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Charles J Ouda takes a bite of the big apple

My Man

Why did you move to the US?

I was given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.

New York, huh?

Yes, New York presented a new challenge for me. A calling, if you will, too big to be ignored. I have always been drawn to Broadway, so I moved out here to reach for the dream in 2014.

Do you miss Kenya?

Every day... every single day.

Have you relocated permanently?

I won't comment on that for now.

Where did you grow up?

I am Nairobi born and bred. Grew up like any other middle class kid in Nairobi. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I never got the opportunity to attend university. I jumped straight into the industry right out of high school.

Was your career in acting planned or you landed in it by default?

I would say it was planned. I initially wanted to be a doctor when I was younger, then a lawyer once I got to high school. But during my last high school musical at St Mary's School, Nairobi, I realised acting is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was actually serendipitous because the producers of the first play I did – Lwanda: Man Of Stone – noticed me and I have been working professionally ever since.

What have been the major milestones in your career?

Every show is a milestone. I have had some delightful experiences with some of Kenya's finest theatre actors. From Mkamzee Mwatela to June Gachui, Maqbul Mohamed to Lydia Gitachu. And to do it on such a revered place as the theatre, that is a dream come true.

Is there money in the Arts or do you do what you do purely for the love of it?

Yes, there is money, but if we do not love what we do, if we do not need it, what is the point? I honestly believe that there isn't an actor I know or whom I have worked with that does this as an easy pay cheque.

Tell us about your time on TPF as a coach. How was that?

Tusker Project Fame was an interesting experience. Talking to these young minds about performance and watching how eager they were to try out the things they learned in sessions. It was a learning experience for them, and for me too.

And what about the TV series Better Days?

Jesus! That was such a long time ago. Better Days was an awesome experience. For me (and for a lot of the other guys on the show). Better Days was something new, something fresh that we were building. We felt like revolutionaries changing the game. It was about passion and desire.

What dream do you have for your life?

Well, first off, I want to tell stories and make something that will outlive me – real stories about people in real life and how they survive. I didn't get into this for the money or the fame. Fame especially is a concept that has never carried much weight in my world.

How do you balance all the hats you wear – you can sing, act, write music...?

I wear them all simultaneously. I don't think it can ever be switched off. Just more prominent at certain times.

Tell us about how you got involved in Know Zone

I got involved through my involvement with Makutano Junction (same production company). The producer at the time approached me to help them write one of the segments of the show, and we began talking about the rest of the show. The producer at the time then asked my co-host and I to present the show. I was convinced because I really believe that education is the key to true development and growth. And the basic issues we would tackle on the Know Zone always helped with numeracy and literacy for the children exposed to the show. Also, I really loved hosting the games.

Any babies, wife?

I don't have any kids. I am a proud son, brother, uncle and godfather.

Tell us about your two-year conservatory at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York

That was a wild ride. I got to work with some amazing actors, who were both teachers and classmates. Mauricio Bustamante (Little Men), Paul Calderon (Pulp Fiction, Boardwalk Empire), just to name a few of my teachers. And it was amazing seeing so much passion and dedication each day from my fellow classmates. They taught me that success is not about wanting to be famous, it is about needing to be truthful and tell relatable and relevant stories.

What projects are you working on now?

I'm writing a Web series set for release later in the year, editing a film that will be out in May, writing a musical that should be ready about seven years from now, and starring in two projects set for some time in March. The year has started busy.

Seven years to write a musical?

Well, Hamilton (an American musical by playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda) took nine, so yeah, it can take that long. The trick is finding the balance between creating something new and still keeping the connection with the subject matter and the words (or lyrics) on the page. That takes research and commitment.

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