Gender Euphoria, Episode 8: QTPOC Comedy: Connecting, Communing, Creating Compassion
Nicolas Shannon Savard: Hello, and welcome to Gender Euphoria, the podcast. I’m your host, Nicolas Shannon Savard. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. In today’s episode, I’m talking with D’Lo about the path that his career has taken from spoken-word poet activist to standup comedian to theatrical solo performer. To briefly introduce him, D’Lo is a queer, transgender Tamil-Sri Lankan-American actor, writer, comic.
His work ranges solo theatre and standup, TV, film, plays, essays, and poetry. His acting credits include Looking, Transparent, Sense8, Mr. Robot. He also plays the role of Gio in an upcoming feature film, Death and Bowling, and is currently in post-production for a buddy comedy short film he wrote, featuring D’Lo and Shakina Nayfack, called Ro And Sharell. His solo shows, Ramble-ations, D’FunQT, D’FaQTo Life, and To T or Not to T have toured theatres and festivals nationally, as well as the college and university circuit. He is currently working on his latest solo called Queer Noise with support from CTG’s library series and the LA LGBT Center.
In 2020, he started QORE, a queer South-Asian comedic artists collective that was created in response to rising ideology of intolerance in both Modi’s India and Trump’s America. QORE currently hosts space in LA for South Asian artists for Black Lives. He facilitates writing for performance workshops and created the “Coming Out, Coming Home” writing workshop series for South Asian and immigrant LGBTQ organizations across the nation, which provide a transformative space for workshop participants to write through their personal narratives and share their truths through a public reading. For more information about the multifaceted artistic and activist work that do D’Lo does, you can check out his website linked in the transcript on howlround.com.
Our conversation started with D’Lo’s path into the theatre and solo performance and standup comedy and branched into his creative process for both. We end with a discussion of how he understands storytelling as an offering to his audience; an offering of an opportunity to laugh together, to question and challenge power structures, to release pressure, to bring more compassion into the world, to create intentional space for QTBIPOC community. I really enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you will too.
Rebecca Kling: Gender euphoria is…
Dillon Yruegas: bliss.
Siri Gurudev: Freedom to experience—
Dillon: Yeah, bliss.
Siri: masculinity, femininity, and everything in between—
Azure D. Osborne-Lee: Getting to show up—
Siri: without any other thought than my own pleasure.
Azure: as my full self...
Rebecca: Gender euphoria is opening the door to your body and being home.
Dillon: Mmm. Unabashed bliss.
Joshua Bastian Cole: You can feel it. You can feel the relief.
Azure: Feel safe.
Cole: And the sense of validation—
Cole: —or actualization.
Azure: Or sometimes it means
Rebecca: being confident in who you are.
Azure: But, also, to see yourself reflected back.
Rebecca: Or maybe not but being excited to find out.
Nicolas Shannon Savard: Welcome back to Gender Euphoria, the podcast. My guest today is actor, writer, comedian on the stage and the screen D’Lo. We will be chatting about queer comedy today. We’ll get into what you’ve noticed in terms of change and trends throughout your career and some deeper questions about queerness and gender and humor. But first, could you tell us a little bit about how you made your way into solo performance in the theatre and some of your more recent work in film? Because if I’m remembering correctly, you didn’t necessarily start off on the kind of traditional actor training path.
D’Lo: Mmhmm. Yeah.
Nicolas: How did you get here?
D’Lo: How did I get here? So I was raised in Lancaster, California, which is a hick town outside of Los Angeles. But I always talk about that being the backdrop to how I came into performance. Because not only does the city have that legacy of being the town where the KKK established its first West Coast church, it also was where my Tamil-Sri Lankan community started growing out of nowhere, right? And there’s a lot of things that factored into that, but that’s a long, long story. So—
Nicolas: A lot of combination.
D’Lo: Yes. And so, what ended up happening was our community was always like “Keep your head down low; don’t make any waves. You’re not liked here. We just have to do what we need to do as immigrants to fly under the radar. And that will help us be successful,” a.k.a financial success. My parents came to this country pre-war because there was a civil war in Sri Lanka. And they kind of, especially when my father politicized me in this way. He was like, “We’re not accepted over there. We’re not accepted here. Just do what you need to do. There’s more opportunities here.”
