Namibia
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Rodelio Lewis – Actor, Activist, Queen

Rodelio Lewis is the kind of fiercely poetic creative who spouts quotables as though his life depends on it.

Born just shy of 28 years ago, the actor, radio host, popular MC, Drag Night Namibia founder and activist responds to a question about home with the pathos and elocution of a seasoned orator.

“I was born where the desert meets the ocean,” says Lewis, who hails from Walvis Bay.

“I feel like I was born in the right place to really understand that you need a little sand, the roughness of the earth, and you need a bit of water, the delicateness of the ocean, because without both of them, you can’t grow, and you can’t exist.”

This contrast between sand and sea is a thinly veiled metaphor for Lewis himself, who currently commands the airwaves on his show #WhatstheDelio on Touch FM by day, before igniting Windhoek’s arts field and corporate stages as Miss Mavis Dash, his flamboyant drag queen alter ego, by night. Drag Night.

Miss Mavis, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is a sassy, sashaying, wise-cracking tour de force whose accent oscillates between the quintessential Southern belle and good old Namibian coloured.

A homage to the formidable women in his life, namely Lewis’ grandmother, mother and godmother, as well as an unwitting tribute to a 90s-era Namibian transgender women’s pageant of the same name, Miss Mavis is a manifestation of the actor’s passionate need to act, create, empathise and entertain.

A drive which earned Lewis the 2014 Namibian Film and Theatre Award (NFTA) as best newcomer actor at just 19 years old after having taken the Windhoek theatre scene by storm in ‘Prime Colours’ of Zindri Swartz, Senga Brockerhoff’s spin on Severius Majiedt’s ‘Lammie Beukes’, and in Justin Hango’s ‘Illusions of Grandeur’, as big brands began calling for commercials.

Though the success of that year is almost a decade in the past, it’s what happened after Lewis’ NTFA accolade that helped forge the multitalented powerhouse he is today.

Barely out of matric and perhaps the youngest winner of the theatre newcomer actor award, Lewis, who didn’t identify as gay at the time, was effectively outed by a local journalist at a leading newspaper, who wrote that young Lewis was simply gay playing gay, and that his acting recognition was somehow undeserving.

“I literally ran out of Windhoek. I went home and I cried for a week. I was freshly out of high school. And now the newspaper is saying I’m gay, I don’t have talent, and everyone is reading this,” says Lewis, who also suffered ageist claims of being too young to be nominated as best actor.

“My high school experience got hyperinflated on a national level. All of a sudden, I had people twice my age making me feel ten times smaller. I couldn’t cope, so I ran.”

It was two years until Lewis would return to Windhoek.

Back home, where his dream of acting was fuelled by cult classic ‘Death Becomes Her’ (1992) played on loop by his family as well as primary and high school drama clubs under the tutelage of his beloved drama teacher Heidi Pronk, Lewis fell into a deep depression and returned to work at his family’s guest house.

Later, through his church and as he began to emerge, Lewis co-founded Hurricane Raqia, a platform to develop performance talent at the coast, before making his radio debut on West Coast FM.

In 2017, an opportunity to host and moderate the first lady of Namibia’s #BeFree movement’s coastal outreach session was the ego boost Lewis needed to return to the city which had been waiting, replete with an offer to star in film-makers Lavinia Kapewasha and Jenny Kandenge’s ‘Untitled – The Web Series’.

“Isolation breeds revelation. I think the time I spent at Walvis Bay was the most important time of my life, because it laid the foundation for me to be who I am now,” says Lewis.

“The #BeFree campaign made me free. I thought: If the first lady of Namibia thinks I can do this, then who the hell is anyone else? So I came back and I just couldn’t stop.”

Since his return to Windhoek in 2017, Lewis has become a sought-after MC and performer.

From a starring role in Namib Mills’ ‘The Polanas’, a celebrated turn in Jonathan Solomon’s ‘Die Stoep’, Miss Mavis coming into her own in Lize Ehlers’ ‘Boet & Sus’, ambassadorships and collaborations with major travel brands and telecommunications companies to the actual, formidable founding of Drag Night, Lewis is a coastal gift that keeps on giving.

