After the performance, I was the first one to clap because everybody else seemed to be frozen.
Sitting at the front it was hard to gauge how people in the audience were feeling. Could they cheer...? Perhaps after a delayed period of time. Could they laugh...? Not in this scene.
It is clear that the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is as topical and emotive today, as it was when I started writing the play several years ago. (You can refer to my earlier Huffpost article on FGM here https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/yvonne-ossei/female-genital-mutilation_1_b_1822156.html )
"Sorry it took me a while to come back down after that, it was a powerful play," and "That was so moving, I just wanted to thank you," were some of the responses quickly offered to me.
FGM is performed on babies and young girls in 28 African countries, Israel, Iraqi Kurdistan, Oman, Yemen and within migrant communities in the United Kingdom and United states. It is estimated that it has been carried out on around 100-150 million women around the world. There are different types of FGM, but at its most severe, the clitoris is cut off, the vagina sewn up, and the surrounding area of the genitalia burnt with corrosives. Only a hole the six of a pinhead is left for urine and menstruation.
The average person may have heard about Female Genital Mutilation, but I guess witnessing a scene from a play on the topic is liable to leave you feeling taken aback. No, I did not expose them to scenes of actual genital cutting, if that is what you are wondering.
In the narrative, Aaliyah and her younger sister Spirit were mutilated as children, but traumatically Spirit died in the process. Aaliyah runs away from home, and it is not until fifteen years later she builds up the courage to confront her mother. "I opened my eyes and I could see pieces of my flesh lying next to me." But FGM is about more than the physical, the psychological wounds can be far more devastating for women like her. "There is no difference between me and the people you see talking to themselves outside Brixton station...This is my life now."
Furthermore, when a young girl who is mutilated, bleeds to death, can we call it murder? "You hid her body in a dirty sack and threw it away like garbage."
My play is called 'Face Up' and it won a scriptwriting competition, as part of the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), 2013.The prize included a live reading at Channel 4 Studios, in Horseferry Road on 5th September 2013. In the question and answer session that followed the performance, both the director Chester Yang and I were surprised by the level of interest and detailed questions we received. Here are a few of the discussions I had with audience members.
Question: Why is FGM performed on women?
Answer: Some people will tell you that it is part of a religion such as Islam or Christianity, but the truth is that FGM is not mentioned in the Koran or in the Bible. It is cultural, designed to reduce sexual pleasure in women, and to maintain their virginities before marriage.
Question: What was your inspiration for writing the play?
Answer: I remember waking up at 3am and watching the 24 hour news broadcasts on the BBC, and that morning, there happened to be a report on FGM. I was still half asleep so it felt surreal. I remember hearing a child screaming in the background who was being mutilated. Then a nurse told a story of how she had to reopen a woman's vagina in order for her to give birth. She claimed that the pregnant woman's screams haunted her for the rest of her life. At that moment I joined the club. I never forgot those stories either.
I started out acting in fringe theatre before anything else, so I hadn't thought of myself as a writer. But when I started writing, FGM was the first thing that came to my mind.
Question: I am aware that you are West African, so is FGM from West Africa?
Answer: It does occur in West Africa, but It is more widespread in countries that form the Horn of Africa, such as Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. In these countries the prevalence rate is as high as 80%.
If a woman volunteers to have the procedure, then that is one thing. But forcing it on vulnerable young girls that cannot defend themselves is unacceptable. That is child abuse. FGM is something that we should never stop discussing and trying to find solutions to. Hopefully my play will go some way into creating awareness around surrounding this matter.
Face Up is in the process of being staged in its entirety, and we are also exploring other production formats, but I welcome enquiries at email@example.com.
Follow Face Up on twitter @FaceUpDrama and join in the conversation #FaceUpDrama
Read more from Yvonne Ossei on http://www.musingsofyvonne.com