Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Guru by day, street artist by night

Singgir Kartana, Contributor, Yogyakarta

Ende Riza is a lecturer at the Yogyakarta Film and Dramatic Art Academy (ASDRAFI), but the respectable social status does not quell his love for busking on the street for money.

The 32-year-old pantomimist is convinced that, as far as art is concerned, the street is where he belongs.

"It's not the money that matters. Performing in the street is the best way to ever perfect my skill and creativity. I don't care if bystanders refuse to spare some of their small change," he says.

Riza has been a street pantomimist for the last 12 years, and is quite well-known in town.

He lives in a 10 by 30 meter artistic mansion in Singosaren village in Banguntapan, Bantul regency, some five kilometers southeast of Yogyakarta. Beside the main building is a large Javanese-style pendopo house. All would find it difficult to imagine the property was bought with the money he earned from street shows.

It is at home that Riza raises his family and gives free pantomime lessons to some 20 to 25 teenagers once a month, for which he provides free drinks and snacks, as well as equipment.

Riza said that although money was not the main objective of his evening street performances, he earned a lot of money in the profession.

Performing for three hours, he says, he can make at least Rp 100,000 (about US$12). During holidays, his income can go up to Rp 500,000 a night.

"One night, I got Rp 600,000, the biggest take so far. That happened when my wife was just about to have a baby," Riza recalled.

His handsome income has often been attributed to the fact that pantomime is a rare art in Yogyakarta. Riza is probably the only street pantomimist in the province.

Born in the East Java town of Banyuwangi, Riza started performing in the street as a student at ASDRAFI.

He became involved in the art of acting, especially in pantomime, while he was an elementary school student. His interest in the art developed as he went through high school and continued his education at ASDRAFI.

"It was then that I found that pantomime was part of my life," Riza said.

Riza would experiment with his creations anytime, anywhere: at home, in the street, in the market and in other public places in the city.

"My real place to study is everyday social life, including the streets. It is there that I can truly experience to the fullest, the social themes that I want to express in my pantomime performance. It is there that I can freely express myself," says Riza, who finished his studies at ASDRAFI in 1993 and then became a lecturer there.

In 1995, he joined the Association of Yogyakarta Pantomime Actors, where well-known professional pantomime actor Jemek Supardi was also a member.

Being an association member and a lecturer was no reason to be ashamed of performing in the streets for money. In fact, he became more and more engrossed in it than before.

So, there he is, performing a pantomime every night, from one place to another. One night, he is seen performing in Yogyakarta's Southern City Square, opposite the palace; the next night, he is performing at the Gadjah Mada University campus, or along the popular Jl. Malioboro thoroughfare.

"I will feel sick if I don't go out on the streets for three days," he says.

"I do this not just for the money, but also for the sake of art, remember. So, I'm not ashamed of being seen by a friend or a student of mine while performing in the street," he said.

His talent and loyalty to the profession are well-recognized by his fellow "street artists".

"He always finishes his whole performance and never stops in the middle of it just because his audience has given him money. He doesn't care if people don't give him money, either," says a senior street musician, Naryo Gondrong, 40, who often performs in Southern City Square.

Riza likes to take his inspiration from real life for his stories: the Bali bombings, drug problems, the misery of low-paid laborers, and so forth.

He also takes special requests from the audience. You can name any theme for him to perform.

As a lecturer, Riza is known for his prolificness. Students love his lectures, which he delivers in a straightforward manner. He also often speaks at pantomime workshops in various cities, including Surabaya, Palu and Malino.

"He is a prolific pantomime actor with a unique and strong character," ASDRAFI director Rini Chairi says of Riza.

Recently, he was named as the best tutor to women overseas laborers who were training to go to Saudi Arabia. He did not just deliver lectures, but also pantomimed to get his points across.

Just recently, he performed a show titled Orang-orang Pasar (People in the market) at the Yogyakarta Cultural Center. Tickets to the show were sold-out far in advance.

As part of the show, he performed with a mentally handicapped onstage. "I picked him up at Ngasem Market," he said.

Riza is concerned that pantomime has not received the appreciation it deserves.

"The art has been marginalized and only a few artists are dedicated to it," he says.

"Could it be that the art is not financially rewarding or are people just uninterested?" he wonders.