August 30, 2008

Chairil Anwar's poems

Read Chairil Anwar's poems, love your country


It's not death, no, that stabs my heart
But your willingness to go
Nor do I know how high
You are, now, supreme over dust, over sorrow

(Chairil Anwar, October 1942. Edited and translated by Burton Raffel)

Poetry and nationalism. These are things that are definitely not on our daily, weekly or even monthly to think about list.

We barely have time to ourselves, let alone time to read classical poems and ponder what we can do for our country. We usually read poems when we are in love and we often talk about nationalism when Independence Day approaches.

"If you look people today, they no longer have that passionate love for their country," said poet Taufiq Ismail after speaking at a seminar on the works of Indonesia's most esteemed poet, Charil Anwar, at the Habibie Center on Tuesday.

"They don't have that passion Chairil had when he wrote his poetry," he said.

Amid a presumably declining sense of nationalism and interest in poetry, students and people in general are encouraged to develop their spirit of nationalism by reading Chairil Anwar's poems.

"His poems contain universal values and can be read anywhere, any time," said playwright Ikra Negara, who annually recited Chairil's poems when living in the United Sates.

Chairil was born in Medan, North Sumatra, on June 26, 1922. He moved to Jakarta at the age of 19, soon after his parents got divorced. There, able to read English, Dutch and German, he fell in love with books and literature.

In 1942, his poems were published in several publications in the city -- most of them were about death.

"Literary critics always highlight his attitude, which was based on the spirit of freedom, as he tried to break the boundaries of 'isms' and conventions," said Maman S. Mahayana, a University of Indonesia literature academic.

"His belief in freedom as the most fundamental element in the creative process can be seen in his repulsion of the political policies of the Japanese colonial administration," he said.

However, Chairil's health was not as vivacious as his poetry. He died before he was 27 and produced only 74 poems.

Taufiq Ismail said six of his poems excite a strong sense of nationalism -- "Diponegoro", "1943", "Siap Sedia" (We're Ready), "Persetujuan dengan Soekarno" (Agreement with Soekarno), "Prajurit Jaga Malam" (A Sentry at Night) and "Krawang Bekasi".

How do we relate the poems to contemporary Indonesia?

"We have to find its spirit. Krawang Bekasi, for instance, is a poem about sacrifice, which is a timeless value. It is something we now lack. Look at our people. How many of us want to sacrifice ourselves for our country?" Taufiq asked.

Ikra Negara said, however, about 20 poems by Chairil, including his personal ones, could be reinterpreted in the light nationalism of today.

"Nisan is one poem that emanates the spirit of nationalism, although it was originally dedicated to his passing grandmother," he said.

He considered Chairil a poet who was skillful at "aesthetical distance". His poems, he said, were never blunt, enabling different interpretations if read over and over again.

"This is the power of Chairil's poems. Many poets do not leave enough distance between their works and their meaning. Their poems have now become irrelevant," he said.

Some of Chairil's poems were dedicated to the women he adored, while some others expressed a strong sense of individualism. He also lived a bohemian way of life, leaving his job at the Statistics Office to follow his calling as a poet.

"He was an individual, but he could never detach himself from the society in which he lived," Taufiq said.

Ary Hermawan
Cited from The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, April 22, 2008

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August 27, 2008

The lost biography of a young poet

Dina Oktaviani: The lost biography of a young poet

City lights picked me up/and we tried to forget all the things/that had shredded the solitude back in that room//we may never understand/why old calendars/could change history/as easily and quickly as a highway rush

How do you feel after reading the lines above? How would you feel if you were told that the verse, an excerpt from a poem titled Silent Calendars, was written by a 15 year old? Dina Oktaviani composed it in February 2001. She had never before submitted her work to a national publication, but a year after Silent Calendars was written, Media Indonesia decided to print it in its Sunday edition, along with her other poems.

And how did she feel about it? "I was happy about the pay," she said, laughing. "But seriously, back then, I had to pay my own school fees, and I enjoyed spending money. My parents were proud too. They said they didn't want me to be an artist, but they bragged about my printed poems to the neighbors anyway."

