We’re back at leonalo.wordpress.com!

August 31, 2010

Now that the show has come to an end, we’re back at leonalo.wordpress.com.  Thanks for supporting the show!


The Show Must Go On

August 29, 2010

The AKS may be over, but the story lives on thanks in part to Luis Torres from Agence France Presse who summarized the key messages beautifully in an article that has been circulated around the world. This is not forgetting the sublime photos of Stan Honda which captured the poignant moments of the play.

My experience in New York has enriched my life infinitely, not least because of the wonderful people I caught up with. First, I shared a lovely afternoon with Ken Dollarhide my mentor whose interest in the welfare of trans women – the elderly in particular, continues unabated. Ken led me to Stonewall and reminded me of the brave trans pioneers whose names have been whitewashed from history.

Next, I had the pleasure of meeting our company representative Vanessa Sparling for the first time. She’s a dedicated, down-to-earth assistant producer at Ohio Theatre without whose help we would have been utterly lost in New York. Vanessa is a gem of a theatre person who actually has a good head on her shoulders. She’ll do fabulously well in any part of the world.

Then there’s Elena Holly Artistic Director of the festival who gave us a chance to be heard in New York and Taty, a volunteer who wanted so much for us to succeed. Thank you ladies for your generosity, belief and good will.

An interesting aspect of the trip were the many Singaporeans I caught up with. It was good to see my former schoolmates doing so well in a nurturing environment, but I was also glad to have moved on. I don’t wish to revisit the past.

It was definitely great catching up with Kiat Jin, now a lecturer at UC Riverside who’s a sociologist with passion – and whose fire would have been extinguished at the sterile National University of Singapore. He confirmed my worst suspicions about Singapore academia. Kiat Jin is a wonderful fount of knowledge on the rise of Christian fundamentalism among the Singapore middle-class, a social trend I’m most concerned about. If recent news reports in Straits Times are any indication, our government is concerned too. The Singapore diaspora in New York confirms another suspicion – that there is a community of well educated, more vocal Singaporeans who can no longer bear to live in a country known for it’s wafer thin tolerance of dissenting views. On the one hand the government wants to encourage greater political play, on the other hand it is quick to slap the wrists of those who question its choices, such as the Youth Olympics. Sure, the pyrotechnics were impressive, but also very costly. That most of the tickets were sold to the Ministry of Education did not go unnoticed. That the PR machinery got its knickers into a tight squeeze trying to wring praises from international participants was all too clear. All this came at a time when the police were cracking down on Internet dissenters, which does not bode well for civil society. Why was it so wrong of a NSF to criticize the police force over the handcuffing of the Lianhe Wanbao reporter? Surely our soldiers are entitled to opposing views? Does the average Singaporean care? Probably not. If they are not happy, they can always live overseas if they have in-demand skills. Some of my former schoolmates – all ex scholars – have chosen to do just that. Only this crazy trans woman has chosen to live in Singapore to act out her angst. Perhaps I have more faith in the system to evolve than my ex schoolmates. Perhaps.

Certainly my live affair with New York is not over yet. I only discovered the charms of Harlem on the last day when I finally had some time to walk around. I asked Mr Lee Lee, founder of the eponymous bakery on 115th street if he would still be there when I returned and he said he would. Mr Lee Lee bakes the best rugelach in Harlem and his lemon pound cake and egg and cheese croissants are just as mouthwatering. I will be back for more cakes, Mr Lee Lee!

Until I visit again New York, the show must go on.

A photo montage – photos by Stan Honda, AFP

August 27, 2010




Catch the last Ah Kua Show on Thursday!

August 26, 2010

Our last show will be at 7pm on Thursday, 26 Aug 10 at The Club @ LA MAMA, 74 A, East 4th Street.  Tickets begin selling 15 mins before the performance.  Click here for more information.

Agence France Presse broke the news today, which was carried by Singapore’s Straits Times online (minus the religious references though):

NEW YORK – THE life of a trans-sexual in Asia is limited to sexual work – such is the searing viewpoint of Singapore native Leona Lo, who travelled to New York to present a first-person, three-act play on the subject.

The Ah Kua Show is a collage of experiences on the difficulties of being a transsexual person in places like Malaysia, Hong Kong or Bangkok.

The show, on stage at the ‘La Mama’ alternative theater in Manhattan’s East Village, is one of 197 events that are part of the XIV New York Fringe Festival. The shows are staged on 18 small and experimental theaters, and are a far cry from the glitzy, big-budget Broadway productions.

