Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, was interviewed about his prison theater project for a Radio Australia program on June 24. The broadcast was aired on their pacific network in Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia and East Timor. A transcript of the interview is below:
Theatre program with a difference in Bali, Indonesia
The Kerobokanprison has become synonymous with the trials and convictions of Australian drug traffickers Schapelle Corby, and members of the Bali 9. But now a professor of theatre from the United States is running a theater program as part of efforts to change the atmosphere of the jail.
Presenter Nasya Bahfen interviewed Jenkins, professor of theatre at Wesleyan University in Connecticut; Made Mantle Hood, honorary research fellow, University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music:
JENKINS: Well I’ve always enjoyed staging theatre in venues that are outside of traditional theatres
and over the last five or six years I’ve been working in theatres in the United States in prisons.
BAHFEN: Ron Jenkins, mild mannered professor of theatre at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA. He regularly meets with a theatre group in one of Indonesia’s most notorious prisons, Kerobokan jail in Kuta, Bali. He gets inmates who reportedly include three members of the Bali 9 to perform pieces such as Dante’s Inferno.
JENKINS: Although I’ve been going to Bali and Indonesia working in theatre there for over thirty years I had never worked in a prison there and the last time I was there I read about the Kerobokan prison…
BAHFEN: …with its infamous reputation. Professor Jenkins was in luck though. When he approached Kerobokan last year with his theatre group idea, there was a new director who was keen to change the jail’s atmosphere.
JENKINS: He was very supportive and encouraging, and always the most difficult thing about doing theatre work in prisons is getting the support of the administration. Once I had his support I went in and met the inmates who were people from all over different parts of Indonesia and all over different parts of the world and they were very enthusiastic.
(Gamelan music) HOOD: My name is Dr Made Mantle Hood and…
BAHFEN: …he’s an honorary research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music. He also runs a Balinese gamelan orchestra and spoke to me just before one of their weekly rehearsals…
BAHFEN: Your association with Indonesian arts is a bit of a personal one, which I found out through googling you so if you could tell me a bit about that first off.
HOOD: I think my association started even before I was aware of the field of what I’m in now which is ethno-musicology. My father was one of the pioneers of that field in North America so in terms of Balinese performing arts it was something I quite literally grew up with having it around the household and eventually when I became aware of what Dad did I said oh, I might like to get into that as well so it’s grown up within the family and has led me down the path of not only the practical aspects of researching Balinese music but the philosophical ones as well.
BAHFEN: Balinese society is quite collective -and this is reflected in its approach to the arts – the loud kecak or monkey dance, and its traditional orchestra.
HOOD: Gamelan’s particularity for success is the way that it really relies on that aspect of ensemble to bring people together. It’s an orchestra of twenty five plus people but it moves kind of the way a string quartet does – a fine string quartet. You have to live and breathe the music really together and there’s no soloistic aspect to that so –
BAHFEN: So if one person makes a mistake or tries to go out on his own or her own, it won’t work.
HOOD: Well there is this very inter-dependent relationship and there’s that sense in Balinese music of what they call makilet which means to interlock.. and that’s done on a musical level of course but it’s also done on a musical level of course but it’s also done on a very, let’s say, emotional and personal level as well. We need to quite literally intertwine as well.
BAHFEN: Professor Jenkins sees the success of the theatre group in Kerobokan reflecting that intertwining – a concept embedded in the culture of the island on which it’s located.
JENKINS: I think that we’ve created a sense of community and group collaboration that does reflect the sense of community and group creation that you find in a Balinese village.