed that this project should be transparant and accountable to the members, sponsors, donors and public. It is our commitment that all expenses will be audited by public auditor at the end of the project.

Please see the audited financial report attached.


A lot has happened in the course of this Project: it has been rich wth experiences. And while not at all easy, it has been shown that Thies kina of broad collaboration betweenartsists and activcists can be achieved. We are convenced that this was posible because of the shared spirit of resistance, as exemplified by the character of Nyai Ontosoroh, This is what ensured the success of this Project as it was implemented in each town, with its specific conditions and capabilities.

We brought an excellent piece of theatre to a wide public as a part of a campaign for a specific message: women are still oppressed in many places. Nyai Ontosorh is an example of how resistance is necessary and possible.
More than 8,000 people have now seen a performance of the play, exceeding our original target.

We hope that all sectors of society – activists, artists, the media. The private sector, funding institutions and others – will continue this kind of collaboartaion. We hope that what we have learned from the Nyai Ontsoroh project will not stop here. The spirit of Nyai Ontsoroh must live on, further unfold and unite in our sould.

We hope this Update Report has been useful in presenting a picture of the developments in the project and its spirit.

Please contact us if you have any queries to Faiza Mardzoeki at 085215436749 or to Andi K. Yuwono at 0811182301 and secretariate office at 021-8304531 email nyaiontosorohtheatre@yahoo.co.id

Thank you for your cooperation.

Yours faithfully,

On behalf of The Nyai Ontosoroh Theatre Project

Faiza Mardzoeki
Andi K. Yuwono