‘The idea is to open up the eyes of the world and to apply a bit of pressure on these countries to grant these women official recognition,’ Leona told AFP after a recent presentation.

Leona – formerly known as Leonard – Lo was born 35 years ago to a middle-class family of Chinese descent living in Singapore. Lo’s difficult teenage years, mandatory military service, school in England, and finally the sex change in Thailand are the subject of a 2007 book. — AFP

2011 – Mermaid Tales Mosaic Art Exhibition

August 24, 2010

As I enter the final performances of the Ah Kua Show, I already know the strategic direction my artistic endeavours will take next year.  I’m proud to make a pre-announcement of the Mermaid Tales mosaic art exhibition next year.  I’m also pleased to unveil our website at www.leonamosaicworld.wordpress.com.  New York is such a fascinating mosaic city.  From tomorrow until I depart on Friday, I will take lots of photos of my serendipitous discoveries of mosaic art throughout the city, from street lamps to the subway.  Watch this space!

Two more shows: Wed at 4 pm and Thurs at 7 pm

August 24, 2010

Two more shows on Wed at 4pm and Thursday at 7pm, The Club @ LA MAMA, 74A East 4th Street. 

Click here for tickets.

See you!

Floating down New York in an emerald-green dress @FringeNYC

August 24, 2010

The Ah Kua Show is political theatre.  It is an indictment of our governments’ collective failure to act to protect the lives and dignity of transgender women in Asia.  It is an indictment of patriarchal regimes that oppress and punish women who dare to embrace and express their femininity.  It is an indictment of religious fundamentalists who distort the words of the great spiritual masters – be they Jesus Christ or Prophet Muhammad – with the ostensible motive of control and oppression.*  It is the collective voices of transgender women who, like Rosa Parks, are not giving up their seats anymore.  And it is my duty as an educated person and Literature graduate to help ensure that their voices seep into every alley, every pathway, every artery, every bourgeois food and beverage venue in New York and the major cities of the world, every strand of Julia Roberts’ oh-life-is-so-hip-and-great “Eat, Pray, Love” happy valley spaghetti.  

– Leona Lo, Actress/Producer/ Scriptwriter, Ah Kua Show

I have a vision of me floating down New York in an emerald green dress.  In fact, I was about to dash out and grab the dress when I remembered that I have yet to buy a business outfit for my meeting tomorrow.  I can always float down the thoroughfares on Thursday, our final performance day.  The dress can wait, but not the voices of thousands of Southeast Asian transgender women clamoring to be heard.

In December 2009, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network.  There, I met transgender women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.  The lady whose life story remains etched on my mind is Champa or Sam Sela.  Champa is a HIV positive transgender woman from Cambodia.  Years ago, she was a sex worker experiencing the daily ravages of rape and abuse like many transgender women in Cambodia.  Then she contracted the HIV/AIDS virus.  At the nadir of her life, she contemplated suicide, but something held her back.  She looked around her and realised that thousands of her sisters lived without love and support, and often in the harshest conditions.  She did the most noble thing a human being could do – religious leaders and Republicans take heed!  She stood up for herself and her sisters.  She FORGOT herself and fought for their rights. 

Today, Champa is the first HIV/AIDS positive transgender to be elected to the Secretariat of the Women Network for Unity (WNU) Cambodia.  She has been working with WNU for around six years.  She works directly with transgender women, sex workers and lesbians through outreach activities, and provides direct assistance to her members.  Champa has attended various workshops, meetings and forums at the national level, mostly representing people living with HIV/AIDS and transgender women. She has also been involved in advocacy events and campaigns conducted to demand and fight for the rights of sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and transgender women.

I am proud to be part of the APTN. APTN will give me chance to bring up the issue of transgenders who are living with HIV/AIDS,” Champa says. “It was my first time sharing my story, especially my feelings about being a HIV/AIDS positive transgender women at the inaugural APTN meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. I hope my experiences will be shared with other transgender women. We are working together for transgender rights,” she adds.

I had a short discussion with Champa and her equally wonderful interpreter Sophea after the meeting.  Champa said she was delighted to meet me.  She also said I could one day become transgender women’s Prime Minister given my language skills.  But I disagree.  I have enjoyed the privileges of a loving family and a good education.  Champa and her sisters never stood a chance in Cambodia.  I am merely a sounding board for the ladies – Champa is the real heroine who gets her hands soiled toiling in the fields every day.