And he came as a doctor. So, he was like, “Look, this road was already fucking hard. Just do what you need to do.” So was a young queer kid, because I knew I was super queer from the jump, I felt it on multiple levels. This sort of, “What is happening here? Why do people think this way? Why do I feel like I’m wrong even though I’m a good person?” A whole bunch of things. And then at around 11, when puberty was happening to me, I was like so sad and terrified about what changes I would have to do as a young masculine person in order to feminize myself. And at that same time, thankfully—and I always say—an angel came to me by way of a Yo! MTV Raps video because I saw Queen Latifah. And Queen to me was of course the illest MC. Super feminist. She was the package deal for me. My first feminist teacher by way of her music, and I started writing rhyme.
And it wasn’t just Queen. It was Public Enemy. It was X Clan. It was MC Lyte. Smooth. Some of the dance groups too. Just like Kid ‘N Play and Salt-N-Pepa and people like that. But I was very much drawn to the politicized rappers and MCs that were very vocal about what was happening in their communities, or what was happening around gender or whatever. And I looked at Queen and I was like, “Oh yeah, maybe if I can’t get my prayers to be answered to be a boy, I could be Queen Latifah.” And also, in my young immigrant head I was like, “Okay, well she’s an immigrant. I’m an immigrant.” I didn’t understand that Black folks were going back to their roots, you know what I’m saying, by reclaiming names, or reaming themselves and donning African gear, et cetera, et cetera.
So that was my connection. And so I felt like hip hop was mine. I was writing. And then, by the time I got to college, I was writing with different groups and doing a lot of social justice work and activism and stuff like that. And then that kind of became a thing. And I started getting paid at a young age to perform. So, when I came out, I moved to New York, and New York was what kind of shifted everything into solo-based performance and theatre, because I was doing theatre in New York. Through WOW and through different folks, queer feminist theatremakers, comedians.
Nicolas: Quick aside, the theatre D’Lo is referencing here is the WOW Café. It started as a women’s theatre festival in New York’s east village in 1980 and still serves as the country’s oldest, continuously operating performance collective for theatre by, for, and about women and trans folks. Wow has been a major touchstone of feminist queer and trans theatre in the US. You can read about the collective’s early history in Jill Dolan, Holly Hughes, and Carmelita Tropicana’s collection Memories of The Revolution: The First 10 Years of The WOW Café Theater. And their more recent work on wowcafe.org.
D’Lo: Comedians. Susana Cook is a big, big marker in my life and my career trajectory. And then because I was still performing on the college-university circuit doing poetry and rhyme, I started incorporating standup in between the pieces. And so while that was going on, I had my own performances. I was honing what that looked like and then incorporating bits of theatre into those performances as well as I was experimenting more, as I was learning more. But yes, I think I mentioned before when we had talked that there were no classes for actors who were queer or gender nonconforming, non-binary as we say now, or trans for sure. And my way of doing the work was being a part of this queer theatre scene. But also knowing, I knew I was a really good performer, and I knew I was a semi-good actor. And I knew what I wanted to do with my body in regards to character work and all of that. So that’s kind of how everything sort of expanded. Long story, but that’s it.
Nicolas: Very cool.
D’Lo: Oh, and you asked about how it transitioned into TV and film.
D’Lo: In 2013, even though I had been in some films before, like a couple of short films, when I was in New York probably the third time around, my partner then was in New York, and we decided to move to Cali. Because I was like, “I don’t want to be on the road as much.” I was on the road for altogether, almost two decades. Almost, yeah. And I was just tired. And I was like, “Can I get some financial stability doing this industry game?” And that year that I came, I booked Looking, and the following year was Transparent and Sense8, and some other bigger films. Not big films, they were like larger projects.
D’Lo: They were still indie. And so that’s kind of what made me feel like, okay, this is another lane that I can pursue and explore. But it’s a game to me, still. You know what I’m saying?
Nicolas: Yeah, uh-huh.
D’Lo: My love is in the live performance. But I play the game, so make some coin. Because—
Nicolas: Do what you gotta do.
