In the 1960s the company of Willibrordus Rendra was instrumental in inaugurating a stream of innovative, modernist, and controversial theatre performances that were based to a large extent on Western models. In 1969 he created a series of dramas without any dialog where actors employed their bodies and simple sounds such as "bip bop", "zzzzz" and "rambate rate rata". The journalist poet Goenawan Mohamad dubbed these experimental performances as “mini-word theatre.” During the 1970s, his plays such as "Mastodon" and "The Condors” and “The Struggle of the Naga Tribe” and “The Regional Secretary” were often banned because they openly criticized Suharto’s development programs that often alienated indigenous people and tended to side with multinational corporations.
Rendra performed Shakespeare, Brecht, and the ancient Greek-oriented socially critical pieces and as a keen student of the Cino-Indonesian martial art Silat Bangau Putih/White Crane Silat Persatuan Gerak Badan, , Rendra always looked a lot younger than his age and played Hamlet when he was well into his sixties. On top of this, Rendra translated works of world literature (including Aristophanes, Sophocles and Brecht) into the first Indonesian performances and staged them, solidifying his role as a pioneer and leading spirit in contemporary Indonesian literature. After a period of study at New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts Rendra founded the Bengkel Teater in 1967. He brought his Western experience into the traditional Indonesian theater form to merge them into something profound. His productions were highly innovative, and are an enormous influence on the artistic variety of Indonesian art to this day.
During the repressive New Order era, Rendra was one of the few creative people in this country who had the courage to express dissent. When the novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer was returned from Indonesia’s gulag — the prison island of Buru — he said Rendra was “one man who has the courage to resist the power of Suharto, under his own name. If you cannot respect that, you should learn to.”