Indonesian transgender actors: 'We want to break the stigma'

August 2008 -

Deleilah is a play about a transgender vocal group, consisting of three members: Rosiana, Luna and Happy. When the owner of the club where they perform wants to close it down, conflicts arise. Rosiana has a complicated relationship with her manager, Luna wants to be a star, and Happy is very active in a transgender ngo. Nobody seems to care anymore about the vocal group. A story about transgenders had never been staged before in Indonesia, although many people are fascinated by these 'women in a man's body'. Deleilah has become a hit.


Maria Alda Novika after the premiere of Deleilah

"This play tells a human, subtle and personal story about queers", says director Joned Suryatmoko, "one is a bit tired of political struggle." Once three transgenders were chosen after an audition, their acting and singing training by a professional coach started in March 2008. Joned: "It is not my style to work with professional actresses. The transgenders are not professional, although they have been involved with the during secondary school. Normally it's not a problem to work with amateurs in a simple play. But the transgenders have a special personality and some specific habits; they go out every night and sleep until noon. At times that weakened their stamina.

The setting of the play is their daily life: street, home, the night club stage and the ngo's office. "It's very realistic", says Joned. 'Nyebong' (prostitution) takes place on the street. The club symbolizes the future, the office stands for political struggle. The stage is flexible and easily adaptable. "All the queer actresses have contributed a lot to the script, especially the language and the structure", says Joned.

"We want to show the people that transgenders can be very talented and we want to break the negative stigma", say the three stars Kusuma Ayu, Maria Alda Novka and Arum Marischa. In the show they act, sing and dance. "It's a Broadway style musical", says musical director Ari Wulu, "with nineties pop music". The show, which was performed in the Sosietet Theatre during the Yogyakarta Arts Festival (August 6 and 7, 2008) was fully booked.