The varied—and cheaper—entertainment in television has decreased the audience of ketoprak, a Javanese folk theater with gamelan music. Consequently, ketoprak actors have to live a hard life.
A red curtain is still closed on the stage, yet tens of gamelan singers and musicians are getting ready. Nevertheless, only 100 people fill the seats with a capacity of 500 people.
Such is the atmosphere of a ketoprak staging at Balekambang Park, Solo, held every Saturday night, which on that evening of September 17 performed a title of “Ande-Ande Lumut”, a legend about a prince from Kediri, East Java. Still, situations like this did not spoil the mood of the ketoprak players. In every scene, they earnestly played their roles, and still raised applause, laughter, or at least smiles on the audience’ face.
“It is still entertaining. Although I am not sure why more people increasingly forget ketoprak. Whereas, they perform in a comfortable hall and it is close the center of the city,” said Agung Yuwono, a Solo resident from Semanggi area.
Through the Golden Years
Ketoprak is a traditional play that based its stories on history, legends of Panji (originated from Java and has spread throughout the Archipelago even across Southeast Asia region), and tales alternated with comedies generating a lively show.
In 1922, during the era of Mangkunegaran kingdom, the play was performed with sounds of lesung and alu (tools to pound and pulverize rice), kendang (drums), and flutes in the background. Yet, over time, they improved ketoprak with a complete gamelan orchestra. The art is actually a collaboration of various arts fused to produce an entertaining spectacle.
It was no wonder that ketoprak had been rapidly expanding with ketoprak groups in almost every Central Java city. Apart from Solo, groups of ketoprak also flourish in Yogyakarta, Semarang, Pati, and the coastal area of Central Java. Between the 1950s and 1980s were the golden years of ketoprak. As Agus Paminto, an elder of Solo ketoprak, said, “During those days we could perform in more than one city within a day. And that was solely because the audience were waiting for our performances.” (Iyan Dwi S)