The Different Types of Indonesian Theater

If we’re talking about the culture and art that Indonesia, we’ll require an infinite amount of time, because there’s like thousands of them. They also came in many forms, not only via songs, dances, paintings, or carvings, but also through one form called theater. Theater is one beautiful thing, beside giving people with entertainment, there’s always values that they can get from it. Values they can apply in their own life.

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In Indonesia, there’s actually many kinds of thater that you can find in different regions. Like for example, there’s a theater of Rama Shinta in Bali island, and A Wayang Theater in Java island. Those are only two examples of many which is very entertaining and loved both by locals and foreign tourists. And int this article, we’ll tell you about the meaning of thater in Indonesia and also some types of Indonesian theater. See the full information in the paragraphs below :


First thing first, we want to explain to you about the theater in Indonesia. The word theater is actually en etimology, means a show that will amaze the audience. The word Theater has a long explanation. A theater is an activity of humans using their own gestures and other movable objects, where dance, song, music are becoming a media to express feeling, taste, and value of arts.

There’s also the other definition of a thater. Theater is a show in front of audience. It can be performed in any way possible, like wayang kulit, wayang golek, srandul, dagelan, lonser, wayang orang, ketoprak, karawita, and the other cultural arts. In a short definition, a theater is actually the same as Drama.

Three Forms of Theater in Indonesia

In Indonesia, Theater has some forms. They are Drama, Sandiwara (Play), and Tonil. For the first one, we’re talking about the first form of them, which is Drama.

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The word Drama came from Greek, which is the word Dran or Dromai which means act and doing activity. Publicly, Drama means a form of theater that using actors who doing dialogues and acts on the stage that completed with artistic values. The core of a drama is a conflict between actors with themself, actors with the others, and conflict between the actors with the environment.

In Indonesia, the meaning of Drama has a slightly different definition. Drama is a story about someone that will be told again on the stage that seen by many people as audience with some medias like dialogues, acts, and also behavior of the actors. The show completed with a naration, and accompanied by songs, dances, and musics.

Sandiwara or a Play

Sandiwara was firstly made during Japanese colonial era back in 40’s. The word Sandiwara came from two main Javanese words, “Sandi” which means secret, blur, and uncertain. The other word is Wara, means news, teaching, or recommendation.

So, Ki Hajar Dewantara once said that Sandiwara means a teaching, advices that given through symbols that can be seen on the stage.

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And then the last form of a thater in Indonesia is Tonil. Tonil is almost the same like Sandiwara. Tonil is the same like it, but there’s a difference in between. This form of thater used during Colonial Era, before Japan invaded Indonesia. There was a famous Tonil group in Indonesia called Dardanella. They not only performed to locals, but also for the colonials.

Types of Theater in Indonesia

Based on some forms of theater that we explained on the paragraphs above, there’s some types of Indonesian theater that you can see in the country. Here’s some of them :

1. Ketoprak

For the first one, we want to included Ketoprak as one of many types of Indonesian theater. Ketoprak is actually a theater form that developed on the area of Yogyakarta, inside the special region of Yogyakarta. Even though developed in Yogyakarta, many say that Ketoprak is actually originated in Solo city.

Back in its early development, the music that used on the show is very simple because they only use their daily work equipments like kendang or lesung, which is the tool of processing rice. But now, because of the technology, people start to use more modern instruments in it. In a Ketoprak show, there’s not only one story, but usually there’s about 2 or 3 different stories in only one show.

2. Wayang Wong

You know wayang right? Wayang is the cultural heritage of Indonesia, which also comes with many forms like Wayang Kulit and Wayang Golek. Both of them are puppets. But this wayang wong, is actually actors that perfoming a story on the stage. They use make ups and clothing, so they can get into their characters, resembling the actual wayang.

Wayang wong was a growing theater, from bacially all provinces in Java island. This Wayang wong is actually known starting from the West Java to the East Java province. Usually the story in Wayang wong is a story from the world of wayang, where there’s some interesting wayang characters like Arjuna, Werkudara, and others.

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3. Mendu

The next types of Indonesian theater is Mendu. Mendu is a traditional theater from Riau province, the eastern side of Indonesia. It was growing from Riau province and also the province located near it like West Kalimantan province. It’s actually a combined show though, from dances, pantun, and other form of cultural arts like pencak silat.

On the first time of the show, there’s some unique traditional dances from Riau to Kalimantan. So, there will be some dances that very interesting to see. After that, there will be some other type of show like dancing, singing, and also of course pencak silat itself. Back in 2014, Mendu was claimed to be intangibel cultural heritage of Riau and Kalimantan area.

4. Lenong

The next one is Lenong. This one is a traditional thater of Jakarta area, the capital city of Indonesia. Even durint this era of modernization, people of Jakarta still love it. That’s why, even now there’s always a Lenong Show that held during some occasions. And people are still liking it, they are even fill the area of Lenong show.

Usually, Lenong show is about comedy, filled with silly act of the actors and also slang that always been used by them. The dialogues in this show is also using the traditional language of Jakarta people, which is Betawi language. Also, like the other types of theater in Indonesia, Lenong also accompanied by some music.

5. Mamanda

If the Mendu theater above came from West Kalimantan, this Mamanda theater came from the area of Southern Kalimantan. It also has some similarities with Lenong theater above. It has a comedy in it, and also the interactions between actors and audience are very active. So, the audience will eventually tell their opinions about the story or the actors.

And it’s very entertaining to see their interactions, especially the most random ones. Also, the actors in here aren’t bound to the script. Thanks to that, they can totally improvise with their characters as much as they like, as long as they still stay focus in the story. Until today, Mamanda still giving a story about a palace, where there’s a King and his underlings.

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6. Longser

And the next theater is Longser. Longser is the traditional theater from West Java province. It originated and firstly grew there. The word Longser has a slightly long meaning. It’s actually the acronim of the words Longser and Sederet. All the acronyms combined together to be one word Longser, which means, anyone who sees it will be amazed.

Like most of the thater types that already mentioned above, Longser is also having a comedy aspects in it. It can bring a whole lot funnier atmosphere, but also bringing life values for the audience. It’s not a fancy show, Longser tend to be a plain and simple, but always meaningful.

7. Ludruk

Beside Longser, there’s another one that also included inside the article about types of Indonesian theater called Ludruk. Ludruk is still becoming a popular activity nowadays. It’s very famous in East Java area. Usually, the Ludruk will be held on a stage,and theme used in it is always about problems in life everyday.

It’s a dynamic show because it doesn’t have  particular principal story. But, beside the random topics, Ludruk can also have a very patriotic theme, especially if the Ludruk held on Independence Day. There’s aspects of drama that you can find in the show. Beside that, there’s also some music and various funny acts that making it more fresh and laughable.

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And these are the other types of Indonesian theater in beloved country Indonesia.

  1. Maknyong
  2. Bakaba
  3. Lenong Denes
  4. Ubrug

So that’s the full information about some types of Indonesian theater that you can see in the country of Indonesia. During your visit in the country, maybe you have a chance to see them. If you want, you can always check the theaters date before visiting Indonesia, so you can see them after your arrival.