My full name is Akin Ajamu Ariyo. These names come from the Yoruba language, spoken in West Africa.
I descend from African slaves in America. Like most Blacks in America who descend from slaves, I used to have a name that was given to my ancestors through slavery. From what we're taught about slavery, slaves would use the name of whoever owned them at the time. Assuming this is true, the names were probably given to my ancestors as early as four or five generations before me.
The more I thought about that, the more I wanted no part of that, so I researched African names and updated my own. Doing that was more common back in the 1960s, but that was more related to religious movements. I'm not religious. I just didn't like the idea of me being a free man, still walking around stamped, as if I'm another man's property.
I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY. My life was mostly technology and basketball.
The morning I beat Mike Tyson in the Nintendo game, "Mike Tyson's Punch Out," I ran around my house, waking up my parents, as if I really won Mike's belt, because through my imagination, a video game was able to make me feel like a boxing champ. I loved that the creators of the game could make people have real feelings about a fictitious world.
When not in the house, I was usually playing basketball at school. I was always competing with my friends to be the best athlete and get ripped muscles like athletes on TV. My only childhood "dream" was to play in the NBA, but I wasn't good enough for D-1 NCAA bball.
At school, I was an athlete, but at home, I was a computer geek, experimenting with programs that I found online that could freeze other people's computers. It felt like magic because I didn't know how it worked. It was cool to use those programs, but the real power was in knowing how to write them, so I started learning about computer programming. I was fascinated with the idea of imagining something and creating it.
I enrolled at Howard University and majored in computer science.
Between partying on the weekends, I studied a lot and stayed up late nights in the computer lab with my classmates, working on assignments. I didn't actually go to class much, unless I was taking an exam. My computer science classmates would be surprised to see me in class and laugh, asking, "Are you supposed to be in this class?" and I would still ace the test.
Listening to a professor lecture about information in the textbook was pointless if I was able to read the books on my own and understand the material. What school could teach me was limited to the curriculum, but what I could learn on my own was unlimited.
I wasn't really interested in my classes outside of my major, so I did enough to get by and still have time to party.
During the summers, I interned at big software companies as a project manager, software test engineer and software engineer. That led to coveted job offers upon receiving my bachelor's degree.
I worked as a software engineer after graduating from college.
I made more money than most college graduates fresh off of a bachelor's degree, but I didn't enjoy it. I worked late in the office, then brought my laptop home to continue working. The job controlled me. At night I would have dreams about the computer code that I was writing. Sometimes that made me better, but it was the last thing that I wanted to think about when I got a chance to break away from my reality.
I didn't have much free time because even though I think I was good at my job, it was impossible to accurately predict how long it would take to get my code working. That's just the nature of the job when you write software.
The truly creative work was done by the product managers who conceptualized the projects, along with the designers, who decided how the projects would look. My job was to translate their ideas into code, so if the ideas didn't excite me, that just made the work more frustrating.
I wanted to translate my own ideas into code. I even pitched an idea to my managers about a new direction for our project, since I was in the same demographic as their target audience and they were all older, out of touch and simply copying our competition. My idea was rejected and the project ended up getting scrapped due to lack of users. I knew I could have done the product managers' job and the designers' job, but they didn't have the skill set to do mine. I wanted to break away and do my own thing.
I got tired of my cliche life that most people praised as being successful: go to school to earn a piece of paper, get recruited by a company that thinks the piece of paper makes you worthy, sell yourself to the company for a fixed salary, revolve your life around the company in order to keep the job, retire, die. Fuck that shit.
I started asking co-workers if they wake up in the morning excited to go to work. When most said yes, I knew I'd be better off doing something else. The thought of growing old behind a cubicle, being told what to do sucked. Writing code was no longer interesting unless I was doing it for myself, creating my own projects.
I was young, in great shape and I still wanted to wake up and have fun everyday as an adult, the same way I did as a kid in the world of video games.
I would come home and turn on my TV, thinking that those actors on the screen must have so much fun going to work. They got to work in live in imaginary worlds and it seemed like the coolest job other than being a pro athlete.
After a year of working as a software engineer, I quit and moved to NYC to become an actor.
Back in NY, I started from scratch in becoming an actor.
My software engineer money was running out. To pay the bills and still maintain a flexible schedule to go to acting class, auditions, rehearsals, and act in projects that didn't pay, I worked part-time, side-jobs like being a waiter, TV/movie extra, store model, and personal trainer. I also relied on my credit card more than I had planned.
While taking acting classes at other schools, I came across Stella Adler's book, "The Art of Acting," and I decided that was the place for me. I started training at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting and stayed for two years. Then I studied improvisation for a year at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
My first five acting gigs I booked were off-off broadway shows for no pay, just the growth as an actor and the enjoyment. Then I was cast in low budget film projects produced by NY film school graduates.
While auditioning and working on these projects, I hated the fact that my progression as an actor was determined by other people writing a role that happened to fit me, people allowing me to audition, people choosing me for that role, and people producing well enough to have a good finished product.
I decided to learn filmmaking so that I could produce my own projects and act in them, rather than depending on others to provide for me.
I learned filmmaking through my own research. I stayed up all night for years, reading blogs, message boards, and watching online videos about filmmaking. I learned to do every task in the filmmaking process, including screenwriting, producing, directing, operating the camera and audio equipment, and editing.
I had already invested a lot of money that I did not have into being an actor, but I couldn't produce without equipment, so I invested even more money into my filmmaking gear. Within three years, I was onto my 6th different camera.
Since I have the ability to write and produce whatever I think of, within budget and knowledge, I've eliminated most dependencies. The biggest obstacle I've come across is collaborating with people who don't have the same dedication as me. Although that's frustrating, it makes me learn more, so that I have the ability to do what I otherwise might need somebody else to do.
Weight: 190 lbs.
The Luckiest People
Players Theatre, NYC
Under Your Pillow
Joria Theatre, NYC
Last One Out
Payan Theatre, NYC
Roy Arias Theatre 500, NYC
Tales of the Black Veil 7
The Shell Theater, NYC
Little Times Sq. Theatre, NYC
45th Street Theatre, NYC
Stella Adler Studio of Acting (NYC):
Camera (Film/TV, Masterclass):
Bill Hopkins, Ron Burrus
Scene Study (I, II, Advanced):
Jon Korkes, Patrick Quagliano
Technique (I, II, Script):
Patrick Quagliano, Antonio Merenda
Voice & Speech:
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (NYC):
Improv (101 - 401):
Chelsea Clarke, Kevin Hines, Ari Voukydis, Fran Gillespie
Standard American, New York, American Southern
Basketball, Football, Swimming, Track
NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Red Cross Certified CPR/AED