Today on Pearls and Heels we feature Maggie Karanja. Maggie Karanja is a professional actor, director and producer at KayKay Productions. She graces our screens on Junior (KTN) as Mama Junior and Mother-in-law (Citizen) as Betty. She has been a part of many productions in the Phoenix Players Theatre which include secret lives which she also directed, Fences, One O’clock from the house, and Brilliant Divorce among many others. She has also performed numerous stage plays with FCA. She is also a business entrepreneur and a holder of a bachelor’s degree in Arts with a double major in Economics and Political Science. She is currently producing her stage play Smile Orange under her own production company Kay kay productions.
- Describe your typical day.
My typical day starts at around 5 AM in the morning. I prepare myself for shoots mostly during the week, that is, Monday to Thursday I shoot Mother in Law. I have to be on set by 7 AM. I get off set at 5 PM. Head for rehearsals in town which run from 6 PM -9 PM. I always have a script as I am always rehearsing for a stage play. It’s safe to say that acting is just like any other job. And in between all that reading a whole lot of scripts and trying to get lines.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a child I really wanted to be a lawyer, because I talk a lot and I am highly opinionated. I realized also acting entails more or less the same thing, you get to represent a character on stage or on screen, speak on their behalf make the jury believe you which in this context is the audience and they get to decide whether you are the villain in the play or movie, or they sympathize with you, which in practising law is the verdict, guilty or not guilty. So I settled on being an actor.
In the beginning, I was doing set books, so we were doing a lot of travelling. So I remember we were dropped off at the Kenya National Theatre. And I met one Jacob Orient who said that someone had dropped out of a script for a stage play that was to be performed by the Festival of Creative Arts and that’s how I landed my first gig in commercial acting. I did quite well and that opened a lot of doors for opportunities.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
To say the truth, I would save more (laughs). When I was starting off I used to get many small jobs as an extra but I was not serious in managing my money. Also, I was still in school so I would squander all my money because I also knew I had my parents who would still get me pocket money. So yes, saving money.
4. What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Top of my list has to be discipline. This is tied to the fact that with the level of competition in our industry we need to struggle to be in many productions to the point that people all over know you and I am talking about production houses. In the process of wanting to work different jobs many artistes forget that you need to observe time. Take, for instance, I shoot on two different sets, and I have rehearsals. I have to consult both producers of my schedule plus my directors for them to know I will show up on set Monday to Thursday at a certain call time and the same with rehearsals. Showing to set on time with lines is the utmost form of discipline every artiste should practice.
Learning. As an artiste I am never supposed to get into a comfort zone, I need to push myself. Just like any career you can only get better. We learn better from the artistes we interact with by watching others on stage, on set and by always practising. One Gilbert Lukalia is also someone who made me realize this. He is a phenomenal actor but he gets better every time I watch him because he told me he reads and researches a lot about acting and directing. We need to keep sharpening our skills while we are at it.
A strong yet open personality. This may just be the hardest quality to acquire. An actor must be open to the world and the people in it in order to develop the insight necessary to bring characters to life. At the same time, he or she must be protective enough to deal with the constant rejection and disapproval that abound in this industry. When I say rejection that includes the number of auditions we show up to prepared only to be told we do not qualify for the role.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
In the beginning, it was a challenge because initially, the audience turnout was not that good, but as time goes by, people are responding so well to this industry. Nairobians are turning out in as great numbers to watch a play or watch local TV as they would attend a concert. It is a good sign meaning that we are growing. It is even more amazing to see corporates and other companies fighting to sponsor shows because they know that’s where they will also reach their target audience.
- What motivates you?
I am motivated by the feedback I get from the audience, as it gives me a sense of accomplishment and it’s something that I can look back on and say “I achieved that”. I’m also motivated by visible results. For instance, my last play which was staged at Phoenix a couple of weeks back called “FENCES” was a very moving and captivating story which spoke about women and their role in the family. And some of the women in the audience walked up to me after the show complimenting me and telling me that I moved them to tears. So my relationship with the audience motivates me a lot to do more to be able to tell their stories when they are not able to.
- How do you define success?
I would say success comes as a result of decisiveness. I believe decisiveness is a vital quality of all successful people. Every great leap forward in your life comes after you have made a clear decision of some kind. That is what success is to me.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
This has to be my parents any day, who have sacrificed a lot for me to be where I am. They have supported me and are my number one fans. They are the most selfless people. God bless their souls.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Definitely preparation time, which we call rehearsals. I get to experiment a whole lot, especially the research bit. At times when given a character, I start off thinking I will play it one way then end up playing the complete opposite of what I had anticipated initially.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Putting God first
Dedication and Discipline
A focused Mindset
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Invest in a good actor’s resume and headshots.
Keep your ear on the ground for all sorts of auditions, and do not choose auditions to go to, thinking that’s such a huge role I cannot do it or that is such a small role, we are taught there are never small actors.
Never give up even when they say no to you, keep attending auditions and mingle a lot in places where actors are you never know!
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
I recently started training students in a Logos Christian School. This has opened up a lot of opportunities for me but besides that, I get to give back. I teach these kids what I had been taught when I was also starting out. I believe there is nothing as great as sharing knowledge and that is what I am doing with them. And the best part about it all is when they call me their role model, I had never imagined being someone’s role model this young. It has to be the most satisfying bit of my career.
- What makes you happy?
Being on stage, interacting with fellow actors and watching plays.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I cook a lot, I love cooking. I cook when I am stressed, depressed, happy, excited, and anxious. When I am not working, I am either watching movies, cooking or reading scripts.
15. Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
I will have properly established myself as a producer with my own production company. I will have a couple of shows on TV but still, produce stage plays as that’s where my heart is. I want my name to be on everyone’s lips, people saying how much I revolutionized this industry. That is my goal.
If you would like to interact with Maggie you can find her on Facebook at Meggielle Kay. You can also check out her Facebook Page.
Pearls And Heels: Emily Ongus