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Fafunwa: Roles women play in perpetuating systems of patriarchy

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Ifeoma Fafunwa is a consummate thespian with a difference, who see theatre as a platform for radical advocacy that should change the fortunes of women. While other feminist theorists blame men for the institution of patriarchy and its evils against women, Fafunwa thinks otherwise. In fact, she believes women are both victims and perpetrators of patriarchy and that they need to first be educated and liberated from their self-destruct tendencies. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Fafunwa talks about her expository play, Hear Word! Which she has taken round the world advocating thechange women need.

Congratulations for taking the message of the Nigerian woman to the world stage at Harvard University, U.S. When does the Nigerian audience get to see Hear
Word! again at home?

I cannot honestly say. It takes a lot to move the Hear Word! train. I will need to find sponsors before I can set a date but as it is always a favourite for women’s day and month, I imagine we may be able to expect something in March 2019.

How much of an ally would you say theatre as a platform has been for women empowerment campaigns?

It has been significant. Eve Ensler has used it for more than a decade and Ntozake Shange used it before then. I think theatre as a whole is a great medium for addressing all sorts of social issues and I believe that is the way it has been for centuries across Europe and Africa.

What gaps have been closed so far in women empowerment struggles and how much more is left undone?

There has been a lot of recent progress in sharing the importance of speaking out. There is less stigma and women are more supportive of women who share their experiences. 

We will need to do more work in the areas of policy, cultural norms and attitudes in the homes in order to more effectively address the limitations of patriarchy.

Theatre now seems a city affair, with less and less of it reaching rural folks, especially performances like Hear Word! that could have resonance with rural dwellers. Is this a healthy development, seemingly denying rural people the evangelising messages theatre provides?

It is natural for us city dwellers to believe that our contemporary form of theatre is the ultimate theatrical experience. However, theatre and storytelling are ancient African traditions and rural areas still have festivals, celebrations and ceremony where performance art with costumes, music and storytelling are exquisitely showcased.

So, from Vagina Monologues to Hear Word! on stage. What is radically different or the same between the two theatrical pieces? How much influence does one have on the other?

Both pieces have universal truths about the effects of patriarchy. 

The structure of Ensler’s work definitely inspired Hear Word! and so did the format of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls. What is radically different in Hear Word! is its highlighting of the roles women themselves may play in perpetuating systems of patriarchy. 

Most feminist plays blame government, institutions and men. However, Hear Word! asks women to examine how they may be both victims and contributors to the problem of gender parity.

From the number of enrolments in schools in the country, it is becoming clear that the fortune of the girl-child is taking a turn for the better. Is it hurray yet or there is more to be done?

There is certainly more to be done! There is more to be done to improve the safety of schools and the quality of the education itself. There is also a lot more to be done to keep girls in school. 

The absence of performance venues for theatre productions and funding are twin challenges for theatre producers like you. What are the possible ways to navigate these tightropes? What interventionist platforms do you propose to pull through?

Our production company, iOpenEye, has orchestrated performances in many non-conventional spaces in order to work around this limitation. I will produce a performance anywhere that there is an audience. 

Hear Word! has been performed at bus stops, local markets, restaurants and schools. We have even performed on a wooden platform erected in the water in the middle of Makoko!

There seems a resurgence of theatre performance culture in recent years. What would you attribute it to? And is the current boom sustainable?

I think that theatre in Nigeria depends on a robust economy. Corporations support theatre only when everything else is handled and there is still small to change to spare. The most recent economic boom encouraged a renaissance in theatre. 

Unfortunately, I believe that with the current economic conditions, the number of theatre productions will likely scale back.

It would seem government is not keen on supporting the performance arts, particularly theatre. Does this worry you? In what form would you want government’s support, if it were forthcoming?

At this point in time, Lagos State is very supportive of the arts, including theatre. They are erecting six new theatres.

My concern would be how the processes are run to ensure that there is equal investment in the creation of content as well. Otherwise, we run the risk of these spaces becoming event halls for parties. 

It would also make sense for the Federal Government to take a serious look at theatre arts and the arts in general. Art is an expression of a good, thriving society. 


In this article:
Ifeoma Fafunwawomen
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