THEATER INDEPENDENCY IS UNLIKELY (?)

Discussion Summary

“Theater Resource and Economic Independency”

 

HJ Sriyanto & Joned Suryatmoko

General Manager & Production Manager of Teater Gardanalla

 

 

On December 15, 2005, the Yogyakarta-based Teater Gardanalla celebrated its 8th birthday. Commemorating it, Gardanalla organized a series of events from December 14 to 19. They were “Dramatic Reading on Spot” broadcast from December 14 through 19 on Radio Geronimo FM; the publication of “Ayahku Stroke Tapi Nggak Mati”, a compilation of the group’s scripts from 2003 to 2005; the production of the final part of a repertoire entitled “Bukunya Bergerak-Gerak” (December 16 to 17); and a limited forum discussion on “Modal Berteater dan Kemandirian Ekonomi” on December 19.

            The main speakers in the discussion were a drama critic, Indra Tranggono, and Teater Garasi Executive Director, Kusworo Bayu Aji. Kedai Kebun Forum Director, Yustina W. Nugraheni, led the discussion as moderator. Attending the discussion were a number of theater people and art practitioners to include Yudi Ahmad Tajudin and Gunawan Maryanto (Teater Garasi), Ikun Eska (writer), Agung Kurniawan (visual artist), and some campus activists.

            Below is a summary of the discussion that also functioned as a forum to compare notes and experiences among theater practitioners in their efforts to survive and manage their financial capital. Some subjects of discussion were deliberately limited to the context of Yogyakarta and, in general, also of Indonesia (Java?).

 

 

Prologue

If a theater organization crumbles, what can be the cause? It can be either a lack of financial capital or merely a matter of financial management capability. Those who are for the first answer tend to be bigger in number. Variant of this answer refers to some structural and cultural matter of the society and government. Lacking funding institution and government support, and the absence of any regulation on tax paid by commercial companies to subsidize art and cultural activities, and also the low enthusiasm of people to attend performances are quoted as the main reasons for the breakdown a theater organization.

The question is, however, whether there are any concrete steps taken within by the organization itself in its efforts to survive, which will provide its first step toward independency. In this matter, Kusworo Bayu Aji notifies that we have been busying ourselves with issues of production rather than organizational management. As a matter of fact, doesn’t our basic problem in theater lie on organizational management instead of (only) on production management?

This way of seeing things seems to need some ‘deconstructing’, first to stimulate fresh measures to prevent (or minimize) the failure of theater organizations to survive. Aji called attention to the fact that behind the theater groups’ luxurious ‘living rooms’ decorated with whole aesthetic achievements, backward are their (regretfully) poor, pitiful ‘kitchens’. But it is these ‘kitchens’ that have been supporting the liveliness of the ’living rooms’.

 

The discussion was organized along precisely such awareness. Many different experiences in the efforts to run theater organizations were put forward. Aji talked more on the group he has been organizing, Teater Garasi.  Indra Tranggono dealt with the reasons of the breakdown of theater groups, in Yogyakarta especially, in the 70s and 80s.

 

Lacking (Financial) Capital (?)

It is necessary to acknowledge that theater factually lacks support as part of financial capital. In fact, the word “lack” suggests better understanding. It means that theater does have some financial capital, though not sufficiently so. Just like what Indra Tranggono underlined in the beginning of discussion, theater is not a medium of expression starting out of a vacuum. When it begins to work, its capital is being operated and developed. Every theater organization has its own capital.

In one of his article published on the daily newspaper Kedaulatan Rakyat, Indra Tranggono mentions various kinds of capital a theater organization should need. They are (1) social capital manifested in the organization, (2) economic capital related to the organization capability in gaining financial resources, (3) skill / technical skill, (4) aesthetic capital which eventually requires theater organizations to posses symbolical capital in the form of knowledge.

Tranggono referred again to those points, and a question arose in the discussion. The question is whether there is any guarantee that theater organizations will last long once they already possess all the four kinds of capital.

Yudi Ahmad Tajudin voiced such skepticism. As he sees it, theater groups founded in ’70s (or in the previous age such as Teater Populer, Studiklub Teater Bandung,and Bengkel Teater) have greater dynamics than those of the later era of ’80s. For the later, we can only mention Teater Kubur and Teater Payung Hitam as theater organizations with high level activeness.  The others are hardly traceable. This shows that the above statement about capital possession needs better elaboration and other pre-condition for further development. Tranggono makes reference to two issues as the fundamental cause for the disappearance of theater groups of the ’80s era. They are the tradition of central figure and weak collective commitment.