Born in Tanjungkarang, Bandar Lampung, on Oct. 11, 1985, Dina used to dream about being a spy. Today, the mother of a 3-year-old boy has written poems and short stories for various publications, and published two books, Como Un Sue¤o (anthology of short stories, Orakel, 2005), and Biografi Kehilangan (A Biography of Losses, anthology of poems, Insist Press, 2006). Her piece of poetry Hantu-hantu Tanjungkarang (The Ghosts of Tanjungkarang) was recently included in 100 Puisi Indonesia Terbaik 2008 (100 Best Indonesian Poems 2008, Gramedia Pustaka Utama).

In regard to Dina's poems, acclaimed poet Sapardi Djoko Damono commented on the back cover of Biografi Kehilangan: "She entices us to experience the secrets of life in unique ways, ways that have never been captured by other poets. Her experiences are arranged in sharp metaphors and imageries, a characteristic of modern poetry."

Sitting in a quiet cafe in Yogyakarta, smoking clove cigarettes and occasionally taking a sip of her iced lemon tea, Dina recalled falling in love with literature, particularly poetry. It all started in junior high school.

"In third grade, I watched a play that made me want to continue my studies at a school that had a theater group. One day, the play's director came to my school and staged a production, and I found out that Teater Satu, his theater group, had just formed a theater forum for senior high students. I often came to the forum, and I guess Iswadi Pratama, the director, observed my passion for theater and asked me to join the group. A few weeks later, he came to me and whispered in my ear: 'Would you like to learn about poetry?'" Dina embraced the opportunity, despite all the rules her mentor had laid out for her.

"I wasn't allowed to read teen magazines or comics. I couldn't watch sinetrons or band gigs. Oh, I wasn't allowed to have a boyfriend either. Falling in love was OK, but not boyfriends. After my poems were published in Media Indonesia and Republika, he then said I could break all of those rules, that I was free to do all the things that had been out of my reach in the last nine months. But I was no longer able to enjoy the things that I had deprived myself of," she said with a weak smile.

It was a coincidence that her mentor was also an editor with the Lampung Post. "Sometimes he asked me to edit the work of his reporters. And then he suggested that my friends from the theater forum and I work on a supplementary page for teenagers. My friends got bored, so I did the whole thing myself."

However, she sometimes misused the column for her own satisfaction and benefits. "I would make up questions and answers for the discussion section, though I was supposed to get the answers from real people. I was so selfish, I wanted people to read nobody else's opinions but mine. I also wrote poems under my friends' younger brothers' or sisters' names. When it was time for payment, I borrowed their IDs and told the treasurer's desk that those kids had asked me to get the money for them. I was such a criminal."

Dina took out a laptop from her bag. "Hey, you have a laptop too, don't you? This place has got a wireless connection. Let's chat via Yahoo Messenger," she said in a playful tone, adding, "just for the hell of it."

Time for the next question, through the internet, just for the hell of it: Why Yogyakarta?

After graduating from her senior high school in Lampung, Dina went to Jakarta to study French at the Jakarta State University. Realizing she could learn much more from books than from her French classes, she decided that Yogyakarta was the right place for her. "I had imagined Yogya to be a quiet place, and it turned out to be true. Here I also found BlockNot Poetry, which offered more than I had expected." Blocknot was a journal that published short stories and poems. At the end of 2003, Dina became one of its editors.

Since writing is her passion, does Dina call herself a writer, someone who turns writing into a primary source of income? "I do other sorts of jobs. Translating pays quite well, and I also take short-term projects like joining a creative team for events, etcetera. But I had 'writer' typed in the occupation column of my ID card. It wasn't easy. I had a quarrel with the village official. He insisted that 'writer' wasn't an occupation, so I told him: Women get to have 'housewife' written on their ID card. Is that an occupation? Do women get paid for being a wife and a mother? I do have other jobs, but unless you are ready to have me here every month to get my occupation column changed, just put 'writer' there. It's my permanent job."

Dina admitted to being more of a poet than a writer. Imagine the argument she would have to come up with for putting "poet" in the occupation column.

