Ifeoma Fafunwa — Empowering Nigerian Women Through Theatre


Published: December 20, 2016

This is part of our 2016 Radiant Health Women of Action series. The Radiant Health Women of Action is our annual highlight of inspiring African women taking action and doing remarkable work to improve the health and well-being of Africans.

In 2007, Ifeoma Fafunwa made her directorial debut with the Nigerian version of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. In 2014, her own production HEAR WORD! hit the stage in Lagos. The play has been performed for thousands around the world and to a wide variety of audiences — from the posh, upwardly mobile on Lagos Island, to market women at Mushin and bus conductors at Osodi, to students at the University of Lagos and intellectuals at Harvard.

“My hope is that HEAR WORD! will help us question the way we do things in Nigeria with regard to women. It is important that we bring women to the forefront of leadership and decision making in order to improve the state of our country,” says Fafunwa. Over the course of 23 sequences, the play addresses issues that prod our hearts but are frightening to acknowledge. Fafunwa opens our eyes so that we might see more.

The play, which has an all-female cast, calls women to aspire to greater things. The words from the stage enters the audience’s ears, grabs them and says with a still, small voice: hear word. Why are you living beneath your potential? Woman, hear word. Why are you killing yourself over the small things of life — how to please a man, how to stop my husband from having a second wife, how to have a male child — when there is a world to conquer? Woman, hear word.

“What if we put our resources to empowering those women to nation building?” asks Fafunwa, who is also the chief creative director of the performance art production company iOpenEye, which uses its resources to strengthen Nigeria by empowering women. She hopes that the organization becomes a social impact performance art hub.

“I pray that iOpenEye would have contributed significantly to the development of the arts and positively affected the lives of Nigerians,” she adds.

Born and raised in Lagos, Fafunwa’s craft is inspired by the city. Most of her work debuts in the city but also has an international appeal. Putting a theatre production together in Nigeria is hard work. With no art grants, Fafunwa bootstraps — she wears many hats, including writer, script editor, administrator and marketing professional. Yet each performance is ultimately a statement that Nigeria can export quality theatre.

“I also intend to show the world that art excellence is a part of Nigeria and that we can export not just art but a globally beneficial social message,” she says.

In a world where there are few stage directors, and even fewer female directors, Fafunwa, a 2011 Aspen Global Leader, has put a mark on the history of theatre in Nigeria. Through her work, she also empowers the female talent she works with. While she is making history, she is also making a lasting impression with her belief that women need to be empowered to contribute their quota to development.

By giving her own quota, Fafunwa gives other women a reason to give their best .

A trailer for Hear Word! can be found here, as well as the Hear Word! website. Ifeoma Fafunwa’s next show, LOVE and RECESSION, will run from December 29 to January 1, and Hear Word! is hoped to return in April 2017.

[MORE]: Meet All the 2016 Radiant Health Women of Action

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