When Hear Word Visited Harvard



By Yinka Olatunbosun

The three-week run of “Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True’’ in Harvard may have ended but the ripples still linger. It was a homecoming of sorts at the Ethnic Heritage Centre, Ikoyi when the returning cast and crew of Hear Word! were given a near-heroic welcome on the red carpet. Yetunde Babaeko and her team added the paparazzi glamour to the morning event inside the lush garden where light refreshments were served. It was also a time for the production team of Hear Word to celebrate the International Women’s Month.

The Hear Word! team had arrived right in time for International Women’s Month celebrations with stories of how their international performance was received. No doubt, it was quite gratifying to see the play’s producer and the CEO, iOpen Eye Ltd, Ifeoma Fafunwa with the all-female cast gush about their successful performance at the Department of African Studies, Harvard University. Hear Word was performed in collaboration with the American Repertory Theatre, an off-Broadway theatre which was instrumental to securing the 400-capacity auditorium where the shows took place.

One of the cast members, Elvina Ibru said the play is not man-bashing; instead it is focused on women supporting one another inspite of the challenges they have to deal with individually. She observed that many women have to deal with unpleasant traditions, sexual abuse and cheating spouses. But the play conveys a message of hope and reconciliation. For instance, if a husband impregnates another woman outside the marriage, the legal wife is expected to receive the husband’s child with love and not hate.

Meanwhile, Hear Word was performed in winter period. Many of the cast left the hot climate in Nigeria to an unpredictable weather. Zara Udofia Ejoh recalled how the weather was so deceptive that some who left their hotel rooms with light clothes later turned out to regret it when the temperature dropped. One of the male drummers for Hear Word, Blessing Akpofuri said that the bata drums bore the brunt of the cold weather. No fewer than three Bata drums were damaged by the winter.

For Elvina, the missing Nigerian food was a challenge. Yes, they could get some food but something just makes Nigerian food special.

“It may sound trivial but in Nigeria, we have organically prepared food. Most of what we ate there were genetically modified,” she said.

While deliberating on the audience response to the drama, Omonor said it was quite overwhelming when there were some Nigerians in the auditorium who would make side comments in our indigenous languages. Others would tap their fingers in agreement or simply applaud. Still, every show was sold-out.

“The message of Hear Word is universal,” she explained. “It becomes more obvious as we tour with it. It’s about situations that people are going through. So, the response is not too different from what it is in Nigeria. People are either crying or confessing after they have seen the play.

“Also, there is a serious understanding of the power of the theatre so they would come to watch theatre shows naturally. There was a lot of publicity for the show; there were posters in the train, emails and handbills. We need to realise that theatre is very important. It’s teaching without the board.

The veteran actress, Joke Silva said inspite of the campaign for gender equality, many women still face cultural discrimination.

“Women are still made to drink the fluid from the two-day corpse of their husbands just to prove that they didn’t kill their husbands.”

For this reason, Ifeoma Fafunwa reiterated the need to have policies that can support women. She added said the performance at Harvard was interpreted in sign language and there was visual narration for audience with special needs.

On a final note, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett was very proud of the Harvard performance and the impact the play had on the audience.

“We flew the flag. We beat the drum for Nigeria. We rocked them. Hear Word is a cerebral play and I am not overselling the play,’’ she said.

Hear Word was performed on March 8 in New York as part of the activities marking the International Women’s Day.