“If two Balinese dig a tunnel from different ends, they will meet in the middle, not because of an exact mathematical calculation, but because each understands and appreciates the process of working together. Conversely, if two Americans achieve something, it’s the result of thorough research and planning.”
That is the conviction of I Gusti Ngurah Putu Wijaya, a law graduate who is better known as a director, novelist, short story writer, and actor.
“Prior to going to the United States, I managed the theater instinctively. The important thing was being together, caring about each other, and having the solidarity to proceed together. From the experiences I had with my friends in America, I came to understand management and planning.”
Thus, what was most beautiful from his Fulbright experience was learning about systematic, results-oriented process. He says that for him and most Indonesians, the most important thing is to be process-oriented, whereas in America, where everything must be planned and budgeted, this is less understood. For one performance in America, Putu requested that flowers be provided to be placed on the stage. The request was rejected, because during the preparations and rehearsal they never had flowers.
“The idea to add the flowers had come later,” Putu explained. “And it could not be accepted since it had never been mentioned in the meetings and planning stages.” So Putu quietly collected yellowcolored fast food wrappers, which he shaped into flowers and placed on the stage. In the end, it was not a problem; they were well received by both actors and audiences.
Indonesia has much to learn about theater management from America, he says, while America needs to learn good presentation and how to think and act flexibly from Indonesia. “A stage manager in the United States is not allowed to take a role in a play. He is only responsible for the stage. But if he is needed and properly trained, there’s no reason a stage manager cannot also be an actor.” Putu said even though it is against the rules, the results can be quite good. The acting is enlivened even further.
Learning to bring the process to life collaboratively is another thing that can be taught to our American colleagues, he said. “In the United States, if it is not his part, an actor does not have to rehearse. As for Indonesians, whether or not they have a role, every member of the company who will perform follows the rehearsal of the play step by step. Even if it is not their scene that is being practiced, all enliven the process.” Another special thing that American culture teaches us is that we should appreciate the contents more than the packaging. Students, for example, are largely free to dress as they like instead of having to wear a uniform. The important thing is to study seriously.
“I often heard that American are individualistic and less family-oriented. In fact, I had been entrusted to babysit a child all day long. Early in the morning, the parents came, dropped their child off, and then went to conduct some important matters out of town. Although we did not really know each other, they trusted us enough to leave their child with us,” said Putu.
He says what’s most important in the administration of the Fulbright Program is the selection of participants. “If chosen correctly,” he said, “one person can represent a thousand people. But if the choice is wrong, it is less effective.” Putu believes that Fulbright scholars from both the United States and Indonesia serve as the unofficial ambassadors of their respective nations.
This article appears from the book of Across the Archipelago, from Sea to Shining Sea Commemorating the 60/20 Anniversary of Fulbright and AMINEF (Page 168– 170) published in 2012.
Translator: Sagita Adesywi and Piet Hendrardjo.
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