Papermoon Puppet in Yogyakarta: Maria Tri Sulistyani & Irwan Effendi

Photography by Papermoon Puppet & Kerol Izwan.
My journey in Yogyakarta to meet the Papermoon Puppet team was unlike what I thought it would be, yet no less special. After travelling through a road sandwiched by rubber trees and wild bushes, I arrived in a quaint little village, where the Papermoon theatre-studio was hidden. The building was located next to an old cemetery. It was almost like Halloween had untimely arrived.
The two-storey building was decorated in vivid colours, with a soft touch of modernism. Homemade pallet chairs were scattered among turquoise pillars and vibrant tiles. Wires and spotlights hung from the ceiling, giving the space an industrial aesthetic. On the wall were the main storytellers, the puppets — from palm-sized to life-sized  — arranged nicely inside a cupboard with glass doors. Some were even bigger than me!
Maria Tri Sulistyani (Ria) and Iwan Effendi (Iwan) started their puppetry journey with Papermoon in their home city, Yogyakarta. It grew to become a sensational Indonesian contemporary art. Their chemistry shone through over 20 performances around the globe — in Japan, Australia, United States and the Netherlands, in various shows like Puno - Letter to The Sky, UD Sari Rosok - A Day in The Island and Secangkir Kopi Dari Playa (A Cup of Coffee From Playa).
Between our conversation and tea time, I couldn’t stop secretly peeking out the window, looking at the cemetery. 
Tell our readers about yourself.
Iwan Effendi (IE): [I’m a] visual artist [and I was] trained as a painter, mostly working with drawings. I was born in Yogyakarta, loved drawing since I was a kid, always wanted to be busy in [the] creative field since then.
Ria (R): I was born in Jakarta, but moved to Yogyakarta during my degree. Then I decided to move there for good. I graduated with [a degree in] Social Politics Science, Communication Studies; I never formally learnt art. Before I founded Papermoon, I joined a theatre company as an actor for four years, worked as a manager and a designer at a pottery studio for two years, then a librarian at a kindergarten, before deciding to do my own thing.
How did the idea for Papermoon Puppet come about? What’s the story behind it?
IE: Ria [was the one who] started it. As a good boyfriend (then), I had shown my support. When we got married, I got fully involved in Papermoon. Our friends said that we’re the “perfect duo” — we’re working hard on that.
R: I founded Papermoon with a friend in 2006, but the friend exited Papermoon in 2010. [Originally] Papermoon was an art studio for children. When I proposed Iwan to be the “father” of Papermoon and he agreed, we decided to make it into something we REALLY LOVE — making art and sharing it with people, becoming artists. That’s how Papermoon became a “puppet theatre”.
Many people said to me it would be hard to work with your partner — especially an artist — it would be impossible, especially when it comes to ego. To some, it won’t work, but for me, it’s the reason why I married Iwan. He understands the way I think, the way I work, and I understand him. I understand his struggles, his passion. The biggest reason why we became partners was because we had wanted to build something together.
How does your creative process at Papermoon look like? In creating the puppets, narrating the stories for each character, setting up the ambience, mood, etc. 
R & IE: Usually, Iwan and I would brainstorm the ideas, stories, techniques, and share references during our morning coffee or at bedtime. Then, we’d share it with three other members of Papermoon — Anton Fajri, Beni Sanjaya and Pambo Priyojati. As soon as we finalised the ideas, I would start writing the stories and share them with the team.
The puppets and sets are in the hands of Iwan, Anton, Beni, and Pambo. Iwan would make some sketches; sometimes, I’d come up with some images during the brainstorming. Anton would do the mock-up of the puppets and sets, and then Iwan would make the mold of the puppets’ faces. We would usually start the rehearsal even before the puppets are finished. That’s when we further develop the scenes and stories.
Since our puppetry is silent, the puppets’ gestures are the main language of the performance. The puppets have their own ways in delivering stories. I am the director of the show, but the puppets show me what they could do with the stories. I found that this is the big difference between directing actors and making a puppet play. [With puppets], it’s not forced. The puppets would shape the performance, while the puppeteers manipulate the objects. The music then creates the atmosphere and weaves everything together.
This interview appeared in Malaysia & Indonesia Issue. To continue reading, you can buy print or digital.
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