What a D’Light! (The Hindu, Hyderabad)

by VISHNUPRIYA BHANDARAM (Download PDF)

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D’Lo at The Park’s New Festival (PHOTO: M. SUBHASH)

D’Lo’s performances weave into a narrative of ‘coming out’ stories

Dressed in a checked blue shirt, khaki shorts and a blue rapper cap, D’Lo’s presence is marked by an acute sense of humour coupled with an undertone of a disconcerting personal history. A queer transsexual American from Sri Lanka, D’Lo’s identity is vested in being a performer. “I do theatre, hip-hop, spoken word, stand-up comedy and more, but quintessentially I am a performer,” he says. D’Lo was in town to perform at The Park’s New Festival organised by Prakriti Foundation.

D’Lo grew up in a traditional immigrant family. Did his family come around to his sexuality? D’Lo says that his parents have seen his solo shows, after a point he stopped inviting them. Why? ‘They probably didn’t get it. I know now that they love me and we have a good relationship but their discomfort doesn’t allow me to be fierce with my work in order to make my own community aware of the things I am trying to talk about. I am not trying to cater my material to their liking, so it’s better this way,” he says. The show is made up of D’Lo’s personal story of how he became what he did through a narrative of coming out stories. He laughs and says, “You know everybody thinks, you only have to come out once. You can’t. You have to keep coming out, it never ends.” The show encapsulates the story of how D’Lo navigated the world and delves into his relationship with his family. Has he ever broken down on stage, given the personal nature of his narrative? “No,” he says promptly. “This is theatre. You process through all of that before you take it to the stage. You do all of the breakdowns and get to the stage. I am not trying to have a pity party,” he explains.

D’Lo’s intimate theatre engages comedy. Comedy too, he says is tragedy viewed in time. “Most comedians say that because the funny part is the end. You had to do a lot of work to get to the place where you can joke about it,” he says. The story for a lot of queer people, he says is that they are not just faced with adversity but also with an immense amount of intolerance, “We get doors slammed on our faces, by our family, by the world.” In community with other queer people, he says that sharing such stories is painful, “But when you are in a room with a bunch of people like you, the stuff gets outrageously funny,” he claims. “It’s so bizarre and we are just walking with love and we can’t fathom anyone being shooed away from our life because of gender and sexuality,” he adds. But comedy isn’t about seeing the brighter side, he says. He goes on to mention that there in fact is no brighter side. “There is no brighter side for somebody whose parents have kicked them out of the house and they are left alone: to fend for themselves and without love, or even access to it,” he says. D’Lo sums it up beautifully, “It’s about choosing to see darkness but still being able to cull out humour.”

Interview: D’Lo (Timeout Mumbai)

by Vikram Phukan (download a PDF copy)

As he describes himself, D’Lo is a q​ueer,​ T​amil,​ Sri Lankan­ American, political theatre performer. Currently touring India as part of T​he Park’s New Festival,​ he spoke to Vikram Phukan for a Timeout Mumbai feature. Here is the complete interview.

Let’s talk labels first, and there are several that you seem have to have taken on. Did this involve a process that involved first, a rejection of mainstream notions, before you claimed them back?

Well, I was the first to be born in the States on my appa‘s side. But because it is such a part of my upbringing, being Hindu and Tamil and Lankan, I purposely say that I am all of those things, so that through my hyphenated experience, one can understand that how I’ve lived, how I live, what I choose to create my work around, is not necessarily all that I talk about, but the lens through which I see it. And it extends to how I label myself queer and trans. Queer is a strong lens. I know a lot of heterosexual or cisgender people who look at the world with a queer lens.

What kind of audiences do you perform to? Are you a local lad speaking to his own communities or do you thrive off a sense of alienation?

I tour my theater shows to different venues nationally and internationally. I perform a lot on the university circuit, and many times I get called in very conservative/Republican schools to perform. Those performances are harder, so I’ve figured out a formula. But for the most part, it can be mixed—people of color, or queer audiences, or theatre audiences. I’ve hardly ever performed for a South Asian audience except in NYC, and even there, it is not that often. I don’t thrive off of a sense of alienation. Frankly, everything practically scares me. But I figure I gotta fake it till I make it. I know that my work changes people’s lives. What a thing to know this and hold onto it. I do this for that. For the sense of finally feeling not alienated. For the sense of feeling like I belong. Even if it is only for an hour or so, on certain nights of the month.

