Teater Mandiri was established in 1971 in Jakarta. Its core members consist of a few employees of TEMPO, a weekly magazine based in Jakarta. "Mandiri" is javanese for self-sufficient, independent, able to stand on one's feet, not dependent on others but at the same time capable of working in a team. Initially Teater Mandiri confined its production to plays for the television. In 1974 it started to perform its first long play on the stage, named ADUH (OUGHT - written and directed by Putu Wijaya) at Pusat Kesenian Jakarta, TIM (Jakarta Centre of the Arts). Thereafter, it has performed plays every year, all which are written and directed by Putu Wijaya. In 1991, Teater Mandiri performed "YEL" in four cities in the United State (Connecticcut, New York, Cal Art an Seatle). In 1995, Yel also performed in Brunei, Darussalam. In 2000, Teater Mandiri for the first time, worked on a non Putu Wijaya's piece, called "The Coffin Is To Big For The Hole (written by Kuo Pao Kun, Singapura). The Coffin has jointed Asia Theater Festival, in Tokyo, (Singapura and BITEF festival, Belgrade). By the end of 2000, Teater Mandiri has performed the following Plays: "Aught", "Anu". "Lho", "Entah", Zero", Hum-Pim-Pah", "Blong", "Mad", "Bang", "Beware", "Los", "Wouw", "Roar", "Zat", "Shit", "Front", "Aib", "Gosh", "Yel", "Dor" (2nd version), "Aum" (2nd version), "Wouw" (2nd version), "Bang-Bang-Bang", "Bor", "Ngeh", "Cheos" and "The Coffin".
Teater mandiri named its performance a "tontonan" (spectacle, happening). As it is with folk or traditional theater in Indonesia, in particular in Bali, "tontonan" is en event and at the same time a ritual. Teater Mandiri consciously tries to develop modern Indonesian Theater from the roots of traditional theaters is developed and empowered as contemporary instruments to express actual problems. Literally, "tontonan" means everything that can be enjoyed through the eyes. Hence, a performance tends towards visual forms, it does not have to consist of dialogues, stories with plots, charactres, conflicts and moral messages. "Tontonan" is a chain of events without limits, that can provide spiritual experience to the actors and the audience. Teater Mandiri believe that theater ia a spiritual expression so it has to create a spiritual experience deep there in every audience bottom heart.
"Tontonan" is a personal expression that counts the audience as part of the performers of events. Theater becomes then a sort of collective meditation, not an entertainment, although it can be entertain. Heater tend to become a contemplation and an essay on fundamental aspects of life. Hence, it floats. It has no country, religion, or idiology. It is tied nor to money nor time. It moves in a universal sphere. It ties not itself to laws of the stage and performing arts. The supporters of "tontonan" are not necessarily an actor. What is need is a person who is physically and spiritually committed (trained) to work together in a team. The "activist" of Teater Mandiri, like special task forces in a war, make all kind of efforts to create a spiritual wandering. They are multifunctional. They go in and out of they roles as free as necessity required. Sometimes they portrait a character, sometime they merely represent certain emotions, many times merely as forms asingredients to form a picture composition which depict an event. Sometimes too, they become stage-hands, who help rearange stage props right in the full vieuw of the audience.
Anything at all that can help to express the targets aimed at, is mobilised/empowered/maximalized. Teater Mandiri does not try to make the audience believe that what is taking place on the stage is true, or something real. In fact, in the contrary, it always reminds the audience, that all that is taking place on stage is only a fake spectacle. What is important is its reflection, spiritual experience which all the false and fake scenes stir in the heart of the audience. The so called approach to the theater such as "the inner acting" in Stanilavski's theory of acting, for example, are used only if advantageous, and will be violated head-on without feeling guilty, if there are other things that are more important. Because of this kind of approach to the theatre, Teater Mandiri performes theatrical texts which are purposely written only for itself to perform. Text are written on the basis of preliminary rehearsals, in conformance with the personalities, physical aspects, and abilities of the team's supportes. Text are not sacred. They are but a first step in a process. What is happening within the process, that will be determining factor. Teater Mandiri is a team which venerates process. Teater Mandiri is a process-oriented group. Rehearsal of Teater Mandiri are very special. All rehearsal are a continuing development. Every day is a different day. Every one must be absolutly attend rehearsal, which once started will go on till it is considered sufficient and can be ended.
