Theatre is the art of looking at ourselves (Augusto Boal, founder, Theatre of the Oppressed)
The performance took place on a makeshift open-air stage using only simple props, under the roof of a traditional Javanese theatre. The pendopo, as it is known, forms part of a sub-district office in Sleman, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta. The performers were a diverse group, including teachers, traders, activists, housewives and unemployed dependents. They all had different backgrounds, characters, needs and aspirations. Prior to the production, the one thing they all shared was participating in research conducted by Ekawati Liu, a PhD candidate from Deakin University in Australia. The study focused on the livelihood choices of Indonesian villagers with disabilities.
The first act involved villagers with hearing impairments describing their difficulties in accessing effective hearing aids and other equipment. They described to the audience how this affected their ability to participate in their local community. The second act portrayed the story of a young man raising chickens who needed a loan to expand his business. When the financial institution’s field officers visited to inspect his business, they learned that he was blind. Without ever referring to his disability, the field officers found excuses to refuse the loan. The man has found no resolution, leaving the audience to question how society could better support people with disabilities.
The discussion after the performance added a third act, expanding to include the audience. It was asking them to participate in deciding how the story would unfold, not on the stage but in their real lives. Many in the audience had their own experience in lacking the facilities they needed to participate fully in community life. It took effort and energy for many of them as they had conditions that made communication challenging. Sign language interpreters were available to expand participation in the forum. Everyone made the effort, and those expressing their opinion felt confident that when they spoke, they would be listened to.
The performance and following discussion were the result of a project organised by the Peduli Program. It brought together a group of villagers with wide-ranging and diverse disabilities from the surrounding areas of Kulon Prujo and Sleman to identify issues of concern to disabled people and to discuss solutions. In Indonesia people with disabilities often refer to themselves as ‘difabled’, derived from the English term ‘differently abled’. The project focused on giving participants an opportunity to express their frustrations and hopes through performance.
The program included a five-day workshop held at the Institute for Integration and Advocacy of the Difabled (SIGAB – Sasana Integrasi dan Advokasi Difabel), an independent non-government organisation established in 2003 to defend and fight for the rights of the difabled throughout Indonesia. The workshop was facilitated by Joned Suryatmoko, a theatre-maker, playwright, community facilitator and researcher, whose role was to manage the logistics of the process and to establish a framework for the participants to explore and express their experiences while allowing them autonomy to shape their own performance.
Read Irfan Kortschak’s complete report on Inside Indonesia.
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