Today on Pearls and Heels we feature Laura Wanjiru Ekumbo. Laura Ekumbo describes herself this way, “I was born in Nakuru. I moved to the big city when I was 4 years old. My Mum calls me Ciru, and my Dad calls me Scooby Doo sometimes. I love performing, singing in the shower, making insta stories and sharing beautiful sounds. When I grow up, I want to see: dolphins, polar bears, koala bears, Beyoncé, pyramids, mountain peaks and the northern lights. I also want to write like Alysia Harris, act like Anthony Hopkins, sing like Billie Holiday and move like Donyelle Jones. I would also like to meet me in alternate universes that knows how to write interesting sentences and use full stops properly. I dream, constantly. When I’m not avoiding answering questions I’m a performing artist (stage, mostly) and a writer.”
- Describe your typical day.
Typical is forever changing, I’ll leave out the stuff that’s not been every day in the past 6 months. I open my eyes when my body is tired of being horizontal, check my phone, listen to ‘the uploads’ playlist on SoundCloud as I drink a glass of water, brush my teeth (normal morning routine – or do some people not groom in the morning?) and then I run/yoga/cross fit/all 3/none and shower. Then I grab something to eat, fire up my laptop, respond to emails, look at last night’s horrific attempts to create art, throw myself a pity party because Alysia Harris goals are looking very distant, read an article about something ridiculous, and feel better.
By this time, I’m quarter-way through my day (for normal people that would be around 11 AM). I read through my scripts of upcoming or ongoing projects, stress about how many lines I need to learn, watch Actors on Actors interviews, or listen to BAFTA podcasts instead. Read a chapter of something intellectually challenging so I can feel smart and capable again. Then get back to the scripts. Hear my niece get home, hear her laugh, want to be the person that makes her laugh, go make her laugh and do family things. Go back into my space and create – build on characters, do research on characters, piece together lines of poetry scattered in notebooks and telegram messages to myself, scribble some lines down, marvel at how good I am at making crappy patchwork, retreat into good music, slow down, go to sleep.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
From a young age, I always felt like I could be anything, this meant I wanted to be a lot of things. Most of them had no basis in reason, I just wanted to be, because I could, and I wanted to try everything I could. Some of those things were:
‘a modeller’ – I have no recollection of why, but it’s not something my family members ever let me forget saying.
Dolphins – they’re amazing creatures!
Power Puff Girls – all 3 because, they’re The Power Puff Girls, come on!
Kim Possible – she’s a teenage superhero with a super cool life and awesome friends, and she’s kickass.
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Otherwise, I might not have had the opportunities I’ve had and continue to have working with magnificent people who are incredibly talented and wonderful to be around. But if this is one of those ways of asking what advice I would give to someone, trust your journey and go at your own pace.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Patience: when you receive criticism when people are never on time when things aren’t going right when you can’t learn your lines when you can’t get that poem right when your body won’t move right when working with large groups of incredibly different individuals and leaders in their own right, when you’re on stage and you forget your line, and when there are no auditions. Most importantly, when you need to accept things as they are, and move forward.
Professionalism: Respecting yourself, your job, and your work, is the most important decision you will ever make. Once you start to behave like a professional, others will recognize and respect you for it, and start to treat you like one.
Perseverance: There will be a few no’s, you need to not stop. There will be crappy poems that people won’t tell you they hate but will whip out their phones while you perform, you need to not stop. There will be people who’ll try to get you to ‘take care of them’ because they see you’re a woman and you want this really bad, you need to spit in their faces and not stop. There will be characters you won’t be able to shed, and your heart may feel like it can’t take anymore – it can, you need to not stop. You have something to give, don’t stop.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I always struggle with this question, because I honestly do not feel like I’ve had enough experience in the entertainment industry. So far, working in Nairobi has been fulfilling and heartbreaking in equal parts. There is a lot of growth, and a lot of hard work that the people who came before my peers and I, dedicated themselves to, and that has made more of Nairobi receptive to homegrown artists, and homemade art.
Working as a professional is challenging because many people don’t see being a performer as a profession, including some performers. This means, a lot of people don’t take what I do seriously; the question about what I do, once I answer it, is always followed up by, “Oh, cool! How do you make money? What else? What’ll you do when you get bored of it? But like, what’s your real job?” It also means, a lot of people doing what I do, don’t take themselves seriously, and that can make my job difficult because that is the culture that is being spread.
- What motivates you?
Hahaha! Survival – money. Pleasure motivates me. A desire to become the best version of myself and then beat that. Competition. Love. Disappointment. Fear.
- How do you define success?
Paper!! – it’s funny because I used to tell my mum I don’t care about money, if it comes great, if it doesn’t, at least I’ll be giving back to the world.. Now I understand its importance – I understand the reach it can necessitate; but even better, I didn’t lose that desire to just do good.
If I’m involved in a performance project, and one person walks up to me and shares how that experience impacted them on an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual, or whatever level; I have succeeded.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Myself. This is a recent development, inspired by a chapter in Audre Lorde’s collection of essays ‘Sister Outsider’; the chapter is ‘The Use of the Erotic’. I’d like to quote part of it, so you can being to understand.
“When we live outside ourselves, and by that, I mean on external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual’s. But when we begin to live from within outwards, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense.”
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
“Being an artist that’s the best excuse for being crazy” – Jermaine Lamarr Cole
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Defining it for yourself and holding on to it, don’t let anything corrupt that understanding.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Hey now…look at that foresight in number 3. But also this is why, in exams, you’re told to read all the questions before you attempt to answer any. Because now I can’t get full marks for copy-pasting my answer up there, can I? So, this is how I fail in exams. My advice? – read all the questions before you attempt any.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
That one time someone didn’t know I was 3 characters on stage.
- What makes you happy?
Rain. Flow. How my niece puts a sentence together and makes you realize how dumb and boring normal and correct English is. New experiences. Good music.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Sleep. Dance. Torture my Instagram followers with long insta stories of me jamming to good music.
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
If you would like to interact with Laura you can find her on Twitter at @Laura_Ekumbo, on her Facebook page, and on Instagram. You can also check her out on her blog lauraekumbo.wordpress.com.
Pearls And Heels: Catherine Ndungu