ATF2013: Ria Papermoon, and Papermoon Puppet Theatre

by Jane


One of the international guests at the Forum is Ria Papermoon from Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theatre based in Yogyakarta.

When Ria established the company it was a free studio for children to learn about visual arts and performing arts. “It was a really tiny studio”, she said, “and every afternoon children can come and read books […] and learn, for free.”

They began in 2006, and a few months after the city was hit by a big earthquake. About 1000 people died and it drastically changed the way parents would send their children to places like Papermoon. For one and a half years, with fifteen volunteers they traveled to small villages in Indonesia, working with children.

She showed us an image of a puppet made out of an eggplant with eyes: “We can do anything we want with puppets. We can just grab something and add eyes.”

From that Ria and her husband  decided to make an organisation that can mix their interests together together: they found visual arts and performing arts come together well in a world with puppetry. They began to explore puppetry, googling ‘adult puppetry’ and expanding their notions of what puppetry can be.

In 2007 they started to work with several puppetry artists from Germany and Australia’s Snuff Puppets. They still did work for kids, but started to expand out and make work for the parents, too. The parents also need to understand what the work is doing, she said, so they will be okay with their children attending.

Now, the company does performances, workshops  visual arts installations, host residency programs and have a biennial puppet festival In Yogyakarta.

With no government funding the company can access and with no other adult puppet company working in Indonesia, they can jump around where ever they want  Being the only puppet company is good, Ria said, “but it is sad because I also want to be in the audience seat and watching a play.”

Ria spoke about their work Noda Lelaki di Dada Mona (Man’s Flaws in Mona’s Breast), their first work for 17+. They weren’t sure how it would go: it sold out because there is nothing else like it in their country. She then went on to speak about Mau Apa, an interactive show where the audience is asked to tell their stories, that the company presented in Yogyakarta in 2009 and in New York in 2010. The show looked at what the audience wants, and in New York the answers were totally different to those in New York.

Mwathirika spoke about the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, an event that is very rarely spoken about, even though it still has a huge impact on many lives. The company had backlash for creating a work about something so sensitive politically, including a demonstration outside of a performance.

Secangkir Kopi dari Playa also spoke about this genocide: “I think I’m a person who finds it hard to move on.” It tells the same story, Ria said, but from a different piece of view, and was done as a site-specific work in an old shop.

She also showed some images of visual arts the company does, describing it as feeling like “a storyboard” for their performance work. She spoke about a project she did with students who spoke to different elderly people in their city, posting all of their research to Facebook before creating an installation in a 50m tunnel.

“We love to do site-specific installation or site-specific performance” she said.  Of a work they did in an old Red Light district building in Japan, everything in the space was an interactive installation: “people can come in and make it come alive.”

To tour, they  occasionally receive funding from private cultural institutes or galleries,  but at other times they make work that is designed to be installed in someone’s living room, travelling to the houses of friends.

Ria then went onto speak about their Hosting Residency Program for people from different countries and different backgrounds – not just puppetry. Every two years since 2008, too, the company has presented the Pesta Boneka contemporary puppet festival. “Mostly if there is a festival in Indonesia about puppetry, it is mostly about the traditional forms, and it is mostly in Jakarta.”

The Festival was supported by crowd funding, with a little support from several cultural hubs. They also were supported by restaurants and hostels providing vouchers to artists, keeping costs down. They presented performances for three days, had visual arts presentations, and had  puppeteers cook, bringing the food of their homes to the audience: “you have the interaction and you can speak to them, rather than just watching them from far away.”

“Artists are meant to communicate.” Papermoon Puppet Theatre , she said “is surviving because of the audience.”