“I believe it is my responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society instead of complaining.” Leading Ladies Africa speaks to Ifeoma Fafunwa.

There is a quiet, admirable and determined strength about Ifeoma Fafunwa, evident when she speaks about her vision of making theatre a more relevant art form in Nigeria. She talks about art, culture, travel, and why it’s important to stay focused on your dreams. Be inspired!

You are popularly known for your involvement in arts and theatre, how would you describe yourself? Who is Ifeoma Fafunwa?

I am a creative who is passionate about the arts and who believes that art is one of the remaining possible ‘saving graces’ for Nigeria. I am passionate about Nigerian culture, food and behaviour. I get deeply hurt when I see an abundance of mediocrity and disfunction as a direct result of corruption, when I know that we are capable of so much more….though it is hard to remember a time when that was.

I believe it is my responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society instead of complaining, however, I complain a lot. I am a Lagosian and was born and raised in Lagos Island. I am a wife and mother of 4 children.

It would seem that the arts and theatre form the core of most of your activities, how did your interest in it begin?

At 4 years old, I remember thoroughly enjoying drawing. In primary school, teachers singled me out for art exhibitions. In secondary school, I was in the drama club and won an international art competition which allowed me to represent Nigeria in Washington DC. I guess I was born interested in art.

For a few years, you produced and directed the V-Monologues for the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), why did you choose to be involved with that project?

I was invited to direct the V-monologues in 2007 and 2013 by the producers of those shows for KIND(Joke Silva 2007 and Lala Akindoju 2013). Both of those women believed in me and the messages in the show are important to me.

You were the Creative Director, Street Source Marketing, what exactly did the company do?

The company created marketing tools and provided strategy for large US corporations that wanted to the reach the US urban target market.

Many have said that the rise of Nollywood has impacted negatively on the theatre culture in Nigeria, do you agree with that?

No. I think that a depressed economy and unstable good leadership has had the most negative impact on theatre in Nigeria. However, everything goes in phases. Nollywood and theatre will merge at some point in the future, as one feeds into the other. Nigerian audiences want to enjoy both, and Nollywood stars will see the benefit of participating in live theatre just as actors in Hollywood go back to Broadway. Besides, theatre is a part of Nigerian heritage and a part of any advanced culture, so the need for the preservation of this innate Nigerian art form is obvious intelligence.

Do you think we have the capacity in to produce Broadway type shows in Nigeria?

Yes. However, it will take a lot of work and a lot of investment. Private corporations and government will have to want it. Broadway shows cost more than making movies and infrastructure is a necessity for success in the big theatre business. I am ready when they are ready.

Most of your productions centre around women and the issues they face, are you a feminist?

I do not like the word ‘feminist’. I think it is dated. It reminds me of words like ‘colored’ or ‘negro’. It implies a lacks progress as its meaning should no longer be relevant. It is like me asking a man if he were a ‘masculinist’. All women should be looking out for other ‘women’, but that is only because we are not yet at a place where ‘all people’ are looking out for other ‘people’ whether man, woman or child.

How do you think mentoring can be done in a creative industry such as yours?

I mentor young people as much as I can. Young creative people can benefit from advice, encouragement and opportunity. It is not easy to choose to be a creative. When someone is courageous enough to choose that path for their life, then they should be supported.

 What are some of the challenges you face in pursuing your dreams?

Funds, Time, Infrastructure, Work-life balance and…did I mention ‘Funds’?

What drives you?

I believe that by Nigerians producing something which positively showcases our creativity, capabilities, intelligence and sophisticated heritage, we are not only positively influencing the next generation of Nigerians, but also changing the way the world sees us – which in turn changes the way we see ourselves. Think about it again before you knock it.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Hmmm…. contributing something to the growth of art and theatre in Nigeria.

Are actors born, or they can be trained to master the craft?

Actors are definitely born. However, people who really want to learn to become actors and are willing to do the work required become excellent and successful actors.

Name your three favourite actresses?

Wow! My brain immediately divides into Nollywood and Hollywood and I wonder why. Patience Ozokwor, Rita Dominic, Joke Silva, Omonor Somolu …..I can go on for a while. Then, I must mention Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett.

Who/what has made the most impact in your life?

My husband Tani, my sister Chinwe and being Nigerian.

 What sorts of complex creative projects are you involved in and how do you find fulfilment?

I have been on teams that designed and built large architectural projects, major marketing campaigns and city festivals. As of now, I am just doing theatre and hope to make it more relevant in Nigeria. I am fulfilled when I see a vision come to fruition.

For someone considered as an arts body, how do you relate with other people not in your industry?

I love meeting and learning about all kinds of people and remain open and enriched by anyone who is honest, real and in touch with their feelings. However, I do have a weakness for artists.

 You are married with children, is there really such a thing as “work-life balance?”

They say there is but I am yet to find it. This is a constant struggle for me.

 What advice would you give young women getting into creative industries, particularly the acting and theatre scene?

Ask yourself if there is anything else you would like to do… if the answer is ‘yes’, then go do that. If however you find that you keep coming back or are sure that acting is it….then, fasten your seat belts, know yourself, never be desperate or compromise your beliefs, chose meaningful projects and work like your life depends on it!! Work, work, work!!

Your last production “Hear Word” focused on a variety of issues facing women – some good, and some bad. Why is it important to tell those stories?

Women in Nigeria still have a long way to go to gain equality, protect themselves (and children) and believe in their power to create, succeed, contribute and change Nigeria! This country desperately needs their input so why should a woman be up all night worrying about the man who raped her or her husband’s family taking all her possessions or whether her husband will take another wife or if they will marry her off to that fifty year old man when she is just nine years old! This country needs all hands on deck, so….”aint nobody got time for that!”

If you could change something about yourself, what would that be?

Just one thing? I have many! I need more discipline, I need better organisational skills and I definitely need longer shapelier legs 

What are your favourite tourist destinations and why?

I like historical European towns and cities because of the care and preservation of historical architecture, art and music. I like places like Thailand for their celebration of food, health and well being. I love Obalende because it is safe, full of service providers, has great food in little corners and presents the most interesting mix of pleasant people from all over Nigeria and of different religious persuasions. If it had uninterrupted electricity, I could see it as a popular tourist destination.

What is your personal mantra?

Learn something every day.

P.S This interview was originally published on Ynaija blog in 2014.

The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.


It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

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