The wayang kulit or shadow puppet play is performed primarily as a form
of entertainment in small towns and villages. In the past, it was usual for an
individual or a group of villagers to erect a hut-like stage on which the
dalang (puppeteer) performed the shadow play. The dalang had to
obtain a performing license from the local police authorities for the
performances on specific dates and in the given location.
The wayang kulit
is an open air performance under the stars. A temporary bamboo platform is
constructed in the village square. It has a raised stage on which the puppeteer
and musicians sit cross-legged. This `traveling cinema' was popular in villages
during the 1970s. A high cloth fence was temporarily
erected in a given locality of the countryside, a large screen put up
and some admission was charged. The cinema would play in one place over a period
of one or two nights and then move on to another location until its planned
circuit was completed.
The dalang is a highly venerated
artist who displays enormous physical and mental endurance. He is an orator who
must be able to repeat many lengthy texts word for word. In addition, he has to
compose and sing songs as well as direct the orchestra that accompanies him.
Besides all this, he is a poet-playwright who shares new wisdom in a way that
satisfies public taste.
A feature of the performance structure was the ritual opening of prayers and
food offerings presented to the spirit world. Following customary practice, the
play usually began with incantations and
prayers asking for safety and help in avoiding danger. However, this practice
had been banned because it is not in accordance to Islamic teachings. Wayang
kulit performances are now held solely for entertainment purposes.