D’Lo: You know that live performance doesn’t pay.
Nicolas: Oh, unfortunate.
Nicolas: So, I’m wondering a little bit, what drew you into comedy and stand up and incorporating that in between your more—it sounds like—poetry-based work?
D’Lo: I think that because I was so young when I knew the power of comedy. Because as a queer kid I knew I would get sniffed out. And so, if I was just the weirdo, then everything about me, as a quote-unquote “tomboy” or as a young kid who was assigned female at birth, but was always read as a male, a young male, that I knew that was the only way I could deflect. It worked. So just being the weirdo, the clown, not necessarily only... In middle school, I was definitely the class clown, but there were a couple of us in there.
But I think that when I went through puberty, I lost some of that. But with my friends outside of school, I was definitely always the weirdo. I knew the power of a good punchline, and I knew the power of a good story and being silly and goofy. So, when I was younger, sorry, when I was out of college and I was performing, I knew that something was missing from my performances. People were reading me as being too serious. I was tired of it. I knew that that was where a lot of my freedom was, you know, is being funny and silly.
So, incorporating the standup bits in between the poems was the best thing I could have done. Because then those bits started growing and growing, and they were stories with many punchlines and sometimes with bigger punchlines at the end. But they were all very comedic stories about my family, about being raised in Lancaster, about being queer, about coming out. And so those were more personal and less about larger issues in the world, which were what my poems were about. So, that’s kind of how I started. I didn’t take a comedy class or anything like that. I just would love to tell stories. They were never scripted before. I’ve realized now scripting out everything is the best thing that I could do for my practice, but back then, it was just freely telling stories. And then I remember for one college gig, I got called to do standup only, which was very weird, because I had not been doing... I had never said that I was a standup, but I took the gig.
Nicolas: So, you just got thrown into it.
D’Lo: I got thrown into it, and I took the gig. And I had emceed a lot of events on college campuses, but this was definitely me getting thrown in, as you said. That’s how it all started. And then I continued when I came back to LA in 2013. Meaning, I was doing more of the clubs and not comedy, comedy clubs, though I have done those too, but there’s things called alt rooms. Where it wasn’t just a bar crowd of randos. It was a produced show where it was around either an issue or a theme or an identity or et cetera. And so doing that in LA is what punched up my game, I guess
Nicolas: In those produced shows or things that are organized by the bar, by community groups that you get invited to, or those things that you’re seeking out on your own?
D’Lo: Exactly. So, when I came to LA, I had my good friend, Jenny Yang, who’s a sister in comedy crime. She had started something called Dis/orient/ed Comedy with Yola Lu and Atsuko Okatsuka. She was like, “Sell, do you want to come and do this show?” And she’s like, “I know this is for Asian American female comics, but it’s for pretty much anybody who’s not a cis white male. This is the community that we’re trying to grow.” And so, I was part of it, Dis/orient/ed. And so then I came on as a producer after that, and then we were doing shows for years. And then we dismantled in 2015, ‘16, not in a weird or a whack way, but just people were doing their own thing.
Nicolas: People just moved on.
D’Lo: Yeah. And so, after that, I was just doing only produced shows. I wasn’t really out there getting on people’s shows and essentially working out new material. I was essentially just doing the same material or really polished up, polished material, and then throw in some new things so that I could work on them. But those were for Asian American things or South Asian American things or larger issues, whether it's for Black lives or Asian lives or queer things.
Though the queer shows only started happening later, later, but that’s how I continued. And those spaces are everywhere. Last thing I did, I think it was 2019, prior to the pandemic. I did Belinda Carroll’s Queer Comedy Festival in Portland. Doing things like that is always a blessing because you get to meet other queer comics and whatnot. But like I said, the queer stuff started happening later. I say later, like pre-pandemic and now things are happening all over the place of course. But you can definitely see the changes that were happening, in regards to how people were getting to do time.
Nicolas: You have some full-length, or longer anyway, solo shows that you’ve produced. Are those kind of a similar blend of poetry, comedic storytelling? Are they something different? How did those come about?
