`Women of Ararat,' a new play is in the works in Boston
by Tom Vartabedian
Published: Saturday July 06, 2013
Playwright Judith Boyajian Strang-Waldau.
BOSTON - The mission of getting the genocide recognized and bringing
more credibility to the resilient women who withstood its fury is
reaching a crescendo by Playwright Judith Boyajian Strang-Waldau.
But no one seems more aware that a journey toward any destination
begins with a single step. In her case, they're giant ones.
Last March she conducted a reading for the first act of her play,
"Women of Ararat," sponsored by the Armenian International Women's
Association (AIWA). The cast included several Armenian actors from
Greater Boston and New York including Nancy Tutunjian Berger, June
Murphy Katz, Judy Davis, Jennifer Guzelian Flanagan, Joy Renjilian and
"The result was unexpectedly moving when I heard my words making
people laugh and cry," she recalled. "The audience was mixed with both
Armenians and non-Armenians. Although Armenians have heard these
stories before, they cried along with those who were hearing them for
the first time."
Three Armenian women approached the playwright after the reading to
thank her for finally giving them a voice. It made that kind of an
impact, even with those familiar with our story.
"I still can't read the end of Act 2 without crying," she reveals. "It
is written in the voice of my grandmother whom I adored. When I think
about what she lived through in the old country and when she came to
America, I am astonished by her continued strength and loving nature,
despite what she saw happen all around her. This play is dedicated to
my grandmothers from whom I was given such a rich heritage. They lived
Her resume appears both diverse and fulfilling. She resides in metro
west Boston with a husband, three dogs and a cat. She majored in piano
at the Boston Conservatory of Music, securing degrees in vocal/opera
performance from the University of Southern California and Arts
Administration from New York University.
She's worked in marketing and development at the Metropolitan Opera
and Carnegie Hall, along with the Olympia Dukakis' Whole Theater in
Montclair, NJ. At the New England Conservatory of Music, she served as
director of Institutional Development for the Preparatory School.
Currently, Strang-Waldau gives private piano and voice lessons in
Wellesley and Natick and will begin a teaching position in Sherborn
this coming fall. She also runs an annual scholarship competition for
advanced high school musicians through the Harvard Musical
Make no point about her ethnicity. She's 100 percent Armenian -- the
product of genocide survivors from Mersin, Turkey -- and was
christened at St. James Church in Watertown. She's been a church
soloist and was asked to sing a service during which the lay preacher
gave a sermon on the Armenian genocide.
The preacher had recently read Samantha Power's book called "A Problem
>From Hell - America and the Age of Genocide" and delivered an
impassioned homily on what the Armenian people experienced.
Strang-Waldau was deeply moved that a non-Armenian could be so
sensitive to this period of terrorism and reopened a deep wound that
was a critical part of her family's history rarely discussed in her
"I remember during President Obama's first term how he addressed the
topic of genocide acknowledgement with the Turkish government and was
unable to change their position," she points out. "This `amnesia'
within the Turkish government is horrifying to the Armenian people. I
decided that I wanted to find a way to honor the centennial."
"Women of Ararat" is a full-length drama that spans roughly 10 years
from 1965-75. The opening scenes are based upon the playwright's
childhood. She represents the fifth generation of women living on her
It's written to commemorate the 100th anniversary in April 2015.
Strang-Waldau hopes the play will educate those who are unaware of
this infamous period in history and make us more responsible to those
around the globe who are victims of political injustice.
It's about a family of Armenian women who've survived the genocide and
the great-granddaughter who interprets their condition in a more
modern and global world.
It is also a story of how women love, care for one another and cope
with the aftermath of war and inhumanity.
"Women of Ararat" is also about secrets, not thoughtlessly made, but
to spare a child her innocence and help survivors stop reliving their
Although sad in content, there are humorous and light-hearted ways the
women relate to one another. It's about women, written by a woman,
based on humanity more than a history lesson. There is one male in the
cast and it is his character that brings tension into their protected
"I grew up with a great-grandmother and two grandmothers whom I
visited regularly," she traced back. "They didn't like to speak about
what happened during the years they were forced to leave Turkey and
wandered until they made it to the United States. My paternal and
maternal grandmothers had very different stories that are relived in
the play. I was a young adult before I was told what actually happened
"Women of Ararat" was also selected for a reading in the "Voices 7"
women playwrights' festival at Wellesley College where it attracted
"The most moving part was when three Armenian women in the audience
thanked me for giving them a voice," she said. "I couldn't have asked
for a more meaningful gift."
Her research included all Peter Balakian's books, most recently
"Armenian Golgotha." She continued her research at Ellis Island and
reading everything she could find online. Discussions with family
members and friends were replete with feedback.
A visit to Turkey was made last summer, spending time in Istanbul
where the genocide was still being considered as "the Armenian
"It was clear that the attitude toward our history had not changed,"
said Strang-Waldau. "I also spent time in Mersin where my grandmothers
lived. It was no longer the beautiful seaside town filled with fruit
trees, rather a sprawling Mediterranean city of high hotels and
The playwright brought along copies of family photographs to bury
there but found no space in the cemetery. Instead, she took the photos
to a beach where her grandmothers may have played and let them drift
out to sea.
"I'm very fortunate to have been guided by many theater professionals
in the Boston area who've helped me through the playwrighting
process," she says. "I've worked with local playwrights, directors,
theater administrators and actors, all of whom have given a great deal
of their time to this project as they value its importance."
A most unusual experience occurred during a writing class she was
taking to develop the play. Strang-Waldau was in a class of 10 people
and upon being introduced found herself seated next to a Turk from
As it turned out, the student was a Turkish-Jew whose grandfather had
been unjustly imprisoned by the Turkish government.
"After reading the script, he suggested that I produce it in Turkey
since it reveals the deep emotional impact of the Turkish government's
actions on the Armenian families they persecuted," said Strang-Waldau.
"Meeting my Turkish colleague in my first playwriting class could be
none other than divine intervention. He was more than supportive. He
Strang-Waldau is looking to produce her work throughout various parts
of the country during the 2014-2015 theater season. She hopes to
attract sponsors either through a centennial committee or an
independent producer. She's prepared to meet her obstacles and secure
the necessary media hype surrounding it.
"Boston can boast a population of extremely well-educated residents,"
she points out. "However, I often meet people who've never heard of
the Armenian genocide. Once they learn, they are not only appalled by
the history but that the Turkish government has not acknowledged their
Looking back over her life, Strang-Waldau never imagined writing a
play as a musician and music teacher. Through it, she looks to create
a level of understanding and empathy that will motivate people to
assist us in our work --- and have this historical atrocity
acknowledged by the Turkish government.
"Choosing to write a tragic historical drama that focuses upon people
I love was an enormous undertaking for a first-time playwright," she
feels. "This is the story I most wanted to tell. My hope is that
people of all nationalities will want to listen."
`Women of Ararat,' a new play is in the works in Boston
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