In next year’s edition, ICN 2019 – Arunika: A Musical sheds light on the perspectives of both the Indonesians and the Dutch, with the historical setting of 19th century Batavia, the present-day Jakarta, Indonesia. Presenting a blend of different Indonesian cultures (Balinese and
Produced entirely by the Indonesian students of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), ICN is an arts and cultural community that produces theatrical works annually, albeit having taken a gap year in 2017.
From the music composition, scriptwriting, training of actors and actresses, to stage direction, dance choreography, prop design, and everything else to ensure that the musical runs smoothly, the talented production team comprises of 145 members to make this happen.
The symbolic title ‘Arunika‘ refers directly to the name of the half Dutch, half Indonesian protagonist of the musical. We talked to the creative team and the talented cast to find out more about the complex narrative that tackles familiar themes of social justice and prejudice, and to tell us why this is a musical you cannot miss in February next year.
1. How did you decide on portraying this segment of Indonesia’s history in particular?
Hans Albert Lianto, Artistic Director: We wanted to move away from the folktales because they tend to portray the heroes and villains in black-and-white, while in reality, nobody is completely good or bad. We were searching around Indonesia’s history, and we soon arrived at the history of Batavia, and we found out about the period of slavery by the Dutch East India Company. It was something that missed the spotlight in our history lessons, so not many people are aware of it. We thought it might be interesting to do a story that revolves around this theme.
2. What are some challenges you faced in staging a musical in the early 19th century?
Billy Kurniawan, Artistic Director: The biggest challenge we faced was the lack of reliable references for what 19th-century props looked like. Once we did find photo references, we translated them into actual designs for costumes that could appropriately be presented on stage.
Another challenge was fully presenting the scope of the world that we presented throughout the musical. Not only did we have traditional Indonesian costumes, but we also have colonial Dutch costumes – all must be done by 11 members of the Makeup and Wardrobe team.
3. Prejudice, social injustice and inequality have become buzzwords in Western society and are routinely talked about. How does your play bring something new to the current dialogue?
Maria Esterlita Siantoputri, Scriptwriter: Usually, (these) issues are written from the point of view of a certain protagonist. Often, the other party is villainized. We wanted to defy the generalisation and portray more multi-dimensional characters that stand somewhere in the grey area. We tried blurring the lines between the heroes and villains, and created characters as just humans, who are capable of doing both good and bad.
We wanted to let the story unfold from the different point of views, so that we could also learn to see the world through the eyes of others. The play (is) set more than two centuries ago, but we could still see some similarities in terms of inequality and injustice, albeit to a lesser extent. We hope that the audience will ask themselves: How much have we progressed? Can we do better?
4. How do you think the themes in the play relate in today’s context? What has changed?
Brigitta Vania Jennica, Scriptwriter: We saw an uncanny resemblance between the past and the present, where the weak are still oppressed, the poor are being exploited, and we all still discriminate against people who are different from us.
Slavery ended centuries ago, but the inequality and injustice didn’t end there. It just takes on different forms today in our society and the world at large.
5. How do you prepare yourself for the roles set in a different time from our own?
Karen Prasetio, Actress of Anika: I tried watching historical movies, particularly the ones set in Indonesia to see the social climate during colonial times. I think some things don’t change over time, though. For instance, a mother’s love, and a child’s yearnings to explore.
Kevin Montana Wongso, Actor of Raka: When I first read Arunika’s script, I realized that I’m gonna play a character that is so different (from) my own personality. Thus, to understand my character better (in) that specific era, I watched lots of documentaries and movies related to slavery and colonialization. This really helped me to understand Raka’s pain and his motivation for revenge, which I will deliver on the stage.
Although Arunika: A Musical is a student production, the heartfelt acting and soulful music compositions level themselves with professional productions.
More than its aesthetic value, Arunika delivers a timely reminder to people belonging to any race, class or group – that the line between the oppressor and the oppressed is often nebulous, and no one is completely infallible.
ICN 2019 – Arunika: A Musical
Date: 16 February 2019
Time: Matinee Show – 2.30pm, Evening Show – 7.30pm
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building
Address: 100 Victoria Street, #05-01 Singapore 188064
Early bird tickets are available till 23 December 2018, and tickets start at S$18. For more information, visit the official website at show.icnmusical.com/.
DANAMIC is proud to be an Official Media Partner of ICN 2019.
Photos by Yang Yew of the DANAMIC team