D’Lo: So, my first solo show I wrote in 2006. But it wasn’t really done well, and then we just kept honing it. And in 2007, I got the NPN, the National Performance Network grant. It was a creation fund. So two theatres, UMass Amherst and Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, co-presented that piece. So, the creation part of it was done in UMass Amherst that year, 2007, and then we took it to New York’s Asian American Theater Festival. That was my first solo. And what I was doing was I was creating another solo show that was tourable on the college-university circuit, using aspects in that first solo shows. That was called D’FaQTo Life. And both shows toured for four, five years. I was still creating other things, but in 2012 is when I started writing my second show, which was D’FunQT. And then, that was initially just standup comedic storytelling.
But then when I took it to LA in 2015, we carved out a very solid theatrical narrative for it. And then that show ended up getting a lot of good reviews and responses, et cetera, et cetera. I did the same thing again. I took my show to New York. That’s what I did with D’FunQT as well and Ramble-ations. Took it to New York first, because New York is the best community to show for versus LA, I feel, even though I’m from LA. So I did To T or Not to T at Dixon [Place] again, and then I took it to LA, the LGBT Center, the Davidson Theatre. And that run was in 2019. Those shows have strong narrative arts, even if they’re done on the college-university circuit, and they’re not the same as the ones that are on theatre, they still have really strong threads.
I loved doing those shows. I think I had mentioned that To T or Not to T is getting a remount at the Kirk Douglas next year, which I’m very excited about. I’m working on my third piece called Queer Noise, which is about… It’s about a bunch of different things. But essentially, it’s about what do queer and trans people still have to do in order to just walk their path and walk their lives without all the noise that is coming at them, especially as QTBIPOC.
I know your question is, “Okay, you’ve done solo shows. What is that? What are those like?” They’re very different than the comedy. There’s aspects of the comedy that will come in, like I’ll do a little warm-up sometimes. But these are more… I’m trying to take people on a journey. Whereas, I think with standup, the goal is to make people laugh and think, yes, in no particular order. But it’s more about the craft of telling a good joke and making people laugh. Whereas with the solo work, it’s about making people feel. I think that’s the big difference. And they’re going to laugh and they’re going to cry and they’re going to do all of that stuff. But it’s not like I’m just trying to make people laugh, which sometimes is uncomfortable.
Nicolas: I have thought about creative process a little bit, in terms of what that ends up looking like for standup versus solo shows with those comedic elements. Whereas standup, it seems like, is a lot more in process as you’re performing it and getting feedback from the audience. Are there elements of that in crafting your solo shows? Or is that mostly production is done behind the scenes and then there’s the audience interaction? Is there any overlap there for you?
D’Lo: For a lot of the shows, the solo based shows, I will come with a script about 24, 25, maybe 29 pages. And then my director, Adelina Anthony—actually for D’FunQT, it was Ken Sawyer, but basically we’re just whittling and expanding for an arc. And that process will be a month, but it’ll be every day or every other day type of thing, getting the script to something that it feels like, “Okay, this is strong.” And then it’s about the director’s eyes on what can come in to support this text. It’s sometimes lights, but it’s more often, “What are we doing prop wise? How are we making these funny bits so fucking hilarious and outlandish? And how are we making these other very deep moments very heartfelt and you’re trying to reach people’s hearts?”
Anyway, so with Adelina and Ken, the whole process is like…it’s like a two-person collaborative process, you know what I’m saying? And then these elements with the larger design team come together, but they’re kind of being told what to do from two brains first. And then some people are like, “Hey, this is what I thought would be really cool.” And then the designers will come in with the ideas, et cetera, et cetera. But it generally starts off with two brains, the production aspect of it, in support of the text. With standup, it is completely different. I might write the same way; I might write really long… I might write the joke really long, and then I sit there and whittle it down to make sure that I am telling the story in the least amount of words, the best amount of detail, and having a really solid punchline. If I can’t get a solid punchline, make sure that I have all the punchlines in there, that I have a really good button. It is different because of the way that it looks and the impact of what you’re doing or what you’re going for, but to me, the process is still the same. It still starts off with me writing long or writing big. I would even say that I am, in some way, shape or form, going for a smaller narrative arc when I went doing stages, doing 10, 15-minute sets or whatever. That’s what I would say.