Daniel Rose
cited The Jakarta Post, Sunday, May 11, 2008

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August 24, 2008


'Pantun' festival presents Malay hospitality

Kalau ada sumur di ladang
Boleh hamba menumpang mandi
Kalau ada umurku panjang
Boleh kita berjumpa lagi

If you have a well at your farm
Let me use the water for taking a shower
If long-lived I am
Let us, again, be together

Pantun is not boring poetry sitting dead in a book, waiting to be recited by a poet or the melancholic. It is a lively tradition by which Malay-speaking societies communicate, with humor, respect and wisdom.

"Pantun is an oral tradition that is not only preserved, but also developed and practiced in ceremonial events and in daily life. It is still rooted in the community," Tanjungpinang Mayor Suryatati A. Manan said. Tanjungpinang is the capital of Riau Islands province.

The Malay, unlike the Javanese, do not speak in allusions, but they do use poetry to convey ideas to others.

"We the Malay are not used to being blunt when communicating or telling other people to do certain things," said Aslim Rofina, 34, from Serdang Bedagai regency, North Sumatra.

Aslim, known as telangkai (a man who creates pantun professionally) and his two colleagues put the newly formed regency on the map by winning the competition at the Southeast Asian Pantun Festival, held by Yayasan Panggung Melayu on April 25-29 at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) cultural center in Central Jakarta.

The four-day festival was a feast of Malay hospitality, which can be found in many parts of the archipelago. The competition participants, organizers, guests and impromptu attendants were all amused by the witticism of the festival.

Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam did not make it to the final stage of the competition, but they still gave a hilarious performance when they, along with the other losing participants, shared pantun before the final match between Bengkalis and Serdang Bedagai.

A Brunei participant, Awang Haji Suhaili bin Haji Ajak, the oldest participant, hilariously repeated a pantun saying his country was oil-rich, a fact well-known to the audience.

A pantun competition is held between two parties. The first challenges the second with a question in the form of pantun, to which they also reply in the form of pantun.

Hence, they must have a broad knowledge of their own regions and many other things. Pantun is a quatrain, the first couplet of which is called sampiran, which functions as a prelude to the message it tries to convey.

"First, we have to know the answer to the question posed and the message we are trying to deliver. We do not merely play with words," Aslim said.

However, pantun can be meaningless and used as a way of introduction or as a joke, especially by TV comedians and amateurs.

Parni Hadi, the director of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI), for example, used this pantun as an introduction: Tua-tua keladi/Jangan dibiarkan tidur sendiri/Saya Parni Hadi/Direktur RRI (An old man/Don't let him sleep alone/I'm Parni Hardi/The Director of RRI).

Parni's pantun is of course very simple. The judges rate the pantun according to its complexity -- the variation of words used and the correlation between the first and the second couplets.

During the pantun majlis session, where state officials such as governors, mayors and ambassadors recite pantun, Depok Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail stole the show with his simple witty pantun.

Even Jaya Suprana of the Indonesian Museum of Records made a pantun before awarding the Tanjungpinang youth the record for conducting the longest pantun exhibition.

The record shows the pantun tradition is becoming stronger and is alive today among Malay youth.

Ary Hermawan
cited from The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, May 13, 2008

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August 21, 2008

Si Kabayan 4


Si Kabayan had been ordered by his father-in-law to collect the ripe corn from the garden and bring it in to the house. Too lazy to carry so many ears of corn himself, he tied them together and hung them on a bamboo pole which he slung across the back of his horse. Then he himself mounted the beast and held the pole on his shoulders. His father-in-law saw him approaching the house and called. "Kabayan, Kabayan, what in the name of heaven are you doing? Why are you carrying the corn that way, sitting on the horse with the pole over your shoulder?"

"Ah, Pa," replied Kabayan, "otherwise it would be too heavy for my horse."

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August 18, 2008

Si Kabayan 3


Si Kabayan and his wife went to Mount Cede to spend some time as ascetics, praying and fasting and meditating, so that their wish to become rich might be granted them. One day, in the midst of their meditations, a god appeared to them.