Sometimes people use the ‘desi‘ and the ‘queer’ for novelty. How are you able to transcend this? Do you protect this sphere defined by your identity, your turf so to say, or is it all incidental anyway and you’re not bothered by how you’re pigeon-holed?

I haven’t ever used the word ‘desi’ because here in the States, it generally means ‘Indian’. Queer is that ‘all-encompassing’ term that works best for me. To be queer means that you are working on making ‘walking down the street’ an easy thing for everyone. This means not just queer people who look queer, but for the folks who are also differently abled. To me, to be queer means that, you know that people are not able to voice their concerns and stories, so you do everything you can to speak up for them. You understand that money and power lie in the hands of the corrupt few and you try to Robin-Hood it back to the people in subversive ways. And you understand that the personal is always political.

Lastly, being trans is the best way to describe me, by me. I’ve had top surgery, I’m not on hormones. I pass as a male many times, but my voice sounds like Mickey Mouse, so at other times I read as a dyke, even though I’ve never used that word. But I’m ok with that. I figure, as long as you’re not beating me up or yelling at me, I’m ok with however folks take me. But I always say that my preference is to be referred to in male pronouns.

How do you work in bringing some very intimate narratives into such a public arena, and as a comic? How much of it involves a lot of explaining who you are? That must get annoying but i’m sure there are audiences that totally ‘get’ you from the word go.

Comedy is tragedy given time. The stuff that I’ve been through, many people haven’t gone through. And even more importantly, I haven’t gone through even close to what other queer people have had to go through. Queer people, we survive. We try to. We try to make sense of the world and why we can’t seem to fit, when all we got is love for people and a desire to be loved by people. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a part of love? So in regards to comedy, after all the painful writing is done, after you’ve drunk your bottles, after you’ve cleaned yourself up, you re-tell the stories and very often, they are funny. Absurd. Because the intolerance towards queer people is baseless. Queer folk are usually not trying to hurt anyone. So what’s the problem?

And as for the annoying part of explaining myself over and over again… your story is your most powerful tool to change people’s mindframes. Talking, sharing. Powerful tools. So yeah, it does get mad annoying, but then again, I have the privilege to do it. So I try to do it right, and without the heavy feeling of being on repeat.

Are you selective towards stereotypes? I understand you can’t get too politically correct in your work, but because you’re also representing the communities where you come from, South Asian or queer, do you watch how far you take your material in terms of self-lampooning? Basically, how far can you push an Indian accent?

I use accents to speak in the voice of another, but all kinds of accents. 100 percent of the stuff I’ve written about my parents did happen, so I voice them the best I can, in my best Sri Lankan accent (smiles). My storytelling is über personal, so I don’t talk about things I don’t know. And ironically, I don’t know much about the mainstream/white queer scene, so I have no stereotypes to go off of. And if I did, it would probably be the most boring part of my show to perform. IN the theater, I have Sri Lankan characters who are immigrants, and these folks have accents, of course. But the joke isn’t in the accent, the jokes are in the story, how the characters think. I don’t believe that it’s right to make your material based on jokes about immigrants or people of color, or anyone really. I joke about myself mostly. My life. And I make fun of some politicians, but they’re making me the butt of their foolery, so I figure it’s fair. There are ignorant artists out there. I hope after you see my show that you see that I am not one of them.

Yes, looking forward to the show. The urban angst that informs your work, the edginess, how do you think that will play off when you’re in India performing in decidedly bourgeois settings. Indian audiences are also notoriously insular.