Nicolas: You talked a little bit about impact in your description of those two different processes. I am wondering if you could expand on kind of that idea of what kind of impact you are hoping to have on your audiences that you’re performing for? What kind of, I guess, feedback that you’ve got in terms of what kind of impact that your stories have across different spaces?
D’Lo: I would say that the feedback I’ve gotten from the solo shows have always been sort of like... I always talk about this. There’s queer and trans, BIPOC folks that come to the shows and Cherríe Moraga, a brilliant feminist and scholar and playwright, always talked about make your piece as detailed as possible. Don’t skimp on the details, even when it’s hard to dig in because that’s what makes your story so universal. As theatremakers, we know this. As storytellers, we know this, but that’s always in my head is that I am trying to make my audiences feel.
Some artists are like, “Audience doesn’t matter. I hear that all the time. Audience doesn't matter. It’s about how I want to express.” I’m like, “I don't know about that. Audience is like gods to me.” You know what I’m saying? I want to do right by my audiences, by my fans. Whoever paid money to come up in there, I want to do right by them. I’m not saying that if somebody doesn’t like my work that I will stop doing it or that I’ll change, but what I’m saying is that I know that I’m a good person. I am trying to create more compassion in this world. If that’s the base line and the highest thing that I want, if it’s both just to create more compassion in the world, that’s my lane.
I want to do that through really dynamic storytelling. I want to be able to give audiences something that they can see themselves in. Yes, the impact might reach that white, cis person, but who is in my heart and in my mind when I initially start doing this is my community. I say, my community is QTBIPOC, moreover than it would be like Sri Lankan Tamil or South Asian or whatever. It’s that I feel like the way I grew up here in the States, it is not that I was only around one kind of people. I only kick it with one kind of people. I grew up and was raised in lots of different communities. That’s my community. That’s who I want to give this offering to first and foremost.
But, no. I mean, because this thing about representation, we don’t have a lot of our stories out there. I’m trying to use my story in such a way that people of different backgrounds can see themselves in it. The impact of that is deep because…it’s so intimate. I go vulnerably places that I don’t go. You’ll get the long version in those shows. You will get the short version in stand-up. You’ll get the short version that isn’t completely 100% as vulnerable as the solo work.
But the impact, I feel, while it might not be like, “Oh, thank you. That’s so deep. Thank you for sharing that with me.” While the response from stand-up might be like, “You’re so funny,” it’s also like, “I’d never thought that before.” That’s what I try and also bring to the comedy stage is that sometimes I’m the first trans person that people have seen. In the same way I might have felt isolated or worthless, I’m not trying to go up on stage and replicate that behavior just because I have a mic and a stage. I’m trying to bring people in. I’m trying to, again, create more compassion and understanding in the world. It might be that I clown, and I punch up against cis people or white people or whatever, but not in a way that feels destructive.
I’m not trying to do that. I know that there are other comics that do that. I’ll laugh, but it’s not my way. You know what I’m saying? It’s not my way. What I’m going for is different. I am trying to crack people’s heads open more with the comedy. If I’m performing in front of a queer crowd, the material will just look different. Even if it’s of the same jokes, it’s delivered different, you know what I’m saying? But the audience always impacts how I deliver.
Nicolas: I feel that. Because when I performed for queer crowds versus random cis, straight people who show up to my shows, the lines hit differently. There’s a difference just in the energy in the room and that interaction. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s been like in your experience?
Nicolas: How does it feel different? How does the same joke work differently?
D’Lo: Yeah. Yeah. I always feel like performing in front of queer audiences is such a blessing back to me because I just get to have fun. It’s almost like this is the performance that you get to ease into and relax into. You don’t have to work as hard. It is a gift. It’s a blessing. Then in performing in front of white folks, whether they’re queer or not or cis people or whatever, it’s like, I’m trying to think of a good example, but sometimes it’s like if I say that there’s a difference between gay and queer, you know what I’m saying?
D’Lo: Queer people might hear that and be like, “Oh, we already know.” But then I have to contextualize the joke by saying, “Okay, when gay people want marriage equality, queer people want universal healthcare.”