"Kabayan," said the god. "I grant you two wishes. But only two. You had better talk it over with your wife before you make them."
Kabayan and his wife had a lengthy discussion about what they should wish for. It was simply impossible for them to agree. Kabayan wanted to wish for a great amount of money, but his wife thought they should wish for an abundant supply of rice. Finally Kabayan became so annoyed with his wife that he said, "I wish the gods would turn you into a monkey!"

Immediately Kabayan's wish was granted, and he saw his wife transformed into a monkey before his very eyes. This he could not bear, and so he wished that his wife would become herself again. His wish was promptly granted.

But with these two wishes Kabayan's chance to ask for wealth was gone, and he and his wife remained poor as long as they lived.

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August 15, 2008

Si Kabayan 2


Si Kabayan was so deeply in debt to an Arab usurer that it made him giddy even to think of it. How could he ever pay his debts when he no longer possessed a single thing that he could sell to obtain even a part of the amount he owed? He thought and thought and thought, and at long last he hit upon a plan.

"Finally!" he said to his wife. "Now I know what to do!"

His wife agreed to his proposal, in fact welcomed it with great enthusiasm, and proceeded to help him carry it out. First she filled a washtub with palm wine and spread kapok all over the floor next to the tub. Si Kabayan bathed in the wine, and rolled his wet body around and around in the kapok until he was white and furry all over. Then he crawled into a large chicken coop.

Shortly afterwards the Arab came to Si Kabayan's house to claim his due.

"Kabayan is not at home," said his wife to the Arab.

"Where is he?" asked the Arab.

"He's gone to appear before the King."

"The King?" asked the Arab in great astonishment. "What has happened?"

"He's gone to report to the King that he has found and caught a very rare bird."

"A rare bird? What kind of bird?" The Arab indicated his desire to see the strange bird, but Si Kabayan's wife refused'. Kabayan was going to present this rare and wonderful specimen to the King, and if she let the Arab see it, she said, Kabayan would be very angry, because Kabayan had said specifically that no one else was to see the bird before the Kin himself.

This explanation merely increased the Arab's desire to see Kabayan's bird, and he prevailed upon Si Kabayan's wife to show it to him.

Allowing herself to be persuaded, Kabayan's wife took the Arab to the back of the house, where she pointed to a chicken coop covered with a piece of cloth. Full of curiosity, the Arab lifted the edge of the cloth. As he raised it a little higher, Si Kabayan burst out of the cage, and crying "ba-ra-ka-tak-t'ak; ba-ra-ka-tak-tak," he ran out of sight.

Si Kabayan's wife began to weep. "Oh, oh," she sobbed. "Look what you've done! What will I tell Kabayan, and what will the King say? I'll have to tell him that it's your entire fault that his bird got away. And then Kabayan will have to tell the King. Oh, oh!"

The Arab was frightened.

"Please don't," he pleaded. "Please don't tell Kabayan and the King."

And in exchange for her promise not to tell Kabayan, he cancelled all Kabayan's debts.***

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August 12, 2008

A Novel Idea

A novel idea

Cited from The Jakarta Post, Friday, January 26, 2001

I must thank you for publishing a letter regarding the initially somewhat bizarre notion of opening a special cemetery to accommodate "heroic" civil servants (The Jakarta Post, Jan. 23, 2001).

It was such a novel idea that I was prompted by idle curiosity and a little time on my hands to look up the word hero to see if it could in fact be applied routinely to civil servants who die while working, as the writer suggests. Here is what I found:

[hj'ro], noun, a man of distinguished bravery; any illustrious person; a person reverenced and idealized; the principal male figure, or the one whose life is the thread of the story, in a history, work of fiction, play, film, etc.; originally a man of superhuman powers, a demigod:

heroine [her'o-in], a female hero.

Sadly for your contributor, the current definition does not seem to indicate that people who die while doing what they are paid to do should be awarded this title. Indeed, if these definitions are indeed accurate, occupancy rates in any new heroes' cemetery might be extremely low as few, if any candidates would seem to qualify.