The Ah Kua Show is political theatre.  It is an indictment of our governments’ collective failure to act to protect the lives and dignity of transgender women in Asia.  It is an indictment of patriarchal regimes that oppress and punish women who dare to embrace and express their femininity.  It is an indictment of religious fundamentalists who distort the words of the great spiritual masters – be they Jesus Christ or Prophet Muhammad – with the ostensible motive of control and oppression.*  It is the collective voices of transgender women who, like Rosa Parks, are not giving up their seats anymore.  And it is my duty as an educated person and Literature graduate to help ensure that their voices seep into every alley, every pathway, every artery, every bourgeois food and beverage venue in New York and the major cities of the world, every strand of Julia Roberts’ oh-life-is-so-hip-and-great “Eat, Pray, Love” happy valley spaghetti.  

And if you feel uncomfortable, welcome to the real world.  

You need us as much as we need you.

With love and gratitude

Leona (sans emerald green dress)

Actress/Producer/Scriptwriter, Ah Kua Show

*  Build a mosque, church, synagogue on Ground Zero if you want to.  I don’t give a damn.  Just don’t let your fine building get in the way of humanity. 

Religious fundamentalism maims

August 24, 2010

Thank you nytheatre.com for picking up the show’s statement on religious fundamentalism and social discrimination which continue to maim the lives of thousands of transgender folks around the world, particularly in poverty stricken, developing Southeast Asia. We need to put in place social structures to help rehabilitate the lives of these women. Their governments can no longer be blind to their plight.

I had to stage my show in New York and send the word out from here as the script would have stood hell’s chance of being approved in our respective countries.

But in life, we have to take the good with the bad.  Here’s a negative review (http://www.musicomh.com/theatre/features/fringenyc5_0810.htm) that’s spot on in its criticism. Southeast Asia’s trans women thrive in the harshest climates, and it’s with constructive criticism that we can bloom like the sweetest of desert flowers.

We will continue to bloom with your love and support.

Love, Leona

Ah Kua Show @ FringeNYC – An Occasional Actress Stumbles and Trips in New York

August 23, 2010

When Vanessa our ACR (Authorised Company Representative) told me yesterday that we would have an intimate audience, she was putting it across euphemistically. The fact is we have not been packing in the crowds in New York. So why is that so? Certainly we don’t have a large base of friends and supporters – virtually nobody has heard of us in New York. Here’re some areas of improvement that came across my mind:

Learning from my mistakes!

  • We could have used a picture of me portraying the three different characters rather than a pretty illustration of a woman. I was so caught up with Madame Cyn’s drawings that I forgot I was selling a show and not an art exhibition. Still, I had hoped that the world at large would appreciate the illustrations of this socially marginalised lady – false hopes! Thus far, no one has offered to buy the postcards. An ex boyfriend did offer to sponsor the show, but when I revealed that was attached, I never heard from him again. Sigh, so it was for the wrong reasons he wanted to support the show. As if life were not complicated enough! The good thing is, in the process of wanting to help Mdm Cyn, I found someone who needed her beauty/make-up services, so at least she has been helped, albeit in a roundabout way
  • We could have spread the word earlier, when potential supporters were still in town rather than wait until everyone had left New York for the summer vacation!
  • We could have used a different name – “Ladyboy” instead of “Ah Kua” show, so it’s clear we’re not producing a show about water. Someone commented he was from Singapore and he would not have noticed the show if we had not used “Ah Kua”, whilst another person commented that I should have known better, which is true, but he didn’t have to be patronising about it. Sometimes we make the right decision only on hindsight, even if we seem to know-it-all (which, of course, we don’t). Some people point out our mistakes out of love, whilst others do it to bring us down. Learn to tell the difference – and learn from all our mistakes!
  • I should have outsourced various components of this project. For too long I’ve been carrying everything on my shoulders and as my mentor correctly pointed out yesterday, I will die early fighting for the rights of faceless transgender women, some of whom even despise me for trying to be a “hero”, and some of whom want my help just so they can lead a better life – and then turn their backs on their communities. Too many of these trans women in fact!  But here is where I’m ok with it because my intentions are not purely altruistic; I’m also keen on honing my skills as an actress. The reason I’m so cut up is because Singapore does not support my artistic endeavours. In Singapore, I’m an untouchable. I’m neither a cute closeted gay man nor woman; I also don’t have deep pockets like the privileged theatre people back home. I’m just a pesky, strident transgender woman. I have to create my own opportunities, rather than depend on others for financial or administrative support. For the past two years I have been financing my artistic endeavors through my public relations business. Some people have their expensive hobbies and I have mine, so there’s nothing to complain about, except that hobbies are meant to give you pleasure and not heartache! I’ve got a mind to settle down, get married, adopt children and disappear into the woodworks. Nobody will miss me. But again, as my mentor pointed out in his lovely Manhattan apartment yesterday, it won’t be long before I itch to do something again.