(laughs) Well, when I came to the Other Festival in Chennai in 04, I was doing mostly hip-hop back then, with some theatre. So I toned it down, took out the beats, performed it clearly and like poetry. I didn’t want any of the 300 folks sitting there to write off the power of hip hop. Being raised in Hip Hop culture had an equally significant role to how I walked as being raised Tamil Sri Lankan. I know how to make my work palatable not by downplaying my art, but shifting it. The goal is to be heard and loved. I’ve played for many different audiences and the goal stays the same.

I see that people who are snotty, they want to be loved and reflected just as bad as I do. These ‘snotty’ folks are usually less privileged in what they can say than I am. I have the stage, that’s freedom. I take it on as my duty to never isolate. But of course, if there are hecklers, I’ll have to kill them. (smiles)

D’Lo’s show, D’FunQT (pronounced defunct), is filled with his humorous musings, rants and stories of being a queer boy/stud/transgendered person who grew up in a strict immigrant family, trying to make it all work peacefully while radically and bizarrely challenging mindframes in choosing to exist unapologetically.

It will be performed at Mumbai’s St Andrew’s Auditorium on Mon, Sep 10th, 7 PM.

Cherrie Moraga’s New Fire: Sky Goddesses Dance at Brava Theatre

By Lily Janiak Wed., Jan. 25 2012 at 3:00 PM

In the indigenous religion explored in Cherrie Moraga‘s New Fire–To Put Things Right Again, the sky is a female being. “During times of chaos,” says the recorded voice of a narrator, “this female force came down to Earth to put things right again.”

Things are decidedly not right in the world of this co-production by Brava Theater and cihuatl productions, especially for indigenous women of Mexico. Testimonies from both live performers and projected film interviews evoke a shared sense of indigenous female suffering: abuse, rape, poverty, separation from loved ones. But the ever-poetic Moraga, who gained prominence in the 90s with her pioneering plays about LGBT and Chicana identity, turns victimhood into strength. Bruises “rise up like huge mountains of revolt.” Owning indigenous identity is to be basura in the eyes of many, but it also means “we know where we came from.”

Descending to Earth to help right these wrongs, the sky goddesses open the production with truly supernatural force. As they dance one by one onto center stage, they keep their faces down, pointing the colorful designs on the tops of their straw hats directly at the audience. Eventually, you realize that those designs are eyes — all-seeing eyes from which the beings derive their power. Underscoring their dance is the mesmerizing soundscape of designer D’Lo. His layered sounds of breath, water, birds, rattling and the didgeridoo suggest a profusion of nature’s elements rising in concert to welcome the spirits.

New Fire contains some narrative elements, mostly centered on Vero (Dena Martinez) and El Caminante (Robert Owens-Greygrass), who both interacts with her and narrates her terrible past. But the production is more a collective ritual than a traditional drama, one in which the audience helps Vero reckon with her history and get reborn.

Moraga, who also directs, draws on the expertise and artistry of many practitioners of indigenous ritual, giving the piece a collaborative feel. Charlene O’Rourke’s singing and chanting, with Stephen Luis Cervantes and Jorge Molina on the water drums and other instruments, practically transports you to the communal fire. And conceptual artist Celia Herrera Rodriguez’s set vividly evokes the proximity of spiritual forces as well as a vital sense of community.

All of these artists sit onstage throughout the production, more as observers than performers, endowing the proceedings with their gravitas, while also inviting the audience to participate.

As with much of Moraga’s work, New Fire will resonate most with those who might not see their experience reflected elsewhere on the stage. Others will find its contemplative pace novel but nonetheless accessible. New Fire demands presence and slowness. It’s jarring at first, but Vero’s journey becomes that much more rewarding because you feel as though you are part of it. As Vero herself says, “The ceremonial way of life can be challenging,” but with it, “you can live free.”

New Fire continues through Jan. 29 at the Brava Theater, 2781 24th St. (at York St.), S.F. Admission is $10 – $30; 647-2822 or www.brava.org.