However, it would be tragic if a hero or heroine, from whatever background, was to die and we had nowhere to put them. I therefore give this initially peculiar and yet ultimately charming notion my qualified support.

In order to be both fair and practical, I feel it would be better not to limit the type of occupant by career background. More importantly, I would urge those whose job it is to heroize, to apply the definitions perhaps more carefully than has hitherto been the case -- otherwise, almost anyone could become a hero and the project could become extremely costly. Real heroes and heroines would seem to be sadly rather thin on the ground just now.


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August 08, 2008

Dorothea Rosa Herliany (3)

An Obsession in Black and White

i am trapped by the rain singing
among the tall grass: so is the moon
as it rises over my shining sorrow.

the hills and rivers of the heart
depict his fear.
the mist encircles him
through the waves of screaming insects
in the distant forest.

a drop of black sky comforts me
among the flying leaves, geese and
a pair of cranes search for the tranquillity
which floods shabby grief
in a spark of red light.

the sun turns to mist in the damp moon
hanging over the heart's emptiness.
how can we ever reunite
everything which has been torn apart?

i can read nothing
in the old thoughts which search
for all that has vanished, except the fear
arising from someone somewhere, "My beloved,
the night trembles with the screams
of strange wild beasts!"

March 1997 - January 1998

Obsesi Hitam Putih

aku terperangkap lagu hujan
di antara ilalang: bulan yang itu juga
mendaki dukaku yang purnama.

lerenglereng dan tebing hatitua
melukiskan ketakutan.
kabut melingkar
dalam gelombang jerit serangga
di hutan jauh.

setetes langit hitam menghiburku
di antara daundaun terbang. angsa dan
sekawanan bangau mencari keteduhan
yang menggenang duka-renta dalam sepercik
cahaya merah.

matahari mengabut dalam genangan bulan
menggantung di kekosongan kalbu.
di manakah bertemu antara segala
yang terpisahkan?

tak ada yang bisa kubaca
dari pikiran tua yang mencari segala
yang tibatiba hilang. selain ketakutan.
lalu bisikan dari entah siapa-apa, "Kekasih,
malam itu getar lolong hewanhewan liar!"

Maret 1997-Januari 1998

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August 05, 2008

Arif B. Prasetyo (4)


Stone stair:
The bridal bed of the sun and its sacrifices
At the god’s navel.
Down below:
The ritual begins.
Nine dead moons
Tie their shawls
On the waving, twitching waist
That dash against my flesh.
Down below:
The lights, the breasts of light
Hanging from the eyelashes:
An eagle snatching
With its two black wings.
A wild wild bird
Scratching my cage of desire.
Go on, you moan.
Shake it, rock it, you scream.
Far, far
In the untouchable chasm.
At its navel:
The cries and the traces
Run over each other
Crushing the souls
Under your soles:
I perish
In the labyrinth of the stones in piles:
A towering precipice
That guide you to the circle of fire
As your body purified
And I vanish.


Your back
Is the monsoon hair hanging loosely.
The night chasm shining brightly
burned by the firestorm of your dance.
“Drink me, eat me.
Stab me with your pitch-black thing
For just a little more pain. A bright red stallion groans
Licking my body in pleasure.”
He writhes in pleasure on your back.
And you jump up and down, outraged, in heavy snorting.
A thousand worms gnawing the veins: the intricate network
Of a bruised old banyan’s root. The deathly pale heart at its end,
Trembling in terror, glimpse the angels in the bush.
And the seeds scream, their eyes open wide,
Strangled by desire
of commiting suicide.
Just a little more pain
The storm will sink into your back.
The night chasm will be in seething,
In panting, wet with light:
The drizzle of mushrooms, iron rust
And yellow butterflies.

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August 02, 2008

Children's Theater

Children's theater: Striving to empower the young

The Jakarta Post, Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tam Notosusanto, Contributor, Jakarta

The Mangkulangit kingdom is in distress. The crown princess is suffering from a rare disease, allegedly caused by a curse. The king orders his two prime ministers, Patih Jalu and Patih Geger, to arrest everyone in the kingdom suspected of practicing black magic.