Nicolas: A little context here: The language of gay versus queer isn’t just a matter of semantics. It’s reflective of a long-standing tension within LGBT activist communities dating back to the 1960s. In simplest terms, there are two major camps. One is a gay assimilationist camp, which advocates primarily for tolerance and acceptance for LGBTQ people’s access and participation in mainstream society. The other camp takes a queer liberationist approach, advocating to dismantle patriarchal and white supremacist systems that perpetuate homophobia and transphobia. Gay and queer are not just markers of sexual orientation, they also hold these politically-loaded connotations. Okay, back to D’Lo.
D’Lo: But what I’m saying is that the context has to be there in order to make the jokes sing. It’s not just contextualizing, it’s like the labor of explaining something, which I take on. I don’t have a problem. I don’t feel exhausted by taking on this labor, but that’s what goes into making, not just the jokes thing, but if the ultimate goal is to create more understanding and compassion in the world, then I have to take out the time to contextualize things. That’s kind of how I view the difference.
I remember I did a show in Toronto, and it was mostly Tamil-Sri Lankan people who maybe a quarter of them were queer. Yet, I could hit on a different level because I was talking mostly about family. My queerness, while it might not have been something that their identities didn’t reflect that, being Tamil itself in a larger community of South Asian folks, for example, there’s still the outsider feel. In those situations, it just depends. It’s like how much of an outsider are you that you need to be explained the full extent of this material in order for the joke to sing, in order for the story to resonate, those kinds of things.
Nicolas: That’s a really interesting dynamic in this space of your comedy. Being an outsider is a means of connection—
Nicolas: — in a way into being an insider in this space created in the performance.
Nicolas: That’s kind of cool.
D’Lo: Yeah, that’s why I feel like I can say that my community is QTBIPOC because marginalized folks have that baseline understanding of being on the margins. If the material is about exploring those margins and highlighting them and celebrating them, then it’s like, “Oh yeah, we in on this.” Because it’s the same shit that I want to share about my community, or I wish that they knew. Maybe that people aren’t conscious of the fact that they wish people knew more, but you get an insider look at somebody’s life and their communities and what’s important to them. I don’t know, anybody on the margins or, not anybody, obviously. We have some Black folks in all communities, but for the most part, people are like, “Oh, yeah. We just have to sit and listen and learn.” It’s fun because it’s fun.
Nicolas: Love it when learning is fun.
Nicolas: I want to ask about this idea of comedy being a tool for building connection and understanding and compassion. You mentioned earlier about this idea of punching up. That’s something that we should unpack a little bit because that’s not necessarily the norm in comedy.
D’Lo: I will say that, for me and the people who I want to align myself with and who I do align myself with as comics, that punching down is never the flavor. It’s sort of like in the queer community. We are a catchall for disabled folks, for fat folks, for a bunch of different style of folks that are the brunt of the joke all the fucking time, right? So, I think that when you are sitting there and shitting on people who the world shits on anyway; that’s a cheap shot. Yeah, you might catch a laugh, but it’s a cheap shot.
But when you’re punching up, which is like making fun of the systems in place, the people who run these systems, the inconsistencies and contradictions that are associated with people in power, that releases a little bit of that air pressure. And it provides lots of people with moments of relief. So, I’m always, “Can comedy change things? Yes.” Because if you’re using it as an educational tool, even though comics hate thinking that comedy is an educational tool. You know what I’m saying?
Nicolas: It gets people to question things and notice things in a different way. And that’s—
Nicolas: —kind of the goal of education a lot of the time.
D’Lo: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And then, through culture shifts, a lot of other things happen, right?
D’Lo: It’s not just that people wake up to the truth. It’s that things change from that point forward. It affects how we do things. How we vote. But the punching up, like I said, it’s air released because sometimes we want to sit there, and we want to blame people. And yes, there’s blame to be had on people with a lot of power, but using comedy as a way to shine light on things and use it as an educational tool, it’s... Because comedians are always going to be the underdog. You know what I’m saying? But truth-tellers are, “I’m going to do this by any means necessary,” and comedians fall into that group.
