Wayang Adaptation in Cross Cultural Education
(Greek Mythology in Wayang)
by Prof. I Nyoman Sedana, Ph.D
Artist, professor and researcher at the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) Denpasar, Bali
Wayang Golek rod and Kulit leather puppet in Western Theatre History
While pursuing a Masters degree in theatre at Brown University (Fall 1990, Fall 1991-1993) along with Robert Peterson, I presented a wayang shadow puppet show recounting the Greek myth at the center of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound as a class project for Western Theater History under Professor Don B. Wilmeth. At the time, Robert Peterson had studied and performed the wayang golek rod puppetry of west-Java, Indonesia, but he was interested in wayang leather puppetry since I, his classmate, am a performer and instructor of wayang puppetry at the college of Indonesian arts (STSI, now ISI) Denpasar Bali. While I shared wayang aesthetic concepts and methods to all interested students, Robert was equally generous in giving me his time, lending me some of his wayang golek rod puppets and teaching me the specific manipulation techniques for few weeks.
I really enjoyed how Robert meticulously taught me to insert my right hand inside the puppet's sarong skirt to hold the hidden bamboo stick; while the hidden three bigger fingers twist the body from side to side to make the puppet look around, or take right or left position, while coordinating the movement with the left hand, which controls the puppet's hands. I particularly enjoyed the way that the puppet's left hand bounces its shawl to the side each time it is about to take a position, either right or left or sitting.
To achieve a walking movement, the hidden fingers under the skirt twist the puppet to the right to lead the body in a little bounce to the right until an emphasized step on the sound of the foot rattle is concluded. Similarly, fingers twist left to lead the body bouncing to the left until the same emphasized step to the rattle's sound, while the hand swings right and left to complement the body's footsteps. An easier method is to move only one hand and plant the other on the puppet's waist, elbow akimbo. The fingers can move the body up and down slightly to indicate that the puppet is breathing or angry.
Previously, my intense exposure to wayang golek rod puppets came from Professor Kathy Foley at the University of California Santa Cruz; when I sat in her Non-Western Theatre class she introduced and showed us many videos of Asian theatre, including Indonesian wayang kulit leather puppetry and wayang golek rod puppetry. While I taught Balinese kecak choir, gender wayang music, and some dances, I was permitted by Prof. Foley to stay at the Porter Provost House for about eight months (Winter-Summer 1991) where I often observed her teaching wayang golek and eventually played the gamelan to accompany her performances in many elementary schools and kindergartens around Santa Cruz, San Jose, San Francisco and nearby areas. Professor Foley's extensive knowledge and rich aesthetic perspectives on non-Western theatre often inspired me to connect and see the similarities between Western theatre (especially in Greek theater) and the mythology that I was learning from Prof. Don Wilmeth at Brown University.
Wayang Presentation of Prometheus Bound
Based on Greek mythology, Prometheus Bound was originally presented by the oldest known playwright, Aeschylus, for the festival of Dionysius in the fifth century BC. As the story recounts legendary characters who mix physical and metaphysical, humans and divine, visible and invisible, such as Ocean, Power, the Greek gods Zeus and Cronus, the play seems to me more appropriate to be presented through the mystical medium of wayang silhouettes than through the Stanislavkian realistic acting that I was learning from Emeritus Professor James Barnhill at the same university.
It is essential to realize that although we considered ourselves to be collaborating for the first time with Greece's oldest playwright, we did not faithfully follow Aeschylus's lines in the text, nor the plot or dramatic structure. We were not practicing the occidental mise en scene, but kawi dalang—allowing for the characteristic oriental creativity in wayang plot construction and presentation, such as:
(1) Decide rwabinada –the two opposing forces, protagonist versus antagonist;
(2) Reconstruct the play according to the convention of the established puppetry form;
(3) Apply the method of creative construction: locating, unifying, or transposing;
(4) Identify preferable plot elements, which include emotional arrangement (love, sad, comic, tragic, misunderstanding), and present dramatic gaps with conflict of interests for increasing dramatic tensions, until concluding with a fighting scene;
(5) Consult the literature;
(6) Excerpt appropriate plot or passages;
(7) Reflect the external context on contemporary relevance, trends, tendencies.
Applying the method of wayang play construction we only use the parts of the story that we need, such as the names of places and characters, and cast the dramatic characters carefully from Balinese wayang parwa puppetry following the following lengthy deliberation.
Wayang Kresna as Prometheus
Just as with Kresna (Krishna) in wayang purwa, the Greek Titan, Prometheus, loves human beings (Fig.1). Prometheus gave people fire, taught art, lore, culture, knowledge and technology to further human prosperity. On the other hand, Kresna is the 8th avatar of Vishnu, god of water, preserver of life and helps good people to overcome evil. The difference is that Prometheus is powerless against evil until he is tortured by Zeus, while Kresna is the protector of dharma, the five Pandava brothers, who always manage to overcome the evil 100 Korawa brothers.
Wayang Siwa as Lord Zeus
In wayang it is Indra who has a thunderbolt weapon like Zeus. However, it is Siwa who holds Zeus's position as the primary god. Zeus leads eleven gods and goddesses in Olympus: Poseidon (Neptune), Hades (Pluto), Hestia (Vesta), Hera (Juno), Ares (Mars), Athena (Minerva), Apollo, Aphrodite (Venus), Hermes (mercury), Artemis (Diana), and Hephaestus (Vulcan). In wayang, Siwa (Fig.2) leads Nature along with nine gods (Nawasanga), who reign in every direction. Beginning in the northeast with Sambu, we proceed in a counterclockwise direction with Vishnu, Sangkara, Mahadewa, Ludra, Brahma, Maheswara, and Iswara, complemented by a quartet of Lords—Lord Kuwera, Baruna, Yama, and Indra.
