Akinyi looks forward to taking African stories to Broadway.
Akinyi Oluoch is still training in psychology but has tapped into her creative side and has developed a capacity to step into different types of roles: Baloo the Bear in Jungle Book the Musical, to the Evil Step Mother in Cinderella the Musical, to Lilian in the most recent Too Early for Birds: Brazen Edition.
She has worked with major production companies in Kenyan theatre such as Aperture Africa and Nairobi Performing Arts Studio, among others. As a holistic performer who can sing, act, dance and play the guitar, Akinyi looks forward to taking African stories to Broadway.
1. How did you switch from psychology to acting, or are you doing both at the same time? Is this what you went to school for, in Korea, and did you do any acting there?
I'm still studying psychology, and I am looking to graduate next year. Acting has always been a part of me, as much as I didn't get the chance to study it. And so psychology and acting have a sort of symbiotic relationship in my life. It's much easier to do character research and history and breakdown, for example, due to my advantage with psychology. Korea was a cultural exchange program with my university.
I did two musicals and a Shakespeare play while I was there. That's how I discovered this was meant for me. Who would have thought I would find opportunities to act in Korea!
2. You've played a gamut of characters, from a temptress, to a bear! What do you think this says about your own versatility, and do you think it is important for actors to be versatile, or play the same thing that they are good at ?
You pick your struggle. It's a rare gift to be able to be extremely versatile as an actor and it's something you practice over time. I always loved role play games when I was younger and as I grew older, playing different roles helped me deal with my low self-esteem issues, so I could be absolutely anyone but myself - and that's probably where my versatility came from. I see myself as a blank slate that the writer and director can project their ideas for me to deliver. An actor doesn't necessarily have to be versatile, you can always be the bad guy in movies or plays, and be the best bad guy all the time, to the point that people would not think of anyone else to play that role.
3.What did being on stage for the Brazen Edition feel like for you? What energy do you think that performance put into the world of performance, and indeed, feminism? Are you a feminist, and what does that mean to you, if so?
This was the first time I ever did an all-female production and it was amazing. The women in this space are so phenomenal and really helped me grow, as I was among the youngest of them.
I am a feminist. I believe in equity and I believe that women in history were deliberately hidden from us - or we are given piecemeal information because we live in a patriarchal society. And so as a feminist, it is my job to revive these stories, to tell the truth about these women and to make sure that my grandchildren's society will know the truth about their ancestors. We shall not be erased as women.
Brazen definitely inspired a lot of women to become feminists and men too – watching their demeanour during the show when women, and erasure, and history, were being openly talked about on stage made them feel uncomfortable, and a good number of those who came to watch, admitted it.
4. With all you're doing at the moment, will you go back to your studied profession or is that on hold for now? And in the midst of all of this, where do you find time to play guitar?
Well, I will graduate but concentrate on acting full time as a career. Psychology has helped me understand myself and other people at a very deep level, but you won't find me with a client on a couch, unless it's in a movie or series or play. Guitar is my therapy tool. It calms me when I have a lot going on and gives me a centre of focus. I squeeze in a few minutes in a day to play. It has more personal than commercial use at the moment.
5.What are your thoughts on artists speaking truth to power - more specifically, using their art to pass on a message? What message would you like to be made clear, as an artist?
Artists have a very special gift, and that is to consciously enter the subconscious mind and leave subliminal messages in the form of lyrics to move people towards change. Why else does music influence us so heavily? As an artist, I am an activist through my art, I am an instrument of change and it is important for all artists to realise their power and use it constructively.
A simple example: Sauti Sol and Nyashinski's song "Tujiangalie" speaks so much truth to our current situation and calls for Kenyans to reflect within. And that, is the power of being an artist. On that note, anyone writing a play about Malala or Bobi Wine? Let's honour legends while they're here.