Or perhaps I just suck as an actress/producer/playwright. But I honestly don’t think so. Fair enough, when the show debuted in Singapore in 2009, all the critics said it was clear I was not a trained actress. Fair enough, but I think I’ve improved under the direction of Richard Chua. I’ll be the first to admit I’m hopeless at something, but I don’t think so this time. This time I really feel powerfully moved to portray the three characters.

It’s late in New York and I haven’t given you the other side of the story yet. Because you mustn’t think it’s all gone to waste here. The Ah Kua Show may be trashed by the critics and ignored by New Yorkers to the point where our Stage Manager asked me if I would continue with the show even if there were a handful of audience members. And my response to that now, as I type, is that I can always earn back the money I’ve invested in the show through my PR project, but I can never regain the integrity of the moment. So for the five people who have bought tickets to Wednesday’s show, I will perform for you. For the four people who have bought tickets to Thursday’s show, I will also perform for you.

To my long lost childhood friend from Singapore, thank you for coming back into my life. We would not have met if I had not travelled here. It’s great to see you so wonderfully happy with your partner. Singapore would not have been able to withstand the fierce glare of your happiness

To my mentor, thank you for showing me the two precious gifts your uncle gave you. I cannot for the life of me remember seeing and feeling the texture of such colourful, soulful gifts. The beaded leather wallet made by a winkte is a rare treasure indeed. Thank you too for helping me realise that no one can understand how I feel. No one – not even my family, boyfriend, close friends etc. can truly understand what it feels like to want so much to “be” a woman at the tender age of 12, and then face a largely hostile world on my way to womanhood.   It made me feel so understood!!! Thank you too too for educating me on the tremendous sacrifices of America’s trans pioneers – and for redressing the injustice done to the “queens” of Christopher Street whose role in Stonewall was “gayjacked”.   America has wrongly mislabelled the brave heroines as drag queens when in fact most of them were trans. Until today, their role in Stonewall has not been acknowledged.

To my neighbours in ungentrified Harlem, you’re not frightening at all – you are the soul and life of the country. Don’t let others’ prejudices affect you. If you feel lost, read Frederick Douglas, read Maya Angelou, read Alice Walker. When I lacked courage and self-esteem as an undergraduate at York, the black writers were the ones who inspired me to take charge of my life. If Rosa Parks had not refused to give up her seat, I would not have written my autobiography. And to the silly middle-class New Yorkers who keep dumping down on your brothers and sisters in Harlem – s…. you!

There is still so much to learn and discover in New York. I do not regret staging my show here. I may be a sunset actress, but I’m still a sunrise student, always eager and curious to learn and discover new things.

And of course, to my darling boyfriend, thank you for loving me in spite of my anger and frustration over my opening performance. Sorry I snapped at you. It wasn’t your fault. I forgot for a split second that you are perfect proof that miracles do exist.

I love you New York, so stop behaving like a Republican and start givin’ me some luvin’!

@FringeNYC: Ah Kua Show Opening Night Fiasco – our side of the story

August 22, 2010

On the opening night, as I was about to begin the opening dance number, the sound did not come on.  And throughout the night, there was no sound at all.  It would have been ok if the sound component consisted of only song and dance numbers, but there was an entire voice-over sequence by “tranny” chaser Frank, including a monologue that was wiped out from the entire performance.  Frank was the leitmotif linking all three girls.  The scene where Frank merciless and cruelly dumped Nong was wiped out.  The scene where Frank led Leona on was wiped out.  The monologue where Frank professed his love for Chantel was wiped out.  This rendered the play incoherent.  We were not allowed to do a sound check at the start of the play as another production was being staged downstairs.  In the end, the sound came on when our play was over – did someone pull the plug from the start?  I don’t know.  All I know is if you were there yesterday, we’re really sorry about what happened.  I wish you could have watched a coherent production.