It's serious business for the two prime ministers, but the two men are anything but serious. They even look funny together: Jalu, the diminutive, energetic guy who, once in a while, does a tumble-and-fall slapstick routine; and Geger, the corpulent state official with his enormous moustache and commanding charisma. Their chemistry recalls Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, even The Blues Brothers.

Yes, this was all a comedy show called When the King and Crown Princess Laugh staged at the Jakarta Arts Hall (GKJ) last March by the theater group Labornitejati -- short for the Theater Laboratory of East Jakarta. The audience, mostly children, were greatly amused by the antics of the actors, who were not much older than themselves. Surya Winata, the 12-year-old boy who played Jalu, is just starting middle school. And Geger was not even male: he was played by a 15-year-old girl named Mawallisa Febrikafi. Their 50 cast mates were about their age or younger.

Fast forward to the group's headquarters this July where they were rehearsing their next show. Surya and Mawallisa had evidently shed their grownup characters and gone back to being children. They spoke with youthful exuberance about their experience on stage. When asked who he models his adult characters on, Surya said, "My mom," pointing to Kartini, a veteran lenong (traditional Betawi comedy show) and screen performer who is one of Labornitejati's administrators. Mawallisa, a charming, down-to-earth teenager who is nothing like the arrogant, oppressive Patih Geger, has no previous experience as an actor. Playing Patih Geger was her first theatrical experience. "Uncle Dorman taught me everything," she humbly said.

The man she referred to is the instructor, writer, art director, songwriter and all-round motor behind Labornitejati. Dorman Borisman has been an actor and director for over three decades, performing with some of the country's prominent theater groups: Arifin C. Noer's Teater Ketjil and Teguh Karya's Teater Populer. He has spent many years acting as foils for comedians and playing supporting roles in Indonesian movies.

He is more familiar to the general public as a sinetron actor, which is how he makes his living. But few people know the 55-year-old actor has been allocating some of his earnings from the entertainment industry to finance his main passion: theater. Teater Jakarta Timur (East Jakarta Theater), the group he established with some colleagues back in 1971, has put on a number of plays with casts comprising both adults and teenagers. Last year, he set up Labornitejati to give children some experience of the performing arts.

"We wanted to develop the talents and resources of children and teenagers," Dorman said. "I do this because it's a spiritual need."

This work requires a lot of dedication. Dorman gets a meager wage from the East Jakarta Youth Arena, the municipality's official venue for children's activities, which accommodates a variety of sports and arts clubs, including his two theater groups. On Thursday and Sunday afternoons, he directs the show together with his associates Kartini and Cak Winarsyowho. Nur Solihin, who helps out with the production, comes to the arena to guide the 60 odd children of Labornitejati through their regular theater exercises.

Children's theater groups exist all over Jakarta. They are mostly community theater groups formed outside schools and some of them are sponsored by the Youth Arenas of each of the five municipalities in Jakarta. A few of them are fortunate enough to be managed by professional performers.

One of the oldest children's theater groups is Teater Tanah Air (TTA), founded 18 years ago by actor-director-poet Jose Rizal Manua, who trains his 80 young disciples every Sunday in a corner of the Ismail Marzuki Arts Center (TIM) in Central Jakarta. Jose, 52, has worked with the country's top dramatists, Putu Wijaya and WS Rendra, and continues to frequent poetry festivals all over the country. He works as an acting coach for some movies and occasionally appears in them. But he never neglects his children's theater group.

"Here's where we nurture their interest and talent," he said. "Through theater, we teach them discipline, self-confidence and social skills."

Jose, who previously worked with another children's theater group in the late 70s through to early 80s, observes that many children's theater instructors do not understand child psychology, and tend to teach children the way they train teenage and adult actors.

"I once went to see them practice," Jose said. "The instructor tells one child to display Angry 1, Angry 3, Laugh 5. The child shows different semblances of anger and joy, but it's all fake."

What Jose does is engage his children in games.

"I tell one child to walk and have her imagine a wasp coming at her, and she has to react to it. Next I tell her to imagine five wasps coming at her, and show me how she reacts to them. Then 10 wasps, then 100 wasps. Every child has a different way of reacting, and it all comes from themselves," Jose said.