A versatile industry star with a chameleon-like ability to change form and outwardly effortlessly adapt to the demands of radio, film, theatre and entertainment.

“Radio is my open campfire for anyone who wants to add a piece of wood, some gasoline, maybe roast some marshmallows and just share love and experience. It’s helped me find my voice in a way I never thought I would,” says Lewis.

“Acting is my first love when it comes to the entertainment industry. It kind of bleeds into every other avenue of my life.”

In the years since Lewis’ star-making 2014 debut, the actor has played a number of diverse queer characters.

“I want people to be able to see queer people in different skins. I don’t want them to look at us as the best friend or the comedic relief,” says Lewis, who credits Solomon’s ‘Die Stoep’ and Ehlers’ ‘Boet & Sus’ with encouraging him to really explore his coloured and queer identities.

SHADES OF QUEER

“There are more shades of queer than what we’ve been shown by the Western world.”

After the radio, the theatre, the film and the MCing, eventually there is Drag Night – home of Miss Mavis and original drag stars and co-founders Gigi Has Arrived and Mo’Nick Critique, and now an all-out phenomenon, hot ticket, developmental platform, LGBTQI+ safe space, job creator as well as the unofficial headquarters of an anti-hate/love revolution powered by raw talent, drag artistry and unapologetic verve.

After Drag Night’s first show at Café Prestige, its flagship venue, in 2021, you need the grace of the ancestors to secure a ticket to the themed monthly platform.

The queens and kings are flexible, saucy, multitalented actors, dancers and singers. And for the next two years, they’re coming in hot.

Selena Dash, Coco Critique, Miss Shy, Bianca and Starr Arrival, Poison White, Miss Diamond, Adam’s Apple, Atlantis, Rose Petal and Hellen Back, to name but a few, delight audiences who begin dressing up for the monthly theme in a show of unbridled self-expression.

Lewis’ eyes sparkle when I ask him about the success of Drag Night, and his list of people who’ve made it possible is long.
Co-founders Roberto Meneguzzo, Chaulken McNab and Lize Ehlers.

Early adopters, hosts and Café Prestige owners Hanan Paikin and Johnathan Fong.

Every featured queen and king, each member of the crew.

His grandmother, whose wardrobe is a godsend to Miss Mavis, and his artist sister Whilzahn Gelderbloem, who has always been a safe space to land in the big city.

Priscilla the Dessert Queen for allowing the queens to love themselves.

The audience, the allies and the guest directors, which include Odile Gertze, Lavinia Kapewasha and Hildegard Titus.
Production manager and Lewis’ best friend, Zindri Swartz. Pablo Rinquest, who helped gave Miss Mavis a name.

Ashwyn Mberi, who taught and inspired Lewis through ‘The Gathering’. The list goes on and speaks to the power of learning on the fly, of community and collaboration.

“To be honest, I’m still confused and surprised that 32 shows later, we’re still here,” says Lewis, who has a film coming out soon, and also has ambitions to write and direct theatre as well as a sitcom some day.

“I’m surprised that when we announce we’re postponing Drag Night due to hate and safety concerns, there’s an uproar; that it boils over and gets picked up in Germany, in South Africa by Mamba Online, and then Vice News World picks it up and puts us on HBO for a documentary on what we’re doing.”

This evening on the last day of LGBTQI+ Pride Month, Lewis and Drag Night return to the stage after a break necessitated by increased hate against LGBTQI+ people, following an affirming same-sex marriage ruling by Namibia’s Supreme Court.

There is this unfamiliar and deeply disappointing new fear, but there’s also what there has always been.

Lewis – aptly dubbed ‘The Serial Improviser’ by theatre director Tanya Terblanche – taking the stage as Miss Mavis before measuring the mood, cracking a joke, lifting the tension and holding space for the whole world.

[email protected]; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com