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MELISSA KIPLAGAT | Kenya | Invest In Yourself

Actor | Presenter | Trainer | Child Welfare Advocate | Founder

My name is Melissa Kiplagat, an internationally trained professional actress working primarily in Kenya, and most known for my role as Akisa in Country Queen, Kenya’s first licensed series on Netflix. I grew up primarily in Kenya, but spent a couple of years of my childhood in Connecticut, and then years later in Maryland as my parents pursued their Master’s and PhDs at Yale. I got on stage for the 1st time when I was in 5th grade in Maryland. I auditioned for a smaller role but got offered the lead role which was originally written for a male. That was the first time I told myself, ‘Wow Melissa, maybe this is actually something you can do’. Fast forward to 2009, I went to Brown University and pursued a degree in Economics. By the end of my second year, I knew economics was not for me so I chose to go back to the only other thing I truly loved; acting. I remember stepping into the studio of my first acting class at Brown and just knowing that I had found my home. After graduating from Brown University in 2013, I returned to Kenya to pursue a professional career in the arts and have since performed in over 17 plays both in Nairobi and London, 10 TV shows (leading in 5 including Country Queen on Netflix), and several award-winning short films. In 2017 I completed my Master's in Performance (Acting) from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in the UK and began training actors soon after. Something I still do, and something I deeply love.

What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest hurdles in my industry is the difficulty in earning a reasonable living and the lack of control you have as an actor. It was really difficult to sit back and wait for a call for an audition or a job. I hated the feeling of my future being held in the palms of others. Training actors was a savior for me in that regard. As a trainer, I got to pick when I held a class and got to charge a fee that at least meant I was bringing some money in independently. It was small but it gave me a freedom and self-reliance that I cherished and still do. More recently I’ve also been working as a freelancer for international companies which has given me even more freedom. I really encourage the actors that I train to always have side hustles that make them money. It gives them stability and also gives them the freedom to say no to acting jobs that aren’t a good fit for them.

Any advice to upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?

My biggest advice is to invest in yourself. Get training where you can, get your acting portfolio together, and invest in your physical and mental health. Also, always remember that your life is bigger than your career. Your career should be a part of your life. As much as you pour energy and time into nourishing your career, you need to do the same for the other parts of your life that you value. So whether that's your kids, your relationships, your spirituality, your travel, whatever; prioritize all areas of your life equally. There is no joy in winning an Oscar and having no one to enjoy that success with.

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