Pithe Meets: Papermoon Puppet

Following intuition is what Maria Tri Sulistyani (R) and Iwan Effendi (I) have been doing ever since. Together, they work on their humble little dream: to keep on making art, to keep on working. We met them last month before they performed the play initiated by their son, called A Bucket of Beetles, at Salihara, Jakarta. 

What started Papermoon Puppet?

R: We started as a library and art studio for kids in 2006 because it seemed like there was no one that managed plays for kids. If art is supposed to be a tool to process emotions, then why don’t we start it young? But what intrigued us were the moments where the mothers or the parents wanted to leave soon, when the kids were still enjoying the moments after the play. It was not wrong, though. Because the parents did not get to experience plays when they were young. So then we shifted our audience to adults.In 2008 we gave it a final thought that puppet theatre is a medium for art, not just for education. That we can explore and expand puppet theatre just like other forms of art, realizing that pupper theatre is equal to visual art. It was then that we wrote Noda Lelaki di Dada Mona; performed three times that year.We asked all of our friends and students around us to work together. It felt liberating because we have no boundaries with adult audience. We were addicted to the process. So we kept doing it.

I: We realized that “we do have an audience”, so everytime we met people, we asked them to join our process and learned together because we did not have any examples, any patreons.

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How did it flow from there?

R: We felt alone at that time so we continued to learn the root of puppet theatre. The puppet theatre itself has roots across many cultures, but we have the root that was born in Indonesia as the root of this form of puppet theatre is wayang. Knowing that it all began in Indonesia made us realized that we do not have to follow what’s been done in other countries.

I: From then on Ria decided to learned wayang from Mbah Lejar, the dalang of Wayang Kancil.

R: I just knocked on the door and learned with him after sunset for 2 years. I learned natah, making pattern on leather for wayang. During that time too in 2008, we performed five times and we had a good number of audience.

I: That was the wrap. The festival, Pesta Boneka, was simply a space to show this practice, puppet theatre, where we, too, could see other puppet theatre. That’s simply what Papermoon has been dreaming of.

R: After learning from Mbah Lejar and Pesta Boneka, we took a 6 months-residency in New York during winter to learn about puppet theatre from both the artistic and technical sides. We intentionally chose winter as then we could learn from the puppeteers who stayed inside to produce upcoming shows.

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Why are the shows non-verbal?

R: Our first show was full of dialogues. After performing it, people were cheering up, but I thought something was wrong. I was thinking about how puppets communicate because they do not have vocal cords. The voices were spoken by the puppeteers. So, then we changed the communication through gestures.

Papermoon’s shows respond to the sites or places.
How’s the process in picking or adapting plays into certain places?

R: It depends on the play. Some plays are designed for black box theatre, but others are designed have different kind of connection to the audience. Secangkir Kopi Dari Playa was performed for the first time at an antique shop. It was set in the 60s, telling the story of 1965. History is like antiquities, right? Some people choose to forget it, only for it to be given new meaning by others. So we chose an antique store. The audience were picked up too with a guide, then they entered this antique store that we designed as our set. That way, people can relate better as the performance is mutual.

As a visual artist, how is the process of interpreting the story into visual forms; puppets and the setting?

I: Through Papermoon Puppet, I see that the puppets are not at final forms. As it’s made together with the whole team. The ones that complete the visual, including the puppets, are the audience. People are curious in nature, so when the puppets are plain, they can relate to them more easily.

Any performance that you find memorable?

R and I: Any next performance!

What have Papermoon been dreaming of?

I: Papermoon was never designed. The progress has been very dynamic. We do everything genuinely.
R: We do not have dreams. We just simply want to make art, to work, everything else is a bonus. Papermoon was never designed. The progress has been very dynamic. We do everything genuinely.