In ’80s, the establishment of several theater organizations was a result of external factors. We may say that theater organizations in that era were founded through the existence of founders’ opportunity to merely meet each other and exchange ideas amid the political pressure of the New Order regime. This provides a significant factor in the life of theater groups. Budi S. Otong, for example, as quoted by Tajudin, stated that Teater SAE was no doubt the New Order’s own ‘son’. Therefore, when the New Order regime collapsed, they lost their basis.

Kusworo Bayu Aji offered a similar explanation. He made mention of two important capitals in the theater: (1) Cultural capital; and (2) economic capital. Cultural capital comprises knowledge, skill, tradition, system/management, networking, and recognition. Economic capital involves facility/physical infrastructure and fund. Aji made appeals to open- mindedness to take cultural capital as something to develop further so that we do not pay exclusive attention to economic capital. He says that even though Teater Garasi has given more emphasis on strengthening cultural capital than economic one, it does not mean that they are not aware of the significance of economical capital. They believe that if cultural capital is well developed then economic benefit will follow suit. This benefit will be in proportion with how diligent every worker of a theater group is in discovering and developing cultural capital.

In turned out, then, that a discussion on organizational management is increasingly relevant to carry out. Despite its being a personal responsibility, developing cultural capital has always been connected with the collective dynamics of the organization. Organizational management as daily life management referred by Aji makes it possible for the workers in the organization to be aware of the obligation to develop cultural capital.

It was Trangono’s turn, then, to identify this situation in terms of the premise “theater is workshop.” Without workshop, the theater does not work. He pointed out two cases supportive to the premise. The first one is represented in the idea of the late Umar Kayam for the Galatama Theater in Jogja in ’80s. The idea was not about promoting shows of high quality performances by unifying good theatrical elements in a single production supported by some talented directors and experienced actors. Unfortunately, this idea never came into reality and only left polemics on newspapers. Supposing this model is used in later theater productions, Tranggono thought it would not have any significant effect unless it involves workshop.

The second case is Teater Gandrik‘s stagnancy. As soon as the workshop process in the group stopped working, there was never any production made. Trangono explained that in the time when Teater Gandrik was productive, Heru Kesawa Murti as scriptwriter could write whatever he really wanted to. The script would then be brought to discussion. This process was done again and again till a performance day could be fixed after perfecting the script.

Considering these two cases, we can conclude that Tranggono takes workshop as a process to cultivate cultural capital just like what Aji emphasizes. As soon as the cultivation stops, a theater organization will necessarily lose one of their important capitals.

One interesting thing in this topic is an assumption that the phrase “theater lacks capital” gives an impression that the unfavorable situation tends to be taken as the black sheep. In many cases, the stagnancy of a theater group is caused more by stagnancy of cultural cultivation which, once again, is very personal by nature. The word “personal” can be closely associated with motivation, the will to develop hard-work, diligence, and being intelligent. The things rare people are willing to do.

 

Documenting Intellectual Work

In conjunction with cultivation of cultural capital, Ikun Eska questioned the documentation process of the growth of Yogyakarta-based theater groups especially in terms of their specific characters. This is in line with the use of term “marketable theater” by Indra Tranggono in the closure of his discussion paper. In the article, Tranggono defines “marketable” as a quality of aesthetic achievement and quality of social and cultural ideas which has the capability to influence the group’s (social) environment. If the two things are connected, a conclusion can be drawn: a marketable theater is one with a strong character. The documentation and recording process of such characteris was what Ikun Eska referred  as cultural capital influencing the cultivation of cultural capital of the later theater generations. By analyzing previous experience, then the later creative process will result different output.

Regarding the issue, Yudi Ahmad Tajudin emphasized the significance of theater documentation as scientific activity. Running theater organization requires knowledge. When theater is being prepared, knowledge is processed. That way, knowledge is being produced when a theater production is presented. This requires documentation to record specific stances of certain theater groups in certain situations and the efforts those groups have made.

The slow and stagnant process of cultivating cultural capital, so far, has been caused by the absence of documentation of earlier theater groups’ experiences. Therefore, theater is seen merely as a process of aesthetic and artistic achievement, or articulation of social problems. The activities of practicing knowledge and science are not registered there. For instance, according to Tajudin, the quality of intellectual idea of ’70s could not be grasped. Explanations on what went on within theater world are only based on individuals’ memory.