Personalizing the Politics: An Interview with D’Lo

At USC’s “State of the Word: Asian American Spoken-Word Artists,” D’Lo performed monologues and stand-up about growing up Sri Lankan in Lancaster, CA and slowly being accepted as transgender by his parents.

by Ada Tseng

Date Published: 04/04/2011


D’Lo. Photos by Tani Ikeda

On April 2, D’Lo joined Bao Phi and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai at the University of Southern California for a workshop and performance titled “State of the Word: Asian American Spoken-Word Artists.” Performing a combination of stand-up, theater, and spoken word, D’Lo took a relaxed and comical tone as he entertained the audience with stories about his experience growing up Sri Lankan in the US, the difficulties of meeting women on MySpace, and the complications with being addressed as male or female when one is transgender.

Later, the tone became more serious. In one piece, the lights were turned down low as D’Lo addressed the audience in profile and talked about how a young woman walking home alone at night might be afraid of D’Lo, because of how he looks. However, he wants to give her peace of mind and the feeling of safety, because he too understands the fear of being attacked by men.

In another piece, D’Lo embodies the character of his mother Amma, wearing traditional Sri Lankan clothing. Amma talks to the audience about having a daughter who is transgender, an extra challenge that compounds the difficulties she already faces being an immigrant in a foreign country. The monologue addresses the additional pain she feels from “losing” D’Lo as a daughter, when she has already lost another daughter in 1991 to a plane accident. The performance concludes: “D’Lo may not be my daughter anymore, but she is my child. I must love her.”

According to his bio, D’Lo is a “queer Tamil Sri L.A.nkan-American, political theatre artist/writer, director, comedian and music producer.” D’Lo began his career doing spoken word and poetry that was heavily influenced by hip-hop. Comedy entered D’Lo’s work by accident, through the stories he would tell onstage between his poems and later, through his work as an MC. After performing in plays by Susanna Cook in New York, D’Lo was inspired to write monologues for theater. He enjoys making people laugh, while addressing serious personal and political topics.

APA catches the very busy D’Lo on March 30, 2011 for a phone interview a few days before the “State of the Word” performance. In the middle of shooting a documentary about his life, D’Lo had just come home from interviewing his parents.

APA: How did this documentary come about?

D’Lo: Around last year, a graduate student at SFSU who had made several other films approached me about making a documentary about my life. My parents had trouble accepting my queerness and my trans, and I just think this is an important story, even if we’re still in the process [of acceptance]. So many young people think that it’s so hard to survive this life as a queer person, and I think anything we can do as older queer people to talk about how to navigate this world is important.

APA: Much of your stage work is humorous. When did you start putting characters [like Amma and Gandhi] into your shows?

D’Lo: I wanted to tell stories from different points of view. Around 2002, when I was in New York, I was working with different artists in theater, and that was when I started getting more heavily into my sets. I started working with this artist named Susanna Cook, and I loved being part of her plays. They were very interesting, very politically on-point, sarcastic, and just amazing. That was when I moved away from poetry, started doing monologues, and eventually began to understand theater and to train more properly in playwrighting.

APA: How has your work changed over the years?

D’Lo: The political, hard-core social themes in my work have always been there. Earlier in my career, I started with telling stories about the big picture — world politics, US politics — but it was always rooted in a story. Then I started writing more keenly on gender and sexual orientation, mostly because I didn’t want to just talk about politics without personalizing it. When I started doing that, I finally found what I really wanted to do: being able to joke and laugh with the crowd, experiment with how to nail a joke or kill a monologue. You really feel the power when you’re doing that.

APA: How does your show differ when you’re doing theater vs. when you’re on the college circuit?

D’Lo: It’s different when you’re commissioned to do your work. The stakes are higher. You’re expected to raise your bar. But each has his own set of expectations. If you don’t connect with the college crowd, then what’s the point of you going there, you know? In theater crowds, sometimes [performers are] not supposed to wow the crowd. You’re just supposed to make them listen. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but the expectation of me jiving with the crowd isn’t there in the same way.

There’s a whole bunch of different energies. If I’m doing something at a bar, I have to hit it. If I can’t make the white, straight boy think for a second, even if it’s through his laughter, then I haven’t done my job. If I’m going to a theater, I have to engage the older white people in the crowd. I’m not saying that I write for white people, I’m saying I write for a lot of different types of people, and I hope that white people can also understand. So I have my own set of expectations.