Absences will affect the performance but will non cancelled it. For if somebody is absent, he will be immediately replaced by another who trains not only to play his part, but also to play the part of the person who is absent. "Tontonan" is something that lives, it grows and slowly becomes mature within itself.
The target of Teater Mandiri is "mental terror". It aims to shake and shock the inner life of the audience, that they are forced to reconsider all that have been considered well established. This kind of approach tries to achieve by looking at things from various points of views. By turning logic upside down. By performing all kinds of acts which are anti-theatre in nature. Breaking up emotions with sudden, shocking turning. Making fun of empathy which receives such high respect from the theatre of realism. Not to distance the theatre from empathy, nor reality, but precisely to invigorate it to go deeper, using inverted ways.
Exploring the world of myths, dreams, fantasies and imaginations as free as possible. It is hoped that all those subversive strategies will enliven the spirit of the audience, will make them react that they are moved to re-verify decisions, conclusions, understandings, and in fact their believes. But it should be stressed that Teater Mandiri has no desire at all to give prescriptions, not to mention to try to inspire tha audience to choose particular attitudes. Teater Mandiri tries to see to a fact that theatrical performance is not merely an atrractive spectacle, not merely a display of technical mastery. Teater Mandiri is an effort to achieve spiritual equilibrium. Equilibrium for individual, and collective equilibrium for the society. A theatrical performance is a social theraphy for humanity. Hence, social problems encountered in everyday life and reported in the mass media, radio, television, as well as other universal human phenomena, become the main sources of inspirations. Those are the basic themes and moral messages for the agenda. All those familiar things, it is hoped, will be able to act as a bridge to bring the audience to a new situation, to a new state of mine, an inner experience that hopely might enriches their lives.
DEPARTING FROM WHAT EXISTS
To produce a "tontonan", Teater Mandiri uses the following formula:"To start from what exists", meaning to begin from what ever avaliable on hands, then to optimise and then to used the optimised sources for expression. Frequently the results are surprising, strange, againts the curents, sometimes confusing, foolish, dumb, but also at the same time very fantastic, unique an original. This is not an axaltation of poverty or difficullt position. It is taking advantage of opportunities. Emotional acrobatic that turns poverty into superiority. It is to prevent the theatre from becoming mere technical manipulations or entertaining attractions.
It is an invitation to participate in a creative wandering. As an example, for costumes, Teater Mandiri always creating all used matyerials, things which are no longer worth a dime. It uses remnants of banners. Props are made of discarded and forgotten materials in warehouse. Any props that need to be specially b uilt will be creat by the actors themselves, each one doing what he/she can do best. The simplicity of costums, props and settings does not effect the vakues to echieved at all. Conviction and artistic endeavour make all those discared materials something special under the flood of lighting on stage, under the casts believed, and this is emerged because they are created by the miracle of emotional events and faith of the actors themselves. What then emerge are fresh surprises. Teater Mandiri is a theatre of surprises, a theater of wonder. A theater of impossible and unbelievable. A bad dream.
The membership of Teater Mandiri selects itself. Who ever want to join, as long as he/she is willing to participate fully in the tough and exhausting rehearsal process is welcome. The member of Teater Mandiri came from all walks of life. This group is a net of mixsalad and rubbish. There are former thieves who have justcame out of prison, labourers, studens, young executive, and also movie stars. Among the members of Teater Mandiri, there are illiterate ones. Some are phisically deformed and boast a number of "odd specialities". All that strange are empowered to turn them into strength. Although coming from various strata of the society, all members of Teater Mandiri form a family in which all are equal. All of them without exeption, in addition to acting, undertake all activities pertaining to theatrical performance: stage work, finding finacial support, designing and making properties, publications, selling tickets, etc. Teater Mandiri, more than anything else, is a community with a spiritual leader which tries to motivates people to strive for an independent living. But it holds no formal discussions nor introduces formal learning process. Everything is achieved through working together in a theaterical performance project. Through physical activities, all interactions slowly become a spiritual process.