I think it is important for comics to take on that responsibility of not being assholes to marginalized and oppressed groups. Of course, that’s something that I would want. Of course, this is not what they’re teaching in comedy schools. Do you get what I’m saying? This is a philosophy. Right? But I do believe in the power and the magic of the storyteller or the comedian being able to truth-tell on the more powerful and less marginalized… Less marginalized? No. That’s not what I... You know what I’m saying.
Nicolas: Yes. I think that’s a good note to end this section of the conversation on. Before we wrap up, I’ve got a couple more questions for you. Two of the main ideas of this entire series are: “Trans people are everywhere, and we have always been here.” So, I like to ask people a little bit about their queer/trans, QTBIPOC artistic family trees. Is there anyone that you’d like to give a shout-out to that’s inspired you, supported your work—
D’Lo: Yeah. Absolutely.
Nicolas: —and helped you get where you are now?
D’Lo: Three are coming to mind. Actually, four. The first would be Susana Cook, a lesbian Argentinian playwright. Satirical. I call her “a brilliant idiot” because she’s so smart and dumb at the same time.
Nicolas: Love it.
D’Lo: And I saw one of her pieces called Gross National Product. She’s so fucking smart. And I fell in love with that piece. And I stuck around afterwards, and I was, “I don’t care what you’re doing. Next time, I want to be in it.” And I kind of stalked her for a couple years until she put me in one of her pieces at Wow. And that’s how I learned how to be a theatre actor, even though you didn’t have to really be even that great of an actor. But it was just like learning theatre.
Then, soon after that, was Sharon Bridgforth. Black, queer... I don’t know if she identifies as “genderqueer” but wrote The Bull-Jean Stories and was very masc ID-ed earlier and, I think, still feels that way. But basically, a Black, older stud or a butch. And she taught me some really important life lessons through the arts practice. And her and her partner, Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, did the Austin Project, which was bringing in people in Austin and doing theatre work, directed by Laurie Carlos, but created by us within community through processes. So, she very instrumental in a lot of things. And as she grew, I grew.
And then, finally is Adelina Anthony, who has been my director. And she’s a Chicanx, queer woman, but also identifies as two-spirit. And she has basically been the person who took my performance game and took it to the next level. And one of my main collaborators for over 15 years. Adelina is brilliant. Beyond fucking brilliant, like super fucking smart, super amazing and my sister. And so, that is somebody who, even though we collaborate, I also call her one of my teachers.
Nicolas: The best kind of collaboration.
D’Lo: I know. And then, the last person—and I already mentioned her name—Cherríe Moraga, because I also studied with her and did a play with her and have worked collaboratively with her on some other projects. She’s wonderful and great and taught me a lot. I think every single person, probably even Susana to a certain degree, made me hone in on performance as ritual. And as ritual theatremakers... Everything that I’ve shared with you right now, without me saying “ritual,” has been about the ritual. You know? It’s about coming in and honoring the lives that brought you to this stage and the lives that are there in the theatre with you. And so many deep lessons around vulnerability and walking with integrity; these are mainly coming from Sharon and Laurie. So many lessons on how to alchemize the story from in your head to the paper, to on stage, into magic. That’s the best word I could think of right now. Into something that is not touchable or seeable, but it's that sort of “wow” factor and not “Wow!” But you’re feeling it in your heart, you know? Those would be the folks that I would want to big up in my queer family tree of artistic inspiration.
Nicolas: All right. And finally, before I let you go, could you leave us with an image of what gender euphoria looks like for you, in performance or in everyday life?
D’Lo: Gender euphoria is when you are with your people and nothing of your body and nothing that you have in your mind about your body matters. You’re just…there.
Nicolas: I love that. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast and chat with me. It’s been a pleasure.
D’Lo: Thank you so much, Nicolas. This has been so great. Thank you for your beautiful questions.
Nicolas: Thank you for your wonderful answers.
Gender Euphoria, the podcast, is hosted and edited by me, Nicolas Shannon Savard. The voices you heard in the opening poem were Rebecca Kling, Dillon Yruegas, Siri Gurudev, Azure D. Osborne-Lee, and Joshua Bastian Cole. Gender Euphoria, the podcast, is sponsored by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide.
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here