APA: What are the differences between your onscreen persona and your offscreen persona?

D’Lo: Most of my life is spent working, so I don’t get to go out much. I used to when I was younger, but now, I just have to make sure I’m always on the ball when my creativity is concerned.

APA: Are you familiar with the work of the other two artists that are performing at “State of the Word: Asian American Spoken-Word Artists” at USC?

D’Lo: Of course! I’ve shared the stage with both of them. Bao [Phi] has asked me to come out to perform at The Loft in Minneapolis, where he runs a spoken-word series. Kelly [Zen-Yie Tsai] and I have done a lot more stuff that is related to feminism and Asian American theater.

APA: Do you find that the community is small?

D’Lo: No, the community is large! On these college campuses, I feel like the Asian American population is huge. I actually do more East Asian things than I do South Asian things. And at South Asian shows, there tends to be a smaller amount of people in the audience.

APA: Why do you think that is?

D’Lo: The greater the population, the more diversity you will have. There’s a shorter history of South Asians in America. Whereas, there’s a strong history of Chinese workers in America, and there’s a strong war history with Japan. So with East Asians, they might have grandparents who worked on the railroads, grandparents who were in internment camps, and there’s a politicization happening. But as large an amount of who happen to be interested in the show, there’s an even larger amount of people who don’t give a shit.

APA: What else are you currently working on?
D’Lo: I’m directing a show now with spoken word artist Bobby Gordon, which tackles the issue of masculinity. I’m providing artist development, because he moving from spoken word to theater, so this is something he’s never done before. He’s a straight Jewish guy, and he’s the son of a porn star. I strongly believe that as queer artist, it’s important to tackle a lot of the larger issues that society is facing, including masculinity, violence, and [the issue of] young men going through proper rights of passage. [The show] is an extension of the queer arts work I’m doing in the world. I mean, we have a lot of spineless South Asian men because they don’t know how to really be men. [This issue] is important to all communities.

Another play I’m working is called Boys That Pray, and it’s in development at the Brava Theater in SF.

At college campuses, D’Lo tours a show called D’FaQTo Life. Other shows he tours includes Ramble-Ations: A One D’Lo Show, another solo theater show Minor D’Tales, and a full stand-up storytelling show D’FunQT. D’Lo’s second play, Boys That Pray, will have its staged reading premiere at the Brava Theater in San Francisco on June 2011. For more information, go to D’Lo’s official website here.

Queer Sri Lankan journey

by Richard Dodds

Published 03/25/2010

D’Lo in a scene from the autobiographical Ramble-Ations at Brava. Photo: Charlie Villyard

There was a recent movie titled It’s Complicated, but I’m sure the complications facing its glossy characters are nothing compared to what the performer known as D’Lo faces everyday. In the exquisite solo show Ramble-Ations at Brava Theatre Center’s intimate second space, the Los Angeles performer takes us on a cultural and gender journey that has never been explored in quite this way.

By way of introduction, D’Lo comes from a Sri Lankan family, a little-understood heritage complicated by the fact that they are part of the Tamil minority defeated recently in a civil war. The family’s cultural background and Hindu faith aren’t exactly in sync with D’Lo’s “I’m gay” announcement, a coming-out that is complicated when, as relatives are getting used to having a lesbian in the family, she further declares that she’s transgendered and identifies as a man.

Directed by Adelina Anthony, Ramble-Ations is much more than a “I’m here, I’m queer, I’m transgendered” manifesto, as D’Lo bravely dives into personal conflictions, humorously (and convincingly) dons female drag to play several characters, and even gives us a slide-show documentation of a her/his childhood evolution from short-haired tomboy to a long-haired feminization under Southern Californian peer pressure to the bouncing, boyish, hip hop-styled persona that first greets us.

D’Lo projects an assurance tempered with deprecation, bemoaning a “Mickey Mouse voice” that belies desires for a masculine image, or describing Sri Lanka as a little nation of alcoholics created from a fart from India’s ass. He plays his own mother in full ethnic attire, who recalls D’Lo’s efforts to turn a childhood Barbie into a Ken doll, and wonders why her daughter can’t at least look like such long-haired lesbians as Rosie O’Donnell and Martina Navratilova.

