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Visiting playwright and director Adong Judith gives voice to the silenced

Judith Lucy Adong

The voices of those who are often silenced call to playwright Adong Lucy Judith.

The author and director of the play Ga-AD!, which runs from September 26-30 at Illinois State University, Judith has long felt the pull to write about the forgotten or oppressed.

“It all comes down to wondering: How can you measure the value of a human being?” said Judith, sitting in a room in Centennial West as the chords of piano drift from an adjacent room. “Is it worth it for society to lose that value when society asks for that person’s silence?”

Ga-AD! explores the place of women in a Pentecostal church in modern-day Uganda. “The play is not about a belief in God or religion,” said Judith, “but about what happens when leaders who hold so much power and influence take advantage of others for their own gain. The repercussions are detrimental and long-lasting.”

“The stories hold a universality that can speak to issues throughout the world.” — Adong Lucy Judith

The play follows Judith’s passion for using art to defy oppression. Her first play, Silent Voices, delved into war crime survivors and the use of child soldiers in her home country of Uganda. Developed at Sundance Institute’s Theater Lab, the play received its world premiere at the National Theater of Uganda in 2012. Her more recent work, Just Me, You and THE SILENCE, came in 2017 in defiance to the failed Ugandan “Kill the Gay Bill,” which would have required all gay people be hanged. The play portrayed the first gay couple characters on Ugandan stages.

“The plays are set in Uganda, but for me, the stories hold a universality that can speak to issues throughout the world,” said Judith, who is also the founder of Silent Voices Uganda, a nonprofit performing arts company that gives voice to social issues impacting people and groups that are underprivileged. A TED Fellow who presents around the globe, she was just named a Prince Claus Fund Laureate in the Netherlands, which honors excellent, ground-breaking work in fields of culture and development.

woman sitting o the street and smiling

Adong Lucy Judith was recently named a Prince Claus Fellow for the Netherlands.

A Fulbright scholar at Temple University before teaching international cinema and screenwriting, Judith laughed when asked about potential culture shock when she first arrived in the United States from Uganda to attend Temple. “Well, I had gone my whole life not realizing I was black,” she said. “It took coming to the United States to realize I was something other than just a human being who looked like everyone else.”

Though her plays have been performed in New York, London, Toronto, and Chicago, Judith said the production of ­Ga-AD! at Illinois State holds the most diverse cast of any of her plays. “This production is unlike any done before,” she said. “I love seeing so many different people speak of the same ideas and challenges.”

Judith’s work at Illinois State is part of a six-week residency at the University’s School of Theatre and Dance. The performance is part of the School’s Crossroads Project, which is committed to diversity in theatre. Assistant Director Aidah Nalubowa, who also hails from Uganda, communicated with Judith and asked her to send her plays. “­Ga-AD! wasn’t one of the original plays I was asked to send, but it is so unique that I tacked it on for Aidah, and they loved it,” said Judith.

The play is inspired by the poem The Loneliest Journey is the Journey of a Faithful Woman, and was created as a play-poetry hybrid with the poet Nambozo Beverley Nzengiyunva. “Beverly is a very famous, award-winning Ugandan Poet, and I was thrilled when she agreed not only to collaborate on the play, but offer more of her poems that weave throughout the production,” said Judith.

During her time at Illinois State, Judith will also share her insights at a colloquium at noon, Friday, September 14, at the Center for Performing Arts at Illinois State. The event is free and open to the public. She will also be a keynote speaker at the Culturally Responsive Campus Community Conference in October.

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