By Mukurima X Muriuki in Los Angeles.
My name is Clarice Otieno, born and raised in Kenya, in a family of 1 boy and 2 girls.
I vividly remember playing “Kalongo’ with my neighborhood friends; how I would steal a chicken thigh or drumstick from the pot of soup cooked during auspicious occasions like Baptism, Easter ,Christmas or New year. The soup, as expected, would end up dripping or the pieces of meat would be sticking from my pocket. On most occasions I would be caught and had to explain myself away leaving and funny enough, my mother would end up laughing at my excuses. To her it was comic relief and it was therefore not strange to have me entertain my family after dinner, cracking jokes while making faces. In my world, laughter meant everything.
I attended City Primary School where my love for entertainment developed even more. I joined the drama club and the mass choir, and I would follow up on this passion in high school where I became part of the drama club. By this time I had a voice that would rival that of boys in terms of timbre- too deep for a female! This would be reflected in my costume as I would dress up in male attire.
Our school participated in several drama competitions and I scooped several awards including Best Actress and Best Artist. My excellence in this field compelled the school administration to nominate me as the Entertainment Captain. However, this did not work out and after a few months I was demoted because of allowing what the management called “too much” entertainment in terms of letting the students watch a lot of television.
After high school, I joined my church-St John’s ACK, Pumwani, drama club. I played lead and/or supporting roles and this allowed me to keep on dreaming about a bigger audience. I would parse through local dailies looking for auditions. On some occasions, I would board a matatu to the Kenya National Theatre, to be around established actors and actresses. It was during one of the trips that I stumbled upon a guy giving out fliers calling for interested people to audition for an upcoming comedy series. I grabbed the opportunity. This was my first audition and I was recruited for a role in Krazie Kenyans which was showing on Citizen TV.
My main break came when I got my second gig with Red Korna which was a creation by the Redykyulas crew. This was showing on NTV and I played alongside Mudomo Baggy. It felt good to be in the limelight. People would stop me in the streets asking for autographs and taking pictures. I would hear them calling my stage name ‘Mama Njoro’ and it made me realize dreams do come true if we are patient enough. However, this did not last for long as I had to leave for Germany to pursue modelling as well as study.
After a stint in Germany, I relocated to the United States of America. At first, I thought to myself: ‘This is the epicenter of entertainment where dreams can be realized.’ My first play was ‘I didn’t ask to be here’ by Jeanette Greenwood- a very special woman to my heart, who nurtured and taught me what I didn’t know about stage plays. I was then cast for a short film: ‘the coconut syndrome’ by Carolina Palacios. I did a few other projects with no speaking lines, basically background extras with little or no pay where I learnt that breaking through in the American industry is no mean feat. At times I would be cast for roles on away locations and this meant incurring the costs of -meals, travel and accommodation. This however did not deter me. With time, I secured bigger roles with established production team who would at least pay for travel and accommodation, but I did not earn any income. To get better, I enrolled for acting classes where I learned how to act professionally on film and TV. The consistent efforts and a never say die attitude finally paid off when I got signed by an agent, quite a feat in the film industry in America. It was a journey that took almost 9 years.
So far I have done a number of amazing feature films and Tv Series, won Best promising Actress award choice in the African Oscar-NAFCA, and Best Actress in the DEAR Diaspora entertainment And Recognition Award
I have shared the stage with notable Hollywood names like Lynn Whitfield from Madea’s family re-union, Jordana Brewster, Linda Grey, Patrick Duffy, Jesse Metcalfe, Josh Henderson from Dallas Tv Series, Ashley Judd from Salvation pilot among others. In Nollywood, I have graced the screen with Kalu Ikeagwu, Chinedu Ikedieze, Patience Ozokwor, and Francis Odega among others. I am looking forward to my next project being filmed in Miami
It is because of God’s grace that I have come this far. I have had many challenges along the way but God has never left my side
For those looking to migrate to America, remember you are not coming to a bed of roses. Many people in the motherland perceive everything as greener on this side. The struggles are real there are many people doing more than two jobs to provide for their families, while others live paycheck to paycheck. It’s important to get as much information as you can regarding the area of interest especially if it is also a source of income and not a hobby.