Miss Tjitjih Theater

When many Indonesians are quick to take to the street in protest when a snippet of an Indonesian dance appeared in a video promoting tourism in Malaysia, the sad fact is that art and culture here are suffering from neglect.

A good example is the Miss Tjitjih Theater in Cempaka Baru, Central Jakarta.

Mang Esek, who joined Miss Tjitjih more than 40 years ago and now serves as the troupe’s manager and promoter, takes us back to the golden era of Miss Tjitjih and contrasts it with the theater’s current fate.

Mang Esek, the manager and promoter of Miss Tjitjih Theater in Cempaka Baru, Central Jakarta.
How famous was Miss Tjitjih? 

In its heyday, people from outside the city came just to see it. That was it, they would come to town, watch a show and then leave. They used to say that if you had never seen Miss Tjitjih, you’d never really been to Jakarta. We used to have 2,000 people in the audience each night. 

How did this end up as a Sundanese traditional theater in Jakarta? 

Back when the troupe was known as Valencia Opera, they performed in bahasa Melayu [Malay language]. One artist, Nyi Tjitjih, quickly became the most famous member of the group. Soon, people were coming especially to see her. So the name was changed from the Valencia Opera to Miss Tjitjih to honor her. And we focus our shows on Sundanese traditional drama simply because Nyi Tjitjih was Sundanese. However, now we perform the drama in Indonesian or occasionally Betawi. 

When can we come and see a performance? 

Now we’re down to just two performances a week. We put on a show every Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. 

Does the schedule ever change? 

This show is subsidized by the Jakarta government. So this show really depends on them. A while back, we didn’t have a single show for more than six months because there wasn’t enough money. 

How much do tickets sell for? 

Rp 10,000. [$1.10] 

What’s the dorm-looking place next to the theater? 

We live there. The government provides housing next to the theater for all the artists here. We also have a guesthouse on the premises to provide accommodation for artists from out of town. 

How many people live here? 

There are around 20 family heads here with three to six family members each. From grandparents to in-laws, they all stay here. All of the Miss Tjitjih members are here. Some of them move out to try their luck outside Miss Tjitjih, but then they come back. 

When did you join Miss Tjitjih? 

I don’t remember when it was exactly. I’m sure it was when I was at elementary school. 

Can you talk about the show when it was in its heyday? 

Back in the 1970s and 1980s the tickets were always sold out. And back then, we had three performances a day, every day. Now, we think we’re lucky if we have an audience of 20 for a performance. 

But the worst thing is how indisciplined the kids are nowadays. They’re usually just playing around, screaming and running around the theater while their parents and the others audience members are trying to enjoy the show. 

What’s the troupe’s most popular ever show? 

‘ Beranak Dalam Kubur ’ [‘Giving Birth in a Grave’]. 

Is it true that Miss Tjitjih liked to specialize in horror shows? 

People love urban legends. We tap into that because we want people to come to the shows. But trust me, it’s not all goosebumps, we provide a laugh or two here at the show. 

What do you do when you’re not preparing for a show? 

I just sit in the back here in this gazebo and try to find some inspiration for a new story. I’m always writing new scripts. I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to get out there and promote our theater. 

Have you ever tried to find a sponsor? 

I have been trying to invite some prominent Sundanese figures to come here and have a sit down. They just never come. I won’t stop trying though. 

Do you collaborate with performers from modern theater troupes? 

Yeah, we’ve done that several times. There are some differences between modern and traditional theater. We in traditional theater rely a lot on improvisation, while modern theater is preoccupied with narrative, which is delivered to the audience using well-crafted dialogue. But we’re glad that there are still a few youngsters who want to perform with us. 

What was your proudest moment with Miss Tjitjih? 

When President Sukarno awarded us the Piagam Wijayakusuma [arts and cultural award].

Posted on Jakarta Globe


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