Interview with Judy Veramendi, Adaptor of IVP 2016’s “Voiceless Melodies” by Holden Meier
What is your writing routine usually like?
I like to write in the early morning as soon as I wake up, when I am still half dreaming. My best writing place is a quiet room with a window where I can gaze out at the trees or, even better, the lake! I always write my first draft out long-hand on a legal pad, which gives my writing room to flow. After about four pages, or two hours, I notice my intense concentration lessening, and I stop. After accumulating about ten pages or so, I turn to my computer as I revise them and type them up. When I’m finished with a play or a book, I print out all the pages and revise, revise, revise.
How did you get started as a writer?
I grew up with an Irish storytelling father who would often quote Shakespeare and Yeats. Our home was filled with books—and readers. I loved telling stories from an early age. I won a prize for a short story contest in my Argentine high school, and have never stopped to look back. I cut my teeth as a Spanish textbook author for Scott Foresman, where I developed excellent writing, editing, and organizational skills. At the age of thirty I received the first of many contracts to author children’s stories for reading anthologies. As a young mother I would set my alarm at 5am so I could write in peace before my children would come stumbling out calling for Mama.
My first play, The Empty Chalices, about revolutionary poet Delmira Agustini (Uruguay, 1886-1913), was just a dream of mine at Northwestern and University of Navarra in Spain. I had fallen in love with her poetry and life story, but it would take twenty years of work as a writer, an MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia College, and two Fulbright awards to Uruguay (2000, 2002) before I saw my dream come alive on stage in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Evanston, and Chicago. Since then I have received ten more grants and written six more plays which have been performed and/or produced in Argentina, Chicago, and Evanston.
What is the most rewarding project you've ever done?
Voiceless Melodies—Folksongs of Women from the Punjab, which was first performed at IVP in April by the amazing Rasaka Theater Company
I had been inspired to write a play about Pakistan while learning about its culture through immigrants to the U.S., and especially by a book of folksongs called Voiceless Melodies by Dr. Iftikhar Hassan of Islamabad. It has been a joy to collaborate with this brilliant woman on bringing her work to the stage. And it is so rewarding to present a different face of a country that is often associated only with terrorism. I believe the folklore that has survived centuries is the best, most honest face of a culture.
What is a project you're very excited about right now?
I’m very excited that through the presentation at IVP, much interest has been aroused in Voicless Melodies. Four different theaters have requested copies of the script. The talkback after the show helped me make important revisions to the script.
And then after IVP, I dared to dream. I so believed in the power of Voiceless Melodies that I invited the Obamas to the show, since the president had asked that we artists portray Muslims in roles other than terrorists. Although they couldn’t come, of course, I received an invitation to a White House convened summit: The United States of Women. Keynote speakers will be Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey! Also present and engaged will be other outstanding women such as Tina Fey, Meryl Streep, and the founder of MuslimGirl.com.
I hope to find future venues for Voiceless Melodies. We will also be developing strategies to counter violence against women, and to permit girls around the world to go to school.
What writers and writing have influenced you?
William Shakespeare, who's lines I absorbed with my mother’s milk! Many great playwrights such as Anton Chekhov, Federico García Lorca, David Mamet, Tennessee Williams, Wendy Wasserstein, Bertolt Brecht, George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Lynn Nottage; and many great novelists such as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Boris Pasternak, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Graham Greene, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel García Márquez. I read and reread them!
What has been the most positive part of being involved with IVP?
To IVP I say, "¡gracias mil!" ("a thousand thanks!") for bringing Voiceless Melodies to the stage. There is nothing like theater to open minds and start important discussions. Who knows where we’ll go next!? D.C. in a week, and then…! The work Patrizia Acerra and her staff are carrying out by showcasing plays from other cultures is priceless. And more needed than ever as we are shocked by the xenophobia in this country, brought to light by a certain political demagogue.
Is there anything you'd like to say to the audiences that have enjoyed your work?
¡Gracias mil! to my audiences as well, for your support and feedback, crucial to creating better and better work. Please keep coming, cheering me on and enlightening me. As a “Playwright of the Third World,” I am embarked on a sacred journey and need all your support.