The film credits list him as Angry Man. An apt description, because as the scene erupts into a frenzy of activity through narrow slum corridors he is the man you see, his apparent wrath blazing in his eyes, clear above the irate mob. The film is the award winning ‘Soul Boy‘; the actor Rogers Otieno.
They say no artist should be confused too closely with his creations, but Rogers Otieno is as intense in person as he is on screen or on stage. His ineffable smile and brimming charisma makes any interaction with him memorable. From his modest beginnings in rural Kenya, Rogers, known to his friends as ‘Rojeh’, has risen to become one of the brightest young faces of Kenya’s emerging performance arts scene. Gracing stage and screen with equal enthusiasm he is fast on his way to becoming a household name.
Rogers Otieno’s greatest desire however, has always been to express different backgrounds and to explore the conflict between them, be it race or ethnicity; class or creed. An avid performer as far back as primary school, his first stage was the top of his school room desk where he would mimic his teachers in fits of helpless exaggeration which landed him a permanent place on the noise-makers list. After school he joined a church performance group and had his first real taste of theatre which pushed him to explore further possibilities at the Kenya National Theatre. There he learnt the ropes of professional theatre and his pathological curiosity found a focus. “When I was a kid I really wanted to be someone else. It was just amazing to watch people. I was shocked by society and how it behaves and how people interact. That has always been my influence and my inspiration; in everything I do.”
Today he is the Associate Director of The Theatre Company, a performing arts group registered in Kenya in the year 2000 with the aim of providing and creating space for dramatic expression. The Theatre Company provides workshops and courses for children and performers in various drama techniques as well as designing workshops for individuals and groups. Rogers first play “My Moving Home” is scheduled to go on tour of the region this year, after a successful circuit of Kenya in the year 2010. It tells the poignant story of a young man’s success, notwithstanding life’s many challenges. Inspired by his own upbringing, it tells of the life of Rojeh who, as a boy growing up in Nairobi’s Dandora Estate, has to make a speedy transition from his former, much easier, life in rural Kenya; and the critical choice between protecting his best friend and his first love, a girl at his high school. The play is performed in Kiswahili, Sheng and English using dramatic music, narration and largely improvised dialogue to imitate to interactive style of street theatre which Rogers feels is closest to the East African traditional method. “It includes drama, dialogue and poetry allowing for interaction with the audience. By the time they know it, they are on stage!”
Despite the abundance of comedy that is “My Moving Home”, it is obvious that Rogers journey has not always been easy, nor his successes so evident. From uncertain prospects at the end of his secondary school education, he has turned what many would have deemed misfortune into his greatest asset. “Challenges are there in whatever career you choose. I try to look at the other side of things. I’ve always enjoyed and welcomed the challenges because they push me to think of solutions. In most of my failures I have found a success – an opportunity to come up with something better.” The quality of Rogers work is evident as he finds that there is great demand for his skill on screen. He starred as Drogba, the street-smart matatu driver in the pilot run of M-Net’s ‘The Agency’, which was the first Kenyan TV series to air on M-Net TV. He also plays a wife-beating drunk, who gets born again on season one of KBC’s ‘Block D’ and Sanjiv the campus drug lord in the upcoming series, ‘Higher Learning’.
Rogers encourages the youth to see art in every experience and to find a way to use their individual talents to make a difference in their communities and use them to perpetuate the fact that we must recognise our differences as assets. “What is that one talent that you can save life with? Mine is creating! Art has to speak to the intellect, it has to speak to the heart. It’s the mirror of society and without a mirror who are we? It allows a society to be critical of itself. Art has a purpose – it’s not only for fun. In fact fun is what comes out of the art.”
Clip from My Moving Home