Drama Gong is still the most popular theatrical performance in Bali. For the last four decades, it enjoys a great popularity all over the island.
Since early days of its development, Drama Gong has attracted enormous number of audience because of its simplicity in language and story and of the generous sprinkle of jokes and humors.
In the 1960s, a famous dancer and actor, Anak Agung Raka Payadnya from the village of Abianbase, Gianyar, initiated a new form of theatrical performance created by blending several pre-existing theatrical performances such as sendratari, modern theater, and arja accompanied by the gong kebyar orchestra with its dynamic and energetic rhythm. This new form of theatrical performance was named Drama Gong by the Director Kokar (Karawitan Konservatorium), I Gusti Bagus Nyoman Panji.
Unlike classical Balinese theatrical performance which uses unpopular Kawi language – that is unintelligible to most of the people – as a main medium of communication. Drama Gong uses popular everyday Balinese language so all classes of audience can easily comprehends the story.
The stories of Drama Gong are mainly taken from Panji stories. These stories tell about the trials and tribulation of a prince or princess that take place in several ancient Javanese kingdoms such as Koripan, Daha, and Singosari.
The Drama Gong plays are rarely equipped with written scripts; spontaneity and improvisation are the most important part in a play. Only the actor’s entrances, and exits; and the basic direction of the dialogue is regulated.
The Drama Gong actors are dressed in casual, modern Balinese costumes, unlike the classical costume of wayang wong, mask and arja performance. The Drama Gong costumes are varied based on the sex and social status of the character. Woman wears a sarong, a traditional blouse and a sash.
Princes wears gold and fresh flower on her hair. Man wears a sarong, a headdress and a kris. King or prince wears a golden sarong, golden headdress and a golden kris. Clown wears black sarong, a checkered sash and a batik headdress.
The Drama Gong is pure entertainment. Runs for around 5 to 6 hours, the Drama Gong’s dialogue is made up mainly of jokes in both high and low Balinese. The Drama Gong also contains religious and philosophical teachings, in which the never-ending struggle of virtue against evil presented. The Drama Gong also encourages critical thought, as the jokes mainly on the recent social and political issues, human flaws.
The Drama Gong enjoyed its golden era in 1960s up to 1980s, when hundreds of village hall were constructed from the profit of ticket selling of the extremely popular Drama Gong performance. Although in recent years, Drama Gong has waned somewhat in popularity. But it still attracts large number of audiences, particularly performances staged by the more famous troupe.