Miss Tjitjih theater group fights for survival

13 Feb

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Miss Tjitjih theater group fights for survival

Agnes Winarti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Once the talk of the town, traditional Sundanese play group
Miss Tjitjih is struggling to survive.

Named after its legendary lead actress back in the 1920s, the
group is known for its horror comedy theatrical productions —
some of them adapted into films such as Beranak dalam Kubur
(Giving Birth in the Grave) and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol (The
Pretty Girl of Ancol Bridge).

The group also performs Sundanese tales like Sangkuriang and
Lutung Kasarung, as well as Betawi stories like Macan Kemayoran,
Golok Ciomas, Jawara Tak Dikenal, and Banjir Getih di Rawa

“We used to have more than 200 people coming to our show every
night. Now, we are already very grateful to see some 50 people
in the audience,” senior cast member Imas Darsih, 45 said.

“In the 1970s, we could even perform twice a night.”

Since July 2007, the group has been performing only twice a
month, at the most.

Imas, mother of two, said it had become harder to pass Sundanese
traditional culture on to the younger generation, because young
people nowadays were more interested in what the television
stations had to offer.

“Traditional programs on television, if there is any, are always
broadcast very late at night. I doubt there are any youngsters
watching them.”

Maman Sutarman, who said he joined Miss Tjitjih the day he was
born in 1956, said “If you can sit at home and have the TV
remote control, why should you deal with a traffic jam just for
a traditional Miss Tjitjih play?

“People prefer practicality. ”

Maman, whose actress and singer mother and musician father were
cast members, is now the director of the group.

The group has been trying to attract larger audiences by
shortening the duration of the play to a maximum of two hours
from four to six hours, as well as mixing Indonesian and Betawi
into the usually pure Sundanese language script.

“Sometimes, there are only 16 people watching the performance, ”
said another actor, Edy Hidayat or “Mang Ujang”, 55.

All cast and crew earn between Rp 25,000 and Rp 50,000 for every

To make ends meet, most actors usually do scratch work as well.

Mang Ujang work as a driver, while Mang Essek has been taking
side jobs as an emcee at wedding receptions, narrating other
theatrical productions, and even playing extras in TV film
production over the last five years.

Another member of the cast, Karta or “Mang Cimung”, who has been
part of Miss Tjitjih for 35 years, works as an ojek driver,
earning some Rp 20,000 to Rp 30,000 a day.

Despite the lack of income, Mang Ujang said, “I am grateful that
none of us must beg for money to have food on the table.”

The group survived a 1997 fire that destroyed their theater on
Jl. Kabel Pendek, Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta, only to find
interest in their performances had dropped.

In 2004, they returned to perform in the 800-square-meter
theater building after it was renovated by the Jakarta

The second- and third-generation cast members, of whom there are
about 50, have since lived in a two-level dormitory behind the

Each of the 17 families gets a 3.35-by-6.35- meter dorm unit.

One of the younger cast cast members, Rohatin, 22, who only has
a junior high school education background, said she had to
continue performing with the group “because that’s the only
thing to do to not be ousted from the dorm”.

Mang Cimung, whose two children finished only junior high
school, said that although education was important for the
younger generation “it is hard to live from day to day, let
alone pay school fees”.

The Jakarta Culture and Museums Agency allocated Rp 1.5 million
for each performance, which includes fees for cast members, over
the past six months. Previously, the budget was Rp 3 million per

“There is no promotion agent for our performance. We make and
distribute fliers ourselves by riding motorcycles to Cempaka
Putih and Senen,” said Mang Cimung.

Mang Essek said it was unfortunate that the public lacked an
appreciation for its traditional inheritance. “For decades we
maintained the Sundanese language in our performances, while
none of the inohong (West Java senior public figures) ever came
to watch our play.”

“Perhaps they aren’t even aware that we exist, but we are still
crossing our fingers and hoping that they will eventually

Despite the murky future of the theater group, Mang Essek said
he did not wish to leave.

“Miss Tjitjih is my home,” he said.

Miss Tjitjih performs on the first and third Saturday of every
month at 8:00 p.m. The next performance is on Feb. 16, titled
Kuntilanak di Rumah Kosong (Empty House Possessed by a Devil
Woman). The ticket price is Rp 10,000. For further information,
contact cast coordinator Maman Sutarman on 0815 1443 3763

———— ——— ——-

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nostalgic fans remember the past

A man and his grandchild watched the stage intently as a play
about a troubled soul rising from the grave was performed.

Aeb, 55 and his eight-year-old grandson sometimes even laughed
during the play, which was performed by the Miss Tjitjih theater
group last week.

“I feel quite nostalgic watching Miss Tjitjih plays. I watched
many of their plays during my teenage years when they were still
performing in Kramat,” Aeb told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

The group, which was established in 1928, first performed in
Kramat in Central Jakarta. During its heyday in the 1970s, the
group performed twice every night in Tubagus Angke, West Jakarta.

In 1986, they moved to their current location in Cempaka Putih,
Central Jakarta.

“They used to have lovely young actresses,” said Aeb, who lives
near the Miss Tjitjih theater.

Aeb was not the only person in the audience feeling nostalgic as
he watched the play last Saturday.

Rosita and her husband Anwar, who runs a motorcycle taxi
business, have watched the group perform several times.

While the couple are not Sundanese, they said they loved Miss
Tjitjih performances because of the humor and convincing special
effects used.

“When they perform horror stories, they really scare me,” said
24-year-old Rosita, a mother of one, who invited her mother and
sister-in-law to watch the play Rising from the Grave.

The group, which in its early days performed using the Sundanese
language, now also performs in Indonesian and Betawian.

Another Cempaka Putih resident, Laseh, said he loved the show
but was disappointed with the group’s lack of promotional

“We only know about these performances because we live nearby
and can easily check what will be performed on posters at the
theater,” he said.

The air-conditioned theater building is filled with 300 seats,
but last Saturday only a third of them were occupied. Children,
who are entitled to discounted tickets, made up the majority of
the audience.

In total, only 35 tickets priced at the adult rate of Rp 10,000
were sold for the performance.

The income generated through ticket sales does not go to cast
members. Instead it is paid directly to the Miss Tjitjih
Foundation, which was established in 1987 by the Jakarta
administration and the Foundation of West Java Development.

“We don’t have funding for promotional activities,” said Abas
Sudiana, who is the caretaker and secretary of the Miss Tjitjih
Foundation as well as the head of the Central Jakarta culture
and museums office.

He said members of the cast usually roamed the streets nearby
the theater complex distributing leaflets before performances.

“But even that is getting difficult now,” Abas said.

He said the Miss Tjitjih Foundation received Rp 125 million in
2007 from the city administration to cover the costs of staging
regular performances.

“That money is meant to be for the maintenance of the theater
building. But we use 60 to 75 percent of the money to pay the
cast,” he said.

“That is why we have to perform twice a month now rather than
four times a month.”

He said the Miss Tjitjih Foundation used to receive Rp 300
million in funding from the city administration annually, but
did not disclose why the foundation’s budget was reduced
significantly last year.

Abas said the Foundation of West Java Development had not
provided regular funding since it established the Miss Tjitjih
Foundation in 1987.

Unaware of the foundation’s financial restraints, Aeb suggested
the group collaborate with famous comedians to spice up Miss
Tjitjih performances.

— Agnes Winarti


One Response to “Miss Tjitjih theater group fights for survival”

  1. American Crisis November 2, 2008 at 10:27 pm #

    Some foundation didn’t work as the early goal, so they create a foundation just to interest any investor or donor. This is not all foundation, just some.

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