If we have such documentation, the current generation will be able to read it. Tajudin believes that the way the theater appears determines the way it is organized. Further, this is connected to how theater is arranged, including the question of the target audience.

 

Audience Contribution

This last issue pointed out by Tajudin refers to a group of people who watch theater performances and are always polemical. This group is named “audience.” In this discussion, some issues on theater audience also emerged, although (regretfully), there is pessimistic thinking whether the theater can survive when it only has its audience to rely on.

Indra Tranggono emphasized this by presenting some data. According to him, even some established theater organizations such as Teater Koma regards its audience as a complementary financial source. Optimizing other financial resources is a must otherwise it cannot survive. He also came to the same conclusion with regard to traditional theater production such as Ketoprak Ringkes with Marwoto as its icon. It is true that they can save money from the sale of tickets. However, there will be no money left once it is distributed to the swollen production expense. And, actors and crews will eventually get peanuts.

Tranggono offered another example to further prove that audience only contributes a slight percentage in theatrical productions. In the production of Sanggit led by Butet Kertaradjasa, ticket sale only contributed 7 percent of the total production expense. In this case, he said, the artists had to cover the other 93 percent of the expense supposing there was no financial support from sponsors.

It is clear that audience is financially complementary! On the other side of this pessimistic view, Kusworo Bayu Aji puts forward his data on the number of Teater Garasi audience. He showed that in every performance of Theater Garasi there are always around 500 spectators no matter what the ticket prices are. The number does not change even when a performance is for free. Based on this, the potential fund which can be collected from their audience is predictable. The problem is what the audience characteristic is.

Also based on Teater Garasi, Yudi Ahmad Tajudin notified that there can be a discontinuation of Teater Garasi‘s audience, for it mostly comprises university students who will leave campus once they finish their study in four or five years. Therefore, Teater Garasi must regularly conduct audience recapitulation.

Regarding optimization, Tajudin expressed his concern over the absence of infrastructure to push the growth of theater audience. He questioned the role of (mass) media and theater critics. He also regretted the nonexistence of professional producers willing to take the position from the very start. Given this situation, the active role of art institutions in cultivating theater audience is badly needed. This kind of program, as stated by Nano Riantiarno in a cultural congress in Jakarta in 2003, was already made by Dewan Kesenian Jakarta (DKJ). With support from the Ford Foundation, DKJ organized Apresiasi Seni Pertunjukan and Pelatihan Seni Pertunjukan for senior high school students. Since its establishment in 1997, the program has recruited students from over 80 senior high schools in Jakarta.

Through this program, several artists were sent to visit high schools for performing and discussing. Another form of the program was inviting students to watch art performances at theater buildings. That was followed up by training programs for senior high school students. Some traditional performing arts were included.

Back to the subject of cultural capital, new methods are seemingly required to take economic benefit from DKJ programs. Cultural capital involved in the programs has begun being distributed to audience. This can bring about two possible results. First, the students will become artists, and in this way, they will cultivate their own cultural capital. Secondly, they will become part of theater audience who know better the performance they watch. Their sense of being closer to theater performances results from performing arts training they once took part.

The theater will likely be able to take much benefit from a condition in which audience are better educated. Their critical and selective preference will, by itself, drive theater workers into more dialectic discourse with audience preference and knowledge reference. Yustina W. Nugraheni (Neni), for example, put forward another thing from Indra Tranggono’s premise “theater is workshop.” According to her, Umar Kayam’s idea about Galatama Teater is impossible to be realized. She underlines that as a spectator she will appraise a performance without considering what theater group is behind it. She even does not care about how a performance production is conducted. That kind of audience will certainly give more opportunity for freelance actors who are not members of any theater organization which sometimes have certain ideology.

Freelance actors do not take part in certain group’s workshop for a long time. However, they must upgrade their cultural capital in order to win competition in ‘actor market.’ This system works in overseas countries where a theater organization is not a unification of many artists. They have cultural cultivation conducted simultaneously with economic benefit they gain from shows contracts they sign with theater companies which employ them. This system is, of course, supported by their government with adequate subsidy.

 

Survival Capacity

The issue of capital management in the form of economic independency drove Kusworo Bayu Aji to make a new offer. He redefined the term ‘economic independency’ as having capability to survive by smart means. He based this on his criticism against a point of view in which economic independency is interpreted as a situation in which a theater group has no financial difficulties. This notion often frustrates us, drives us to narrow-mindedness, as in reality economic problems are always there.

