Ifeoma Fafunwa is the founder and creative director of iOpenEye, a Nigerian production company driving social change through performance art. She is the producer of the popular stage play HEAR WORD! A collection of monologues based on true-life stories of Nigerian women, aimed at challenging social, cultural, and political norms that limit the potential and contribution of women.
Fafunwa directed one of Nigeria’s cultural submissions for the London 2012 Olympics, and her work has been featured at LIFT, London’s festival for new forms of theatre. In 2016, HEAR WORD premiered internationally in Cambridge with support from Harvard University and the American Repertory Theatre, and then was staged at the Frascati theatre in Amsterdam and has been to various parts of the world.
Ifeoma started out in interior architecture, she has a degree in Architecture and worked for many years in architect offices but all along, she always had the love for theatre and film and therefore spent a lot of time as an audience member when she was very young. She then started taking acting classes in her 20s, and became an actor for a while. She would go back and forth between architecture and acting; sometimes she did both at the same time. When she moved back to Nigeria, she had already done some directing and some writing in the U.S.
Though born in Nigeria, when Ifeoma moved back to Nigeria, she ran into Joke Silva, who had known her from when she was younger and Joke gave her the VMonologues to direct. Ifeoma was in theatre in U.S for some years and she had directed and written pieces, even when she was nominated for an award in the Los Angeles area.
For Ifeoma, coming back to Nigeria meant a lot to her and seeing the culture and how oppressive the culture was to women, her desire to bring the challenges of women to the fore birthed her show: Hear Word. She understood that women are natural multitaskers but the balancing act was way too much. Interestingly, she also observed that women were kind of cold to one another, that they would find other women threatening and when she tried to examine what that was about, she had her discoveries. All of these and more again, informed the birth of Hear Word. The play began asking if women were in support of other women, if the culture was supportive of women, If legislature was supportive of women and so on.
Comparing Architecture and stage play production, she says “In Architecture, I was designing with light and openings, brick and mortar, things that would stay in one place. It’s the same thing as a director: I see the light, the movement, it’s just that I’m designing things now on stage that move themselves.”
To those who believe the Hear Word play is ‘fighting’ the men, Ifeoma has this to say “The play is not actually a male bashing play. If you watch it properly, you will find out most perpetrators in the play are women. We had mothers-in-law trying to bring down daughters-in-law; we had women that were gossiping about their neighbours and other people’s children. We had women that were debasing themselves and women who were making very poor choices. So, if you look at the real person that gets the bashing in that play, it’s the women themselves’.
Performing with her team at the UN is one experience Ifeoma isn’t quick to forget. She describes the experience as “really very surprising and cool. It was a big step for Nigerian women too. This came after the kidnapping of 276 girls by Boko Haram in April 2014. It had been a difficult time for girls to go to school. So another objective for me was to have Nigerian women serving solutions, sharing problems, rather than the culture of silence”