Karima Madut is a Kenyan-born Sudanese actress, musician and aspiring writer who grew up in New Zealand. She moved to Melbourne three years ago as a young independent woman and spent her first two years building a foundation for herself. She worked full-time in a marketing agency while she developed her artistic skills at Melbourne acting studio, 16th Street. Struggling to juggle the two, she decided to choose between giving her all to a corporate life or pursuing her dreams of becoming an artist. “It was a really hard decision,” she recalls, “I had to choose if I wanted financial stability and unhappiness, or to be happy and deal with the sacrifices that come with that.” She made the call to leave her job, and picked up the phone to join Western Edge Youth Arts.
Having grown up in a village in Kenya, she was inspired by the prominent dance and music culture from age four. “Every Sunday there were performances where they wore traditional attire and face paint, and I loved the catharsis of that. For a second you’re not aware that you’re a physical being, you’re just an energy moving around.” After witnessing the performers’ ability to be free in that moment, she begged her mother to allow her to be a part of the church choir in Kenya.
She continued performing in school productions, professional gigs and short films in New Zealand. However, after moving to Melbourne, she put her dreams on the back burner and felt that she eventually started to lose sight of why she decided to move. “I think my mistake at the time, was thinking that things needed to be perfect in my life before I could pursue the arts, whereas now, I think the imperfections feed into your art.” Although she has regrets of not being more involved in the arts for a couple years, she sees the positives of taking a hiatus from the scene to grow as an individual and develop her skills. “I feel really ready now to work as an artist. I want to be working in big theatres here, in the States, in Broadway and doing movies in L.A.,” she said.
When asked about a significant achievement, she talked about her very first senior school production in New Zealand, Wednesday to Come, where she played the lead role. “I actually felt that a lot of people didn’t think I deserved the role because it was a Caucasian role, but I got it and even got an Excellence for it,” she laughs. “It just proves that there needs to be more colour-blind casting.” It was through this experience she started taking school more seriously and started to think “somebody actually believes in me.” She believes that the encouragement she received from being in Wednesday to Come went a long way and is grateful her teachers gave her that initial nudge.
Karima also talks about being the first female African cast member of Shortland Street, a New Zealand based soap opera, as one of her proudest moments. She mentions that sometimes she forgets the things she’s already achieved, including moving to Melbourne on her own.
When Karima is not acting, she’s passionate about making and sharing music. Having been an integral member of a rock band that toured around New Zealand and Australia, she’s inspired to work on her solo album, and also to showcase other local talents through organising music events; Garden Sounds of Eden and Sycamore Sessions. Karima also finds interest in writing songs and poetry, and is currently working on WEYA’s Antigone, where she helps develop the script as part of the Geelong Edge ensemble. “I love writing, but I never thought I could write a script and I’d like to explore that more. At WEYA, we devise our own plays and it’s beautiful to be inspired by your own stories.”
Karima talks about the significance of discussing themes, such as racism and war, in productions, but also acknowledges its challenges. “(The stories are) so relevant to today and it’s important to bring them to people who might not be aware, and to those who are affected by them, so that they know there are people who are going through the same thing.” She recalls being a part of A Thousand Hills in New Zealand, a play that was about the Rwandan genocide, “it was a tragic and a beautiful story and there were a lot of moments where I imagined the civil war that is still going on in Sudan, and my family ending up in Kenya.” As a young performer, she has grown to understand the importance of distinguishing the difference between acting and real life, and “not to blur the lines.”
Having been in professional productions, I ask her if she has any advice to aspiring actors like her, she says, “you have to take a chance, what I’m discovering is, as much as we get insecure, I think for the most part, people always want you to win and you do see that when someone gets on stage, they don’t discriminate.” She believes that at the end of the day audiences want to be entertained and see great performances. “I used to get really insecure, but then I stopped caring and started to do it for my own enjoyment and to have fun.”
Reflecting she says, “I thought acting was a path to get somewhere, success or whatever it is, but now I see performing as a way of life and choose to do it every day.” Another crucial element that drives her, she says, is having teachers. “They change your life and your perspectives. Having the humility to know that you’re still developing and no matter what stage you’re at or how successful you are, there’s always room to grow and you should always always be learning.”
We look forward to seeing Karima play Antigone along with the rest of the Geelong Edge ensemble this November. Keep your eyes peeled for show updates!
Article written by Gayathri K, Western Edge Youth Arts.