D’Lo dons a wig and a dress to portray a Valley Girl cousin who speaks at a memorial service for a friend who died in the 2004 tsunami that wiped out 35,000 Sri Lankans, but did nothing to unite the ethnically torn country. A scene in which D’Lo plays a tottering grandfather with a Gandhi fixation, but who curses like a sailor, highlights just what a nimble physical comedian he can be.

The 60-minute show never strays far from a laugh, but the reality of a simmering racial, gender, and cultural diaspora is also ready to emerge at any moment. That D’Lo does not profess to have yet sorted out all the complications turns out to be a big strength of Ramble-Ations .

Ramble-Ations
will run at Brava Theatre Center through April 3. Tickets are $15-$25. Call 647-2822 or go to www.brava.org.

D’Lo’s Ramble-Ations IS D’Lovely, D’Lightful!

By Mike Ward
Published: March 25, 2010

Solo performer D’Lo in Ramble-Ations.

“Your ticket allows you to be an honorary Sri Lankan, gay, vegetarian. Now you can laugh at the pain!” And thus begins one of the most remarkable one-man shows to hit the Bay Area in ages. Ramble-ations: A One D’Lo Show, on Brava’s second stage, is performed by gay, vegetarian, transgendered, hip-hop artist D’Lo, and what a sublime, transcontinental journey of identity, culture and family it is. Rarely will you find an artist with such polymorphous skill at storytelling and performance, one who understands the gentle, quiet rhythms of masterfully drawing a moment out and bringing it back in without being overly self-indulgent. And this must-see show ends way too soon.

D’Lo takes us from Sri Lanka to Sri Lancaster, California, with stops along the way to inhabit the skins of his mother (or, his “Amma”); his sister’s best friend (a totally bitchin’ privileged self-absorbed Sri Lankan Barbie, whose mission in life is to show Sri Lankan women they can be almost nearly as gorgeous as she… well, not really, but they can try!); a grandfather who has delusions of being Gandhi with a penchant for drink; and a transgendered janitor in NYC who loves to hang out in the club.

But it is how D’Lo makes the connections of these characters, and the transformations are truly stunning. He blurs gender and age with the swathing of a red fabric and the placing of a gorgeous, long wig, suddenly becoming his mother. “I should have known when you preferred the G.I. Joe doll and the Tonka Trucks,” she muses in hindsight. But at that time her daughter — a then-female D’Lo — wasn’t gay. “I have seen the gays on television, and that is not my daughter. I have seen Ellen DeGeneres. And Rosie O’Donnell. And Martina Na… Martina Navra… Martina Navrahapatsumi,” as the mother gently struggles with what lies ahead for her daughter. And one admonishment stands out, “We didn’t leave a war-torn country for you to come her and get killed,” which fully acknowledges that a centuries-old civil war in a third-world nation was less of a risk than living gay in the United States.

This deeply-personal, yet Universal, story has more twists and turns than a tsunami. But D’Lo’s humor, pathos, and d’lightful d’meanor keep the audience engaged at all times, whether actively telling the story in real-time, or in one of the many video and slide montages that allow the narrative to continually move in a gentle yet-energized directive. This 90-minute travelogue of the psyche and soul is a voyage that audiences will walk away from moved and enlightened.

There are two minor drawbacks. The piece could be tightened with a more steady dramaturgical hand (at least 10 minutes could be deleted without impacting the powerful and intricately-woven pieces). And the uncomfortable chairs and temperature of the theatre made this too apparent. But don’t let this stop you. Instead, bring a small cushion and dress in layers.

Ramble-Ations closes soon! Male, female, male-to-female, female-to-male, ages old/middle/young, those straight, gay, bi, or skin-tone any of the colors of Benetton… this story is for you. Don’t miss out on the power that lies within each of us —self-love — as challenged by the world and one’s self.

Ramble-Ations continues until April 3 at Brava Theatre Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco. Tickets call (415) 647-2822 or at brava.org.