Members of the traditional Sundanese theater troupe Miss Tjitjih still take pride in being associated with the group, even if its glory days are in the past.
The troupe has been plagued with financial struggles the past couple of years, which has meant that the members can now only give the rare performance.
Formed in 1928 in Jakarta under the name Opera Valencia, the troupe’s heyday stretched over decades. It used to sell out theaters, with hundreds of people sitting rapt for hours as the troupe performed its trademark mix of comedy and horror. Later the troupe changed its name to Miss Tjitjih, a moniker inspired by the “prima donna” character of the group.
During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in the 1940s, Miss Tjitjih was one of the many theater troupes used to disseminate propaganda. The Japanese believed that theater had the power to influence people.
Through it all, Miss Tjitjih has managed to stand the test of time, even after it temporarily lost its home theater to a fire in 1997. But the troupe persevered and took its show on the road.
“From 1998 to 2000 we would still get around 150 people, mostly lower-class people like becak [rickshaw] drivers, coming out and enjoying our shows,” said Dadan “Ude” Supriyatna, who plays gamelan for Miss Tjitjih.
But as television stations started to offer more contemporary programming in the early 2000s, the troupe’s audiences decreased significantly.
“There were just so many choices of entertainment on TV, including soap operas,” said Kokom Kusnadi, who has been a member of Miss Tjitjih for 20 years. “Whenever there is a football match on TV, we only have about 20 people coming to our show.”
And where once they would perform nightly, they cut back to twice a week and then once a week. Now they perform whenever they can.
“We have a show on Saturday night but it depends on when the subsidy from the local administration is available,” Ude said. “We only had 10 shows in 2011.”
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