Growing up in Puerto Rico, she was taught that being gay meant that she should like men, “but I never wanted to be around them,” she says with a laugh. She began writing for fun while studying for a double major in journalism and theater at the University of Puerto Rico. “I wasn’t dating and didn’t really like sports,” she explained, so she found solace and unexpected joy in Beckett and UNESCO’s work.
This in turn led to an interest in modern theatre, including works such as “An Octoroon” by her future professor hunter Branden Jacobs Jenkins. One of her mentors, Puerto Rican playwright and instrumentalist Silvia Bofill, suggested that she write her own plays.
When he moved to New York City to study in graduate school in 2017, Velez Melendez found gays and transgender people everywhere. “There were trans girls on the subway, lesbian couples holding hands in the street, it all seemed like a possibility,” she said. She added that she soon found a safe space between fellow stage-makers and new friends who allowed her to experiment with her gender expression in ways that seemed forbidden in Puerto Rico. As soon as she sat down to write, her sister began to transform, and Velez Melendez wanted to include a passing character as an homage.
Originally, it wasn’t Lolita who was trans but the reception character. Lolita inspired by Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita LeBron, who, in 1954, led an attack on the US Capitol, injuring several members of Congress. Writing the scenes in which Lolita talks to the receptionist about decolonization made the playwright freak out.
“It’s the TERF-iest I’ve ever been with myself,” she explained, using an acronym for “Radical Feminists Transient Exclusions“A term used to describe feminists who suffer from transphobia.” “Here I was telling this trans character that they had to decolonize themselves when they did so years ago.”
Feliz Melendez, unhappy with her draft at Hunter, said she was shocked by the encouragement she received from her classmates and her professor. Jacobs Jenkins then introduced her to director David Mendezbal, who oversaw the production of Soho Rep, who helped the play take a turn by asking, “What if it was Lolita who was trans instead?”
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