Lucy Judith Adong: Letting the silent voices be heard

Ms Adong talks to the cast of Silent Voices during rehearsals at Makerere’s Music Dance and Drama department.
Photo by Faiswal Kasirye.

What you need to know:

Lucy Judith Adong is a playwright known for Just Me, You and The Silence, The Nurse Mildred Drama, River Yei Junction and Shadow of Tainted Soul among others. She is also a lecturer of Script Writing and Production for Screen, Radio and Stage. Her play, Silent Voices – based on interviews with victims of the Northern Uganda conflict, raises some crucial discussion points about forgiveness versus justice as peace and conflict resolution approaches. It premiers in Uganda this month. She talks to Caesar Abangirah about her life, love and script writing.

Tell us briefly about your background and how you got into scriptwriting.
I was not much into drama and just fell in love with it when I joined Makerere University in 1998. In fact my first encounter with drama was while I was still a student at Sacred Heart Gulu when I landed the lead role of a play entitled Hydra about HIV/Aids in 1991. I did not do any more drama until nine years later when I joined university to pursue a diploma in music, dance and drama.

I love story telling so we were taught how to write scripts for stage and got theoretical knowledge for radio and screen. In 1999, I wrote my first scripts Cry for Agony, Dream Turns Upside Down and Influence – a children’s play. These were part of a students’ project. Well, I got a first class diploma and returned the next year for a degree in Arts with the subjects of Drama, Literature and Luo.

Any formal training in screen writing?
My first experience with screen writing was in 2005. By then, I was writing for Rock Point 256. I later on met the producers of Yellow Card and Consequences that Zimbabwean movie Ugandans call “Richard and Rita”. They read some of my previous scripts and loved them. They mentored me in screenwriting. I later on applied for the Maisha Film Lab initiated by renown film maker Mira Nair.

I wrote Shadow of Tainted Soul based on a true story of a family caught up in the dilemma of the northern Uganda conflict. This one was among the 16 film scripts that won the French Film Fund out of 40 submissions from around Africa.

Shadow of a Tainted Soul was later adapted into a feature film Imani directed by film director and producer Caroline Kamya. In 2007, I used the same script to apply at MNET. This was probably the best screen writing experience I have ever got.

Everyone was very helpful and highly experienced. I was the only Ugandan along with five Kenyans and one Tanzanian. We were charged with writing The Agency which went on air in 2009. Unfortunately, only four episodes aired and I had written the third episode.

What inspired you to do your current project, Silent Voices?
Actually Silent Voices was written in 2007 but it stalled because it is set in so many different places so most people I approached said it could not be pulled off. So in 2010, I was selected to the New York acclaimed Robert Redford founded Sundance Institute Theatre Programme, East Africa Lab with Silent Voices.

At Sundance, everyone was very helpful and they told me it was one of the best projects that they had ever seen. In fact, that’s how I decided to get back into writing for stage.

Silent Voices was written accidentally. I went back to Gulu in 2006 to do research for my MA. During my research – Drama Therapy and how it is being used for rehabilitation of a child soldier – I had an informal chat with child soldiers. I found out that people were being forced to forgive LRA rebels in order to get peace. Members of the community felt that like victims, they weren’t getting any compensation yet the rebels were being paid.

I therefore dropped the thesis altogether because I knew that it would get dusty on the shelves in the library and yet many people would come out and watch the play. Even up to now, I don’t have that Masters.

But if the project didn’t take off then, why the interest in it now?

When I wrote it then and showed it to a couple of directors in the country, most told me it was not easy to pull off because of the numerous locations. One even told me that it preaches revenge and that it was still early to throw it at the public. But at another event at New York in 2011, I met Lynn Nottage – the writer of a play based on DR Congo who read the script and encouraged me to have it performed. That’s how I met Dennis Reid, the director of Mother Courage and her Children. He read half of the script and was like “Let’s do it”.

That coming from someone who has directed for Broadway meant that this script was actually better off on stage than at the bottom of the suitcase.

Does the play preach revenge?
It doesn’t preach revenge. But if people don’t get justice, they will seek revenge, at least that is what I got from the members of community that I talked to. Let people come watch the play and judge for themselves.

Anything more about the play?
Beauty of this play is the number of talented child actors – all from Taibah International School. There is a lot of potential out there after all. We also have Tusker Project Fame winner Esta Nabasa doing our music. Plus our lead actor Coutinho Kemiyondo is probably one of the most talented artistes I have seen. This is her first project after returning from acting school in the US.

You have written for screen and theatre. Which are you more comfortable with?
I am comfortable with both. In fact this year, I will be joining Temple University for a Masters degree in Fine Arts (MFA) in Film Making and Media Arts.

How would you describe yourself?
I am passionate about art and tough on professionalism. I draw my hard work from my mother, who was a single mother of five. I am also still single and happy.

Price: Free of charge. Tickets can be got at the box office, National Theatre.
Length: Two hours
Duration: The shows runs from July 21 to August 5 and they start at 6pm each day.
Cast: Coutinho Kemiyondo, Richard Tuwangye and Andrew Kiyega