Some of Jose's pupils have become renowned entertainers, such as dancer Denny Malik or actors Sylvana Herman and Septian Dwicahyo. Others became bank managers and hotel managers who later went to see Jose to tell him the training helped them professionally.

"I joined the group four years ago," said 15-year-old Ita Puspitasari, a current member of TTA. "Uncle Jose keeps telling me to do stuff in front of the other kids: to improvise, do funny walks, act angry. At first, I was always nervous. But after some time, I become more and more confident."

Some of the young actors' parents notice a difference in their behavior.

"My son used to be extremely shy," said Emmy, the mother of TTA member Rwanda Sutedira. "He has done very well at school and is now beginning high school at age 13. But he spent most of his time in his room, didn't want to go out and play with the neighbors' kids, and would run back into his room whenever we had guests."

She took him to TTA and witnessed a dramatic change. After three months, Rwanda started to open up to people. He became a master of ceremonies at school events and even starred in a television film titled The Little Brigadier.

"He's really changed. "I am not going to push him into the entertainment business, I am just happy he is sociable now. That's why I make the effort of bringing him here every Sunday all the way from Bekasi," said Emmy.

"If children get in touch with art from an early age, they will grow up to have an 'added value' that their peers may not have," said Andi Bersama, writer, director and instructor of the children's theater group Sang Abul, based in Bulungan Youth Arena in South Jakarta.

Andi, a former journalist who is now a stage and screen actor, founded Sang Abul -- short for Sanggar Anak Bulungan or Bulungan Children's Studio -- with some friends in 2003. The group has performed at the Bulungan Arena auditorium and in events at various venues: schools, malls, hotels. Some of these shows were paid gigs, but Sang Abul still has to struggle to finance shows at its neighborhood venue.

Labornitejati, Teater Tanah Air and Sang Abul all charge membership fees, ranging from Rp 10,000 (US$1.10) to Rp 50,0000 ($5.50) a month.

"We implement a cross-subsidy scheme here, because 30 percent of the kids come from poor families," said Dorman. "The well-to-do kids cover their less fortunate friends' fees."

Still, the money doesn't help much when the time comes to put on a show, so the groups' administrators have to ask parents to pitch in. At one time Sang Abul received lunch boxes during rehearsals and show dates from a local restaurateur whose child happens to be in the troupe. Dorman once sent 30 proposals to various institutions and companies to get financial support for a Labornitejati show. He only got a response from three companies, which sent their food and drink products as contributions.

"Our government and businesses have yet to consider the potential in art," Dorman said. "Our society has not made art an important part of life. All we have is the all-instant entertainment industry, which doesn't make us any more intelligent."

Dorman and Jose tell of talent agents who lurk around their headquarters, while Andi has been approached by stage parents who mistake his place as an inexpensive talent agency.

"I was once offered millions of rupiah by parents who wanted me to get their kids shortcuts to TV stardom. I flat out refused them," said Dorman. "I once told one such parent and his child to leave the group."

Andi is more moderate. "My TV connections enable me to link up production companies and child actors," he said. "But I tell parents that's not what Sang Abul is here for."

Their main business is, of course, to get kids to express themselves onstage. Sang Abul was the winner of the biannual Jakarta Children's Theater Festival in 2004. Labornitejati's March show was part of GKJ's Children's Celebrations event. This July, they have been selected by the Jakarta administration's Cultural Affairs Office to represent the city in a children's theater event called Duta Seni Pelajar (Student Art Ambassadors) in Banten from July 17 to 20.

Teater Tanah Air won Gold Medals at the Asia-Pacific Festival of Children's Theater in Toyama, Japan, in 2004 and this July they went to Lingen, Germany, to compete in the ninth World Festival of Children's Theater.

"I realize many people hope to take advantage of what I do for the kids," said Dorman. "But we remind ourselves not to take advantage of the children. It's our commitment to them."

Tam Notosusanto is an actor and director with the community theater group The Jakarta Players.

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