In that sense, Aji’s definition appears to be very realistic. Along with Teater Garasi, he has made efforts which, as they believe, will give them capability to survive. The first effort is, as already stated earlier, cultivating cultural capital to harvest economic benefit. This is already proved by some members of Teater Garasi in various fields from acting to lighting. On certain standard achievement, cultural capital in the form of knowledge, skill, and network can help them survive.

This first effort is more effective than establishing business unit as an effort to enter economic field. According to Aji, in Garasi’s case this effort has failed because the mindset in running their business unit was simply a copy of their mindset in doing the theater. Moreover, sometimes they cannot complete the jobs and orders they get in their advertising agency. The point is that they will have opportunity to do the jobs only when there is no performance project to attend. When the rehearsal schedule begins to get so tight, the jobs will be abandoned.

Learning from this failure, Teater Garasi has decided to conduct a visibility study before making a come back to business field. One thing they always keep in mind is that this business unit is really a potential resource of economic capital as a step toward independency.

Those methods look a little different from how theater groups in the era of ’80s made their effort to survive. According to Indra Tranggono, there were usually two ways. The first was raising fund from among theater workers themselves. The other was asking for donation. Donation sometimes made up quite a lot of money; Tranggono gave an example that Ashadi Siregar once gave Fajar Suharno, in ’70s, an amount of Rp 100.000 in donation. “That amount is equal with Rp 5 million now,” said Indra.

In that era, the theater hardly had the ability to convince commercial parties to sponsor theater performance. If there is any party willing to be sponsors, the amount of money they disbursed was only in the range of hundreds thousand of rupiah as the amount given by Gudang Garam cigarette manufacturer to Teater Jeprik in its production of Pengakuan Pariyem, a prose by the late Linus Suryadi AG.

 

Tax Regulation and the Arts

Tranggono has come to the conclusion that the theater should be subsidized. The sources of subsidy are, first, capitalists who are willing to give cross-subsidy part of their profit to art sector. The second is the government. According to Tranggono, the two potential sources have not shown responsive stance toward the growth of art sector. It is true, there are currently some cigarette manufacturers which are willing to sponsor art events and performances. Unfortunately, says Tranggono, the support is given to those who have close personal relationship.

Concerning the government’s role, Indonesia does not have any regulation which guarantees the support of government and commercial companies for the arts. In the context of performing art management, there is only a decree on value added tax (PPN) as stated in Government Decree No. 144, 2000 containing lists of goods and services which are not effected by tax.

The other art-related regulation is the Decree of General Director of Taxation KEP-413/PJ/2001 on personal income tax in which those who travel abroad in art and cultural missions are exempted from fiscal charge.

There is no other regulation that specifies in details this kind of cross-subsidy as Indra Tranggono suggests. From some other source, we may find comparative account explaining that regulating commercial companies’ involvement in subsidizing art and cultural sector has been implemented in other countries. Linda Hoemar Abidin, for instance, writes that companies’ involvement in Indonesia is limited in dealing with temporary problem (Kompas, December 3, 2005). She quotes a study by Public Interest Research and Advocacy Program (PIRAC) which shows that 80 percent of Indonesian companies’ social activities are incidental ones and filled with promotion mission. Even, there is a commercialization of social activity. This is shown by the fact that the amount of money spent for promotion is much higher than the amount given to organizers. Most of sponsorship into the art sector in Indonesia is short-termed. There is no opportunity to develop long term partnership for the sake of both parties’ interest.

It is unlikely for this situation to change for a long time. Passing through transition era in the economic crisis, our government should reform many things. Although developing art sector is in the list, it will likely be the last in their priority scale.

 

Epilogue and Recommendation

This discussion defines ‘independency’ as the will to survive through smart ways, as Kusworo Bayu Aji put it. Based on that, has come to the following conclusions and recommendations:

  1. Cultural capital is valuable capital which, if it is optimized, will give economic advantage. Thus, cultural capital is worthy of  priority.
  2. The management of business unit owned by a theater group as for raising fund should be differentiated from the theater management itself. The two requires different ways of handling.
  3. In spite of the fact that audience can hardly be regarded as theater financial source, optimizing it remains necessary for the effort is also part of conducting dialectical communication with audience.

 

The discussion was held by the end of 2005. Hopefully, the lessons from our experience can be useful in shaping next strategic plans and work-meetings in our theater groups. It is true that improving the management of capital and economic independency is not urgent, yet it is certainly very important at the same time.

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