Wayang Bima as Hephaestus
Just as Hephaestus faithfully obey Zeus's order to punish Prometheus, Bima is also obedient and always relents to his kingly brother Yudistira. As the god of fire, blacksmith, maker of weapons and torturer, Hephaestus has a strong body like Bima (Fig.8) and has the strength of 1000 elephants.
Wayang Butasiu as Argus
In Greek mythology, Argus is a big monster with 1000 eyes, employed by Hera to investigate and hinder the love scandal between her husband Zeus and princess Io. Since Argus can only be killed while he is sleeping, Zeus tells Hemes to sing Argus to sleep, whereupon Zeus kills him. From the corpse of Argus, Hera creates a gadfly to plague and bite Io who has been turned into a cow. Hera manages to preserve Argus's 1000 eyes in the tail of the Peacock.
The largest wayang monster is Butasiu (Fig.5). Buta means eye and siu means 1000. In every performance Butasiu invariably sticks on the right side of the screen, balancing wayang Butasia (literary means nine eyes) on the left screen. A mighty, dramatic character such as Krisna might transform himself into Butasiu to destroy his enemies. Therefore, we use Butasiu as Argus.
Wayang Kala as Cronus
Cronus was the leader of Olympus until dethroned by Zeus, his son. Having heard divine prophecy that he will be dethroned by his son, Cronus eats his son every time his wife Rhea gives birth. Finally, to save her last son Rhea decides to wrap a stone with a fabric. When she gives birth to baby Zeus she hides the baby but gives Cronus the swaddled stone to eat. Kala was born from ill-timed intercourse between lord Siwa and the goddess Uma. Kala means time (Fig. 3), just as Cronus sounds like the root of chronology—also, essentially, time. The terrifying Kala devours people who were born in the week of Wayang, which seems quite like the child-eating Cronus.
Wayang Limbur as Hera
Wayang Limbur is best to present Hera because Limbur is a queen character in wayang arja opera, in which puppets recount the story of Panji circle (Fig.4), while Hera is Zeus's sister and queen/goddess. Similarly characterized by jealousy, anxiety and envy, both Limbur and Hera often end up with cursing and murdering her competitors. Hera's effort in preventing her husband's affair with princess Io is identical to Limbur preventing the relationship between her son Rawisrengga and the village girl Martalangu, who is actually the incarnation of angel Gagar Mayang (Sedana, 1988). After her unsuccessful rebellion, Hera has no courage to interfere with Zeus, who keeps on looking for Io. Instead, she harms Io, who has been the victim of her husband, Zeus. Similarly, Limbur does not rebuke her son but rather plots with her minister to murder Martalangu. They both reflect those who employ huge power to punish the victim instead of the powerful perpetrator. As with Hera, Limbur's life includes numerous turbulent domestic issues, jealousy and plans to avenge her husband's infidelities.
Wayang Supraba as Io
As a beautiful girl, Io ought to be represented by wayang Supraba (Fig.6). Zeus falls madly in love with Io, while the demon king Watakawaca of the Hemantaka kingdom is crazed with the desire to marry the supremely beautiful angel Supraba. After Io is cursed by Hera to be a cow, she can no longer be represented by wayang Supraba. This inspired the creation of a beautiful puppet with a cow's head as a new character for wayang.
The characters in wayang and Greek mythology do not correspond exactly. For example, there was a problem when we cast wayang Duryadana (Fig.7) to represent the Oceanus, since the character is actually the opposite: Duryadana, the oldest of the 100 Korawa brothers, is heartless, while Oceanus is very compassionate, especially to the agony of Prometheus. To solve the problem, we reduced the intensity of his voice and slowed down his movement, so that the casting was still reasonably acceptable.
When I need to work and perform wayang in a cross-cultural event, it involves analysis and deliberation upon the dramaturgy, casting, plot construction, jokes, puns, lighting, and related apparatus rather than spending a great deal of time practicing puppet manipulation, music, song, or diction. However, the cross-cultural training gives rise to more puppet manipulation and its underlying lore and philosophy when the activity is centered in the hands of international student participants as happened during the wayang workshop at Sofia Bulgaria, on July 2005. The adaptation in narrative repertoire occurred when framing Bali Dream as wayang for a main stage theatre production at Butler University (Indianapolis, 2012), and later, when I used wayang to present Bali Tempest with students of the East 15 Acting School, (Essex University, UK, 2014).
Appendix: Selected wayang that represented the cast of Prometheus Bound
Fig.1: Kresna as Prometheus
Fig.2: Siwa as Lord Zeus
Fig. 3: Wayang Kala as Cronus
Fig.4: Wayang Limbur as Hera
Fig.5: Butasiu as Argus
Fig.6: Wayang Supraba as Io
Fig.7: Duryadana as Oceanus
Fig.8: Bima as Hephaestus
Fig.9: Garuda as the Eagle torturer
I Nyoman Sedana, PhD University of Georgia, performer and professor Arts Institute, is currently ICCR Senior Fellowship to research on Indian puppet theatre. Author "Theater in a Time of Terrorism" & co-author Balinese Performance, Sedana taught at Ohio University, Essex University, Butler University; awards from IIAS fellowship, Asia Research Institute, ASF-Bangkok.
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Greek_Mythology accessed on July 2nd, 201