“This is the story of mankind in a paradise abandoned by the gods.”
We know it as a tourist spot that’s rich with Instagram-ready beaches and friendly locals, but what truly lies behind the sunny island of Bali? The members of the Indonesian Cultural Night (ICN) are bringing the island’s dark history to light this September with “Nirwata: A Musical”.
“The island of Bali is known as the “Island of the Gods” because of its beautiful nature and strong religious traditions. However, only few know the truth behind that name and the kingdom from whence the name originated. Hundreds of years ago, a grave disaster struck the island and crippled the entire realm of Wanekeling Kalianget. So devastating was the calamity that the king himself fell into a state of despair. It was as if the gods had left the people of Bali to fend for themselves.”
“However, out of the ruins of the westernmost village of the island, rose a young man who refused to surrender to the vast hopelessness. His decision led to an eventful encounter with a woman after his own heart and a kingsguard that would change his fate—and ultimately the entire island—forever. Would the young man eventually succeed in restoring the hope that was lost in the catastrophe? What kind of end would befall the kingdom? And would the gods finally turn their gaze upon Bali once more?”
Before the production hits the National University of Singapore‘s University Cultural Centre (UCC) on 12 September, Popspoken finds out more about the many challenges of being an independent art body, the actors’ prep work, and the work behind 2 of the songs to be performed.
Andramica Priastyo, Producer
1. As a student-run production, what proved to be the most difficult challenge behind the scenes of “Nirwata: A Musical?”
Andramica: I would say that the most difficult challenge for us is that ICN Cultural Production itself is an independent student organisation [separate] from NTU, though all of our committee members are NTU students. This situation has led to constraints in areas such as venues for production and rehearsals, storage space, marketing opportunities, budgeting, and much more.
This year, we struggled to find a venue for our production, as the more popular venues were already fully booked and other venues require us to be officially under the Ministry of Education (MOE). We finally managed to register ICN Cultural Production as a Singapore registered company through the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) in order to secure the University Cultural Centre (UCC) as our production venue.
We don’t have any official storage space in NTU, so we travel to Bedok to work on the sets and properties, where we have some storage space provided by one of our stakeholders. We’ve also secured contracts with an external party to loan musical instruments in order to conduct our rehearsals. Transporting all of our committee members and logistics before and after the integrated rehearsals each weekend has cost us a lot.
Like any independent organisation, we had to find a way to market our tickets ourselves. We secured some contracts with the NTU Student Union, which granted us opportunities such as opening a booth, performing a flash mob, conducting a tourism class, and much more. Other than marketing our tickets to NTU students, we’ve also held roadshows in other tertiary institutions.
We put all our best effort in marketing our tickets due to a list of challenges we face as an independent organisation.
Most of our income comes from sponsors, and we are proud to count more than 15 sponsoring corporate companies behind “Nirwata: A Musical”. We’ve also launched some merchandise and crowdfunding, which help us with our budget quite a lot. We always try to seek opportunities to raise our income to make ICN Cultural Production sustainable. This year, we have a budgeting plan of $60,000.
We put all our best effort in marketing our tickets due to a list of challenges we face as an independent organisation. We believe that ticket sales is our safest model to help with our budgeting constraints.
2. “Nirwata: A Musical” explores the history and story of Bali. From this production, what aspect(s) of the island’s history struck you as particularly interesting?
Andramica: We chose Balinese culture in particular as our production theme because Balinese culture is one of the most prominent cultures in Indonesia.
Balinese cultural heritage has been passed down through the generations exceptionally well. It adapts on the audience interest without leaving its primary identity, which is why a lot of tourists go to Bali for its culture. The culture itself also includes a lot of theatrical performance about their history and folktales.
The folktale of Jayaprana & Layonsari has adapted for “Nirwata: A Musical” because the story itself contains a lot of perspectives. This has enabled us to explore a lot more in the story and integrate more Balinese culture for our production such as music and dance.
3. What do you hope the audience can take away from “Nirwata: A Musical?”
Andramica: We hope that “Nirwata: A Musical” can bring a fresh perspective to the audience about Indonesian culture; that traditional culture can be just as interesting as the modern culture of today.
We also hope that the audience can take away a special moral from our story. Last but not least, we hope that the audience truly enjoys our performance, and that they will support us in our annual productions.
Erika Kesuma, “Gianetha”
1. In “Nirwata: A Musical” you play Gianetha, a strong yet vulnerable character. Tell us more about how you prepared yourself for this complex role, and the challenges behind it.
Erika: During our first table read, I thought Gianetha would be a manageable character to play. But after a few practices, I have to admit; I found it emotionally tiring playing Gianetha.
Acting in a tragedy was new to me, so I did struggle a little in the beginning. I had to also observe how Balinese priestesses carry themselves for this character (even though Gianetha breaks this posture when emotions get to her).
Another challenge was expressing the emotions in the songs. Some emotions are really extreme and can be difficult to fully express, but I was fortunate to receive a lot of guidance from our vocal coach on that.
2. You helped in writing 2 of the songs featured in “Nirwata: A Musical”. Where did you draw your inspiration from to create these pieces?
Erika: The song “Delusions” is a duet between Gianetha and Layonsari (Gianetha’s best friend). I guess the inspiration came from Disney’s “Hercules”, particularly the number “I Won’t Say (I’m In Love)”. The context is a little similar to what Gia and Layon are singing about. When picking the genre, the songwriter and I were not confident in writing it in swing, but we both agreed that the mood and style is the best representation of Gia’s sassy nature.
“Goodbye” was written when I was already very invested into the character. So when I was asked to write the lyrics, I literally thought of what could be the saddest thing someone like Gia would say, having been through so much in the story. This would be one of the last songs in the musical so… I hope you guys get to use your tissues!
3. What do you hope the audience can take away from “Nirwata: A Musical?”
Erika: I think more than just learning about the magnificence and grandeur of Balinese culture, I’d like the audience to realise that this wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of 130 NTU students. We are university students just like most of our audience. We weren’t paid to do this, it’s all completely voluntary, yet we all strive towards a common goal of show casing a part of Indonesian culture in hopes of having a cross-cultural understanding with the people in Singapore.
Not only that, I think this musical is really a celebration of some of the young talents we have in NTU. Just look at the whole engine room of “Nirwata”; songs, scripts, dances, costumes, sets, and props were all organically written and produced by students! Our external affairs team really deserve a standing ovation as well: posters, trailers, websites, marketing, liaising with sponsors, etc. As a small part of this big production I’m just absolutely amazed at how passionate each individual is in his or her own important role in the musical.
Get your tickets to “Nirwata: A Musical” for just $23 ($25 for VIP seating) here.