Theater performances in Indonesia marking family and community events have long been seen to play a socially integrative role – bringing neighbourhood residents together, strengthening community ties and celebrating shared identity. Various types of more “constructed” local performance have built upon and extended that model. Community concerts or malam kesenian staged by village and kampung communities to mark Indonesian Independence Day, add an active participatory dimension, in that the performers are local people and the expenses of the event born collectively by the community. The village theatre activities organised by community development groups beginning in the late 1980s used theatre as a medium of political education and community mobilisation.

To what extent is local neighbourhood theater able to play this kind of socially integrative role today, after the social fragmentation of recent years and the enormous impact on entertainment tastes of globalised mass media? When such events are staged, how are they experienced and interpreted by different social groups? What is the impact of the contemporary political climate, with its emphasis on democracy and participation, on the organisation and format of performances? How are global media influences integrated into performances – what understandings of “local cultural identity” are suggested?

These are some of the questions to be explored through case studies of local performances observed in Yogya and Solo in 2003-2004, mostly in the context of tujuhbelasan, Independence Day.