Discusses How Epic Theater Indonesia Can Develop Rapidly

Driven by his passion for Indonesian literature, Happy Salma has brought to life the best literary works from Indonesia. By establishing Titimangsa Foundation, he has succeeded in presenting literary works into theater performances that are welcomed by the public. Starting from the performance of “Bunga Tutup Abad” based on the work of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, to “Perempuan-Perempuan Chairil” by Chairil Anwar. In the midst of his busy life producing the theater performance “Nyanyi Sunyi Revolusi” based on Amir Hamzah’s works, we talked with Happy Salma about the background of his involvement with theater, the development of Indonesian theater amidst a crisis of expression, and also the relevance of theater in Indonesia.

What was your introduction to the world of theater like?

Initially in 2006 yes. Actually, it’s more because I like literature, so because I like literature, one of the masters of the theater has various forms – one of them is theater. Incidentally, at that time there were friends of mine who made the “Nyai Ontosoroh” show and I was involved there. From there, I got my own pleasure that behind my other work; At that time, I shot a lot for television and film occasionally, I found that one of the media was needed to convey my idealism, namely the expert of Indonesian literature. So it was originally because of the literature area first.

Oh, was he interested in literature, then led to the theater?

Because there are not many choices. One of them is over the vehicle, there is a theater. And it turned out to be for me; for now it is more suitable.

What made you turn to theater from the world of television and film?

Indeed, the market or theater industry is still far away in Indonesia.

Because it is; one, limited time, so I also have to sacrifice something, right? I have to open markets and opportunities too. Because it can’t be helped. Indeed, the market or theater industry is still far away in Indonesia. We still rely on various CSR. From companies like now we have CSR from the Djarum Foundation. The rest rely on tickets – and cannot rely entirely on tickets. So it really has to be struggling and it has to be sacrificed.

There are some I can’t get involved in an work that I like too, but I don’t regret it. I do choose – it is my choice sincerely. At most, it’s like I haven’t filmed last year. At most later I will shoot but also with a few roles, which only shoots for a week, for example for “Buffalo Boys” only 6 scenes, “Wiro Sableng” only 5 scenes. Just to let it go.

Does that mean you limit yourself to taking acting offers for TV or movies?

It depends, if there is passion it appears again – it depends on the script too. But so far nothing has touched my heart. And so far what makes me excited is the scripts that I have adapted in the theater like this. Like Amir Hamzah, his research is two and a half years, so I am really into it.

Why would you be interested in supporting theater as a producer in the future?

In the beginning, I took on many roles, from playing, producing, selling tickets, everything. Indeed, I have no choice, because I have to build the market. Over time, this belief emerged from the fact that initially people rarely buy, now the enthusiasm is quite enough. Even several shows in a few days have already sold out. It indicates that there is already awareness, “Wow, it’s starting to live!” Then I felt that I wasn’t the only one who felt the benefit between stages, and that had a tremendous effect on our decisions in the rest of the process.

Now, film players can be from modeling or from commercials, but they also have the same capacity and desire to learn.

In the past, many actors were born from the stage because it was possible that most filmmakers were theater people. Now, film players can be from modeling or from commercials, but they also have the same capacity and desire to learn. If I join theater groups whose schedules may not be suitable, I provide another alternative with Titimangsa’s collaborative space. So here the players are from Teater Garasi from Jogja, from Teater Satu Lampung.

There is Mas Iskandar Loedin. He is also the same as Mas Garin Nugroho and Mas Eko Supriyanto – so we form collaboratively. Usually he travels around the world, now usually in Jakarta there are several projects, the artistic leadership is usually the same as him.

Why did you decide to create the Titimangsa Foundation?

It has to be, because when we create an activity there must be an organization. Because someone must be accounted for, funding continues to exist, tax reports and others. So indeed Titimangsa also happened because it was a necessity. Hence, we call it Titimangsa because it is right on time. Otherwise, there’s no way I can make it.

Bagaimana proses adaptasi sebuah karya literatur agar menjadi produksi teater?

It needs a long, loyal process. Usually I do everything that can be parallel so it is like the seeds that I spread, then see which one grows first. Like “Nyanyi Sunyi Revolusi” which was supposed to appear first last year, but it turned out that I had a vow when I made a show of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s tetralogy adaptation. I went to Pram’s house, saw all the archives, and in my opinion, he is one of the best documentators besides HB Jassin. It’s a shame if only some people see. Then I said to his family, “If I succeed in the stage, I’ll make the exhibition”. And it was successful! So when I wanted to play a role, I didn’t really understand what curation was all about. For that, I invite Dialogue Artspace to collaborate because I think this place is suitable for young people, but also for young people who are critical.

Incidentally, Engel Tanzil Tea is also quite close and he curated it there for the first time. Then there was Danny Wicaksono, there was Hermawan Tanzil, who were helped a lot by people who supported him. So because it was a tremendous success, there were 48 thousand visitors in one month, finally there was a sponsor from the CSR from the Djarum Foundation, we performed it again, even though I had not had much planning – at that time I was preparing for “Nyanyi Sunyi Revolusi”. “Century Cover Flower” is like a finished product; It just needs to be processed and the players are so solid, loyal, high-spirited, with just two months of preparation there can be performances and sold out tickets as well.

What was the research process of Amir Hamzah which took 2.5 years to perform “Nyanyi Sunyi Revolusi”?

Yes, but it stops a lot too. I did “Chairil” first. On the other hand, I had time to shoot, take care of my family, children, husband. Business too. So it is pending. But since then, communication with the team is still ongoing. I’m in Bali, a writer in Bandung, a director in Lampung – I need a tremendous commitment out of love.

Find more exciting information about epic theater here