Young & Nigerian – For the love of stage, Kenneth Uphopho unveils PAWS

by Ifreke Inyang

Others might stay locked on to Nollywood, but Kenneth Uphopho has built a solid career for himself as an actor, an acting teacher and an all round stage guru. ‘Ifreke Inyang shares his life and his work.

What exactly are you into?

I run a Production Company called PAWS (Performing Arts Workshop and Studio) that puts up stage plays and run an academy for children where we teach the art of drama, dance and music. This runs as after school programs in several schools in Lagos. We have also started an initiative tagged “Live Theatre on the Mainland” and presently working on a play titled “The Wives” written by Prof Ahmed Yerima and its starring Kate Henshaw-Nuttall, Carol King, Catherine Edoho, Kemi  ‘lala’ Akindoju, Sola Roberts, Gbenga  Adekanmbi which will be showing at The Knot Centre on July the 10th,2011

At what point in time did you decide to go into what you do?

The company started quite by chance actually. In 2004 I was asked by a friend to teach his nephews for their school play since this friend knew that I was actively dancing then. I taught them and they did so well in the school presentation, I was introduced to the school and it became something I did officially and it just blossomed from that point. I got several recommendations and the business started.

Has it always been a passion for you?

The arts has always been my first love, and I realized I had a passion for teaching too.

Did you have anybody/people as role models?

There are several people in the industry especially in Performing Arts that have been influential and have proven to be wonderful role models for me. Steve James taught me everything I know about dancing and choreography, Muyiwa Oshinaike influenced my decision to take up acting on Stage and Felix Okolo is an outstanding director whose standards have also influenced my directorial skills.

What was growing up like? Was there anything about growing up that influenced you to go into it?

Growing up was tough. I wasn’t born into a privileged background so my siblings and I had to be creative with everything, especially to entertain ourselves. We also had to supporting the family at an early age, so I started training as a dancer quite early.

How did you start off?

I joined a production company that were into putting up plays and concerts and started training as a dancer and stage actor, then I moved to a dance company that was based at the national theatre, Ivory ambassadors where I got the privilege of working with Notable directors and choreographers, My skills were honed here because we travelled locally and internationally performing at different shows.

I moved to Abuja briefly to run the entertainment packages for several hotels which was on a contractual basis.

I returned to Lagos where I started working with Wole Oguntokun who ran the Renegade theatre for the next 8yrs , we performed plays at the MUSON and initiated the theatre @ Terra project which is still running. I actively participated in the V-Monologues as the only male performer and in the VvsT monologues Ultimate face Off, Season of Soyinka. I have been in over a 100 stage productions and I have worked in different capacities as an Actor, Stage Manager, Production Manager, Choreographer ,Asst. Director and The Director

What’s your educational background like?

I Studied Theatre Arts and Music at the Lagos State University and several dance workshops and certifications locally and internationally

Would you say the capabilities you have are as a result of hard work and training?

Training is the bedrock of any skill especially in the Performing Arts; the more you practice the better you are. I dare say with a little talent and a lot of training, a person can go very far. Naturally hard work and training go hand in hand.

Was there any time you considered quitting

Those years of training were tough, the arts are physically demanding, I had o watch my diet and do weight training for heavy lifts and flexibility. I must say I suffered loads of physical injuries and at the time was wondering if it was all worth it, other times  were as a result of the lacklustre reward system. In times past you couldn’t have survived on the commissions gotten from performing.

What would you say is the biggest risk you have taken in your career?

Moving from dancing where I was a champion in my own rights to stage acting was quite a risk but I took the plunge

What are some of the challenges you face in convincing clients about your abilities

In the beginning I always had the exposure of being with a group, be it a dance troupe or a drama group. So it didn’t take too much to convince clients concerning my abilities. Also now, I have an established reputation seeing that I have been in the business for over 12 years

What is the industry you work in like in Nigeria as compared to what is obtainable overseas? Is competition stiff?

There is a huge difference but then again, I am not sure the standards can be comparable. Abroad, there is a structure to every industry, and here we lack that, we lack the infrastructure for training, or even to perform. Apart from the National Theatre which was purpose built, there are no other proper structures built for Stage plays. We have talent that have never be seen or heard and chances are that only a few of them will ever get the opportunity

What role has the Nigerian factor positively and negatively played in who you are today?

On a positive note, the Nigerian factor has helped my drive to succeed and it has helped also when I get recommendations and referrals from clients based on previous work well done. Negatively I would say it is still a huge dearth in appreciation of the Theatre and performing arts

What is your reaction to the high number of young people either roaming the streets looking jobs and who have been frustrated in spite of what they are capable of doing?

I have mixed feelings. Yes we know that young people should look for innovative ways to help themselves and it’s so obvious that that the creative mind of young people are awake by looking at all the young achievers we have around to day, but my challenge is, a lot of young people aren’t even taught to think for themselves, at university, the curriculum is not designed to challenge minds and so loads of people leave school clueless about what to do with whatever skill they may have garnered while in school. You would find that a lot of young people who are entrepreneurs today probably had some other influence either from home or by some other association that sparked their thinking process and have moved them into the successes they are today

What is your most memorable experience?

My wedding day has been my most memorable so far.

What experience would you rather delete from history if you could?

I am not one of those people who would like to change the past because it has all been part of building character as an individual.

What would you say is your greatest fear?

I don’t have fears. My biggest challenge is just making sure I don’t lose sight of the vision of my purpose here on Earth.

If you are not into what you are doing now, what would you be doing?

Probably earning millions of pounds playing in the English premiership

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Running an established and accredited School for the Performing Arts with a focus on kids and young people

Have you gotten any awards/recognition yet?

I have gotten recognition from the Dance Guild of Nigeria, Dance meet Danse.

What do you love most about Nigeria?

The rich culture which has greatly influenced my artistic development and the people

What does being young and Nigerian mean to you?

Being young and Nigerian means limitless possibilities, it means that despite any odds, i am doing well and i am just going to do better. It also means working twice as hard to rise above the failings of my country and its usual frustrations with power and infrastructure. But as a people, we always have hope which is quite infectious, so I will press on!

Do you plan to relocate probably to continue with what you do abroad?

No, but I do plan to export our culture by exploiting opportunities that may become available in the future to take our Theatre to the world.

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