Maria Tri Sulistyani (Ria) started her artistic journey in puppet theatre from two bedrooms which she rented and turned into a mini-library. She named the library "Papermoon" where children can come to read and be creative to cultivate their imagination. The library was also her workshop where she then created Papermoon Puppet Theatre.
Her first puppet show was on April 2nd, 2006. She made puppets from simple materials such as blankets and plastic bottles. On May 2007, when Yogyakarta (where she and her workshop is based) was struck by a terrible earthquake, Ria and some volunteer friends entertained the victims with puppetry. They toured around villages destroyed by the earthquake, to keep the smiles of the children whose schools are demolished.
Unlike other puppet plays which are associated with children's stories, Papermoon Puppet takes on stories from our daily lives and relates more to an adult audience. One of its famous plays was "Secangkir Kopi dari Playa" (A Cup of Coffee from Playa) that tells a romantic story within the background of the 1965 tragedy in Indonesia.
The theatre has reached audiences from all over the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Japan, Taiwan, Myanmar and more.
Also, unlike other puppet plays, Papermoon Puppet does not use any dialogue. It only uses gestures wrapped in an imaginative way of storytelling. Magically, the audience can still feel the emotions and drown in its story.
Ria's interest in performing arts began in 1999 when she was involved in Teater Gardanalla. She then founded Papermoon Puppet Theatre in 2006 out of concern on the lack of children’s experimentation artspace. However, the puppetry soon engages an older audience as well. The plays were so successful that they even got to launch an international puppet biennale in 2008 called Pesta Boneka (Puppet Party). The biennale welcomed puppeteers from around the world to Yogyakarta, where they can share their work in a community setting.
Besides performing, Papermoon Puppet also collaborates with many organisations and communities for various projects. One of them was an organisation in Raja Ampat, Papua. The team conducted a workshop for school facilitators in Raja Ampat, where they taught the facilitators to make puppets from garbage and locally sourced materials. The facilitators could then use the puppets for their own shows.
Without a formal background in performing arts, especially puppet theatre, Papermoon Puppet has been an experimental journey for Ria. The Universitas Gadjah Mada graduate and her visual artist husband Iwan Effendi then become the co-artistic director for this puppet theatre for more than a decade. They also work with Anton Fajri, Pambo Priyojati and Beni Sanjaya as the main puppeteers.
Ria believes that everything, including objects, holds life and a story within. Through her theatre, she hopes (quoting from Papermoon itself) to "bring those things to life—through the amazing art form of puppetry, as well as by nurturing the good things around and within us."