That Time I “Acted” on a Ghanaian Soap Opera

Living in Ghana definitely has its downsides. There were the injuries from falling into an open gutter, my flooded floors after a rainstorm, those weeks my bed was infested with biting ants, that time I had malaria and the water was out, and those nights spent staring at the ceiling during a power outage when everything entertaining I owned was dead (I’m a Millennial, technology is my life). 

At the same time, there are a lot of things I love about this country and my place in it. The nights spent humming along to some Ben Harper song with new friends by a bonfire on the beach, the sunny days spent trying out new foods, the times spent dancing to catchy hiplife songs, the sparkling ocean and swaying palms outside my bedroom window, and the constant new experiences and lessons that make me appreciate being so far outside of my former comfort zone. 

Another thing I love? The surprises. This would definitely count as that. My friends, I have become a paid actress. The other day, I had a speaking part on a Ghanaian soap opera. I’m totally serious. 

It all started Friday, when I was surfing Facebook on my break from work (I’m a Millennial, social media is my life). An American friend of mine posted something along the lines of, “Any obruni lady in Accra want to appear on a soap opera tomorrow morning?”

Obviously, I immediately messaged him something along the lines of “ME ME ME PICK MEEEE!”. That, my friends, is how I broke into the Ghanaian acting scene. No creepy casting directors or embarrassing theatre training necessary. Go Facebook!

Later that day, the producer called me and gave me a vague background of what I’d be doing the following morning. Originally I thought I’d be the token obruni hanging out in the background, but soon I found out there was a script involved. As someone with a mild case of what I’m pretty sure is early onset dementia (I’m only kind of joking), I was definitely worried about memorizing one line, never mind multiple lines while attempting to “act” at the same time. 

When I opened the email from the producer a few hours later, that anxiety grew. The script was 45 pages! Thankfully, my lines only stretched across five of those, but still. I was to be a bored and slightly bitchy Canadian Embassy official interviewing one of the main characters for a visa. Seeing as I spend about 78% of my waking hours smiling and/or giggling, this was going to be a challenge. 

The next few hours were a throwback to my school days, and I paced around my room talking to myself. I later FaceTimed my Dad to practice my lines (I’m a Millennial, I choose technology over physical interaction), and while trying not to laugh at my father’s attempt at an African accent, I finally memorized my role. My acting role, in a Ghanaian soap opera. My life is hilarious. 

Bright and early the next morning, I dressed in my most adult-looking clothing and layered on the makeup, as according to the script I was supposed to be 32-years-old. My British friend agreed to drive me to the far-off set (yay for awesome friends with cars!), and as we drove I wrung my hands and chanted the lines. 

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 11.07.09 AM

Soon we met the producers and crew, and followed them to a Foreign Exchange office, where it looked as though my scene was going to take place. Actors with stylish clothes and big sunglasses strolled around with scripts in their hands, and big stage lights filled the small office. Minutes later, a producer came over to me and said the office wasn’t going to work because it didn’t look enough like an embassy. Could I come back later? Like the diva I am, I told her I couldn’t stay past noon as I was to leave for a weekend beach vacation at 1pm (I know right). No problem, she said. We’ll figure something out. 

Next we were following the cars with Nigerian license plates that were packed with crew members. After what seemed like driving in circles, we ended up at a stall at the side of the road that appeared to be selling windows. A while later, the crew were carrying a giant window into a truck. The set was going to built from scratch! This led to another wave of anxiety. “They do know I’m not a real actor, right?!” I mumbled to myself. 

Since this is Africa, we were running a tad (1.5 hours) late at that point, so unfortunately my British friend had to leave before he could witness what we were both sure was an oncoming train wreck. Oh well! I transferred to the crew’s car and we headed off to the set. 

Soon we entered a gated community which I can only describe as Beverly Hills-esque. Huge palm trees lined the immaculate roads, and mansions the colours of ice cream towered behind manicured gardens. I was not in Kansas anymore. 

We pulled up to a huge sky blue house and parked in front. I was then led through the big wooden double doors into a modern, art-filled living room. 

“Sit here and relax as we set up,” the producer said, motioning me to a leather couch in front of a huge flat screen TV. “Would you like some juice?” Acting is awesome. 

After chatting with the sound guy and twiddling my thumbs, the actor I was to appear with in my scene introduced himself, and we went over the lines together several times. He had gone to school for acting and gave me some tips. I put on my best bitch-face and managed to say my lines from memory without a hitch. Go brain!

“We’re ready for you,” said the producer, leading us to another room that had been transformed into an embassy office. Big lights filled the corners and that giant window rested on a desk, supported by men holding it at both sides. Little plastic Canadian flags were taped to the wall, and ten crew members sat around doing their thing. I was introduced to the director and assistant director, and before I knew it we were practicing our lines under the lights. Much like people on the verge of death, I was experiencing a strange sense of calm without the fear and anxiety I had anticipated. I was, however, already sweating profusely. Did you know your upper lip has sweat glands? Well, you do now. It’s the worst. 

Next someone was yelling “Roll!” and then “Action!” 

I said my lines, tried to make movements with my face that were not particularly hideous, and attempted to react appropriately to the other actor’s improvisations. The first take went off without a hitch. During the second one my brain blanked midway, the third was fine, the fourth was good, and on and on and on. They had to fix the lighting a few times, get different angles, get us to stand at different spots, etc. I had to stand on some books to make me taller in one of the shots (solidarity, Tom Cruise). Two takes had to be stopped midway because I was visibly sweating so hard. An assistant came over and wiped my face. “You missed a spot,” said the other actor, pointing to my upper lip. So embarrassing. 

I practiced that eyebrow raise for about 20 minutes.

I practiced that eyebrow raise for about 20 minutes.

After what seemed like minutes but was really a little over an hour, we were done. “I hope that was okay!” I blurted, and everyone was very appreciative and nice. “You did great!” said the director. “You should put ‘Actress’ on your Twitter profile now,” said the other actor. Watch out, acting world (not really). 

That, my friends, was my first Ghanaian acting experience. I’ll be in my trailer if you need me. 

(P.S. For those in West Africa with DSTV- the show’s called “Tenant”. Keep an eye out for a sweating Canadian!)

2 Responses to “That Time I “Acted” on a Ghanaian Soap Opera”
  1. KYle Fenney says:

    AWESOME kelsey!!!!

  2. janehparsons says:

    Bravo Kelsey!! what a fun story… very courageous of you!

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