Rarely do cultural productions manage to strike a fine balance between traditional and modern elements – but when they do, you know they're going to be spectacular in all their might. SMU Komunitas Indonesia’s (SMUKI) annual production is a fine example of just that – juggling various themes, artistic endeavors and a diverse student cast, GAYA never fails to entertain.
Since its inception in 2006, the club has explored a large diversity of issues through its plays, ranging from Indonesian folklore that mirrors the tale of Cinderella, to colonial tales that lead up to the nation’s independence. In celebration of their 10th year anniversary, GAYA 2016 is entitled ‘Sang Pengibar’, and it reveals the untold story of the historically significant Battle of Surabaya in 1945. Revolving around a young girl named May and the sacrifices she has to make for the sake of her country’s independence, this tale reminds us that war extends beyond glorified war heroes – it's a harsh reality affects everyone.
Keeping consistency with previous productions, the upcoming rendition of GAYA has been delicately crafted so as to present a traditional mix of artistic elements with a modern twist. The club’s collective mission remains to showcase their unique culture in the most authentic manner as possible; they aim to do so through various elements such as song, dance, costumes and storytelling. Yet instead of getting bored with traditional performances, their performers thoroughly enjoy learning the aforementioned – with a passion that is sky high.
With a strong purpose of embracing and spreading Indonesian culture, what better way to do so than to have a diverse cast that is comprised of 4 different nationalities! That’s right, this is Komunitas Indonesia we’re talking about – a club that is way more international than you would think. Their main cast consists of Matthew Yuhico (Phillipines), Aishwarya Kumar (India), Yan Frandiyo (Indonesia) and Chia Dezhong (Singapore). Not only have these actors managed to integrate into a foreign community and culture, (kudos from my side,) but they have also reinforced the notion that art has the timeless ability to transcend all boundaries, and bring people together.
So what does it take to pull together such a large-scaled production? Well, there are two answers when it comes to SMUKI. Firstly – it takes 8 months of preparation, 80 dedicated individuals, an extremely passionate production and performance team, and a well-knit community that lends much support. And secondly – family support.
I had the privilege of speaking to a few members of the GAYA team, and when asked to describe the culture in the club, every single one of them said “family” – which was extremely heartwarming to hear. As the show’s co-producer Aimee Saudjana put it very unanimously: “SMUKI is so much more than ‘just an Indo club’. These people are family to me.” So what motivates this large family to work endlessly? Cast member Yan Frandiyo, who is a freshman and is participating in his first GAYA, says that “It’s all about the company you get. Being part of such a welcoming family makes you want to give you best and not disappoint them… it’s an amazing experience that cannot be described.”
What keeps these individuals going is the realisation that they are all a part of something bigger than themselves. As a Filipino international student, Matthew shared that despite not sharing the same roots as the majority of the club, he never felt excluded – and that the more he put himself out there and made himself vulnerable, the more he wanted to challenge himself to strive for excellence. And if that doesn’t make you want to come down and support the team, then his guarantee for a good show should; he proudly proclaims, “This is the most prepared Gaya that ever we’ve seen.”
As a cultural production, GAYA’s purpose is twofold: to spread cultural awareness amongst all communities, and to serve as a reminder for Indonesians to go back to their roots. Given the promise of modern and traditional cultural fusions, the diverse range of nationalities being represented and the retelling of a unique fight for independence – it seems like GAYA is going to teach all of us a little something about identity.