Wayang performance

The play can be performed outside or inside, with the puppets being moved against a central white cloth screen that is lit up by an oil lamp or, in recent times, by an electric light.

The audience can sit anywhere around the screen, but where they sit usually depends on who they are and on their social status. Explain that in our theatres too, people can sometimes pay more for better seats. Although we often have theatres where the audience can only sit in front of the stage, some performances are done in ‘theatre in the round’ or outside in venues such as parks and gardens, where the audience is free to sit where they like.

A wayang performance usually takes place at night, often starting after 9:00pm and continuing until dawn – as much as nine hours! This is a social occasion for the audience, and a chance to relax with friends and family. Since they often know the traditional story well, they may sleep, eat or talk during the less exciting parts. A typical performance may be held as a celebration or major community event. Families come to the performance prepared to spend a long time enjoying each others company as well as enjoying the story.

Wayang plays are performed around the world, including performances that often come to Australia, and are adapted to include comments on Australian society.

The gunungan:
The gunungan ‘puppet’ (sacred mountain) signals the beginning and end of the performance as well as strong emotions, changes of scene and the elements of fire, earth, air and water. Note the word ‘gunung’ means mountain.

It represents the place where the gods, goddesses and demons live. It is a holy mountain where the tree of heaven grows. Mountains have been venerated in many parts of Asia since ancient times. For example, Gunung Agung is a sacred mountain to Balinese people. It is also a volcano and a powerful source of both good (rich soil) and potential disaster (if it erupts).

The music:
A gamelan orchestra will provide music to accompany the action in the story. See the Online resources section for some useful websites about gamelan.

The orchestra consists of gongs, drums, metallophones, flutes, rehab (two-stringed violins) and other instruments. Performances may also be enhanced with recorded music and sound effects.

The dalang will conduct the orchestra, but as the performances are so long, the gamelan players will also eat, chat and smoke during the performance.

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