KETOPRAK PART 3: The Javanese Ketoprak

Pak Randimo is the elder of Ketoprak community of Taman Balekambang Surakarta. He has been 50 years becoming actor of srandul (old fashioned ketoprak to modern ketoprak. In his early career he played in ketoprak srandul for 3 years in the last 1950ies. He had experienced being ketoprak tobong (emergency stage) actor in Taman Hiburan Rakyat, nearby Pojok Beteng Wetan Yogyakarta and then itinerant on the city fringe.

Srandul is a traditional drama performed at night and enlightened by oil torch made of cut papaya. The instruments were 2 angklung and two terbang. In that period there were very few women walked on the street, that all srandul actors were males. The female characters were played by males. According to Randimo, srandul emerged first and then ketoprak lesung, and this had been very popular in Gunungkidul and Prambanan.

As make up was very expensive, Randimo used langes (black smoke from oil lamp) to thicken his eye brows. To reddened his lips, he used teak leaf, yet he said that for half month the color couldnot be removed.

Randimo said that in the past artists were more honoured than lecturer. His srandul troupe and later became tobong ketoprak went from village to village. In the past ketoprak was not performed for money, they just know if they played they would get food, he said.

Randimo is a tailor for traditional or ketoprak costume, yet at night he plays in ketoprak show at Taman Balekambang. As an elder, he is also responsible to create a story and acts as director in his community. Shortly, he is the ‘dalang’ of ketoprak in Balekambang which plays every Saturday night. He has been in Taman Balekambang since 1961.

Taman Balekambang was established by KGPAA Mangkunegara VII in 1921. Yet, the troupe entertained public in about 1950, using emergency stage. Taman Balekambang is a pool garden which is dedicated to king’s princesses, GRAy Partini and GRAy Partinah. Later this place has created comedian which involved in Srimulat. Currently a theater building  erected in 1980s becomes the arena of kletoprak atrists.

Historians believe that the ketoprak embryo had emerged on the second half of the 19th Century in Kasunanan Surakarta. According to local, ketoprak was initially grew in Plesungan Village, a village in Surakarta with toponimi lesung. Their instruments were lesung and the packed in a circle of audience and instituted as folklore. Later, this show used keprak which adopting the sound of lesung.Lesung can be found in agrarian society. It is used by farmers to pond paddy, corn, casava and many more.

It seems there is a relation between ketoprak and ‘prak…prak…prak’ created by lesung. Yet, some assume that ketoprak term is related to soud of kethuk pr keprak brought by dalang in floklore show.

15 km east of Surakarta, there is a ketoprak stage called as Pelok. Polok show is about the daily life of batik workers in laweyan Surakarta in the beginnning of 20th Century. They fill their break time with jokes, singing and dancing, they also add farmers’ life. They used bamboe to dry batik to create sound accompanying their singing and dancing.

Batik and Keraton (palace)have very close relation, that batik workers can play ketoprak in kepatihan. There is a jackfruit tree which was cut and made lesung to accompany the show.

KRT Wreksodiningrat, an official and a historian of Kasunanan Surakarta who has great service to the notation of Javanese karawitan, gathered artists of ketoprak lesung to play in jis pendapa in 1908. He support this new art.  That ws when emerged ketoprak lesung wiwitan framed in story and managed well.

Until today there is no written record about the history of ketoprak, as ther are records which are still questionable.

In 1920s, Kasunanan Surakarta was in good spirit in arts. Wreksodiningrat was not the only official supporting arts in the palace. In 1911 Pakubuwono X blessed Wayang Orang Sriwedari which takes place in a garden formerly known as Kebon Raja.