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Michael Oloyede Makes Broadway Debut In 'Jaja’s African Hair Braiding'

Jaja's African Hair Braiding Michael Oloyede
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Local barbershops and hair salons serve as vital hubs in communities, bringing together merchants and entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. These spaces offer a unique avenue for merchants, especially, to connect with the community when they aren’t allowed to sell anywhere else.

In the bustling world of Jocelyn Bioh's Broadway production, Jaja's African Hair Braiding, British-born Nigerian actor Michael Oloyede embodies the essence of these neighborhood merchants. Through a range of characters, including the sock man, jewelry man, DVD man, and James (Aminata's husband), Oloyede vividly portrays the dynamic roles merchants play in local hair salons. This marks Oloyede's exciting debut on Broadway.

Set in a Harlem hair salon in 2019, the play is produced by LaChanze and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson and delves into the narratives of African female hairdressers. Oloyede's characters showcase how male businessmen can stand alongside and uplift their female bosses, showcasing a vibrant and supportive community dynamic.

Although Jaja’s African Hair Braiding is Oloyede’s Broadway debut, he has an extensive acting resume with roles in film, stage, and television including BET’s award-winning digital series Brooklyn.Blue.Sky.

Michael Oloyede
Photo Credit: Bexxfrancois

“What I love about theater is we have a great rehearsal schedule baked in. So before we started our first performance, we had like three and a half weeks of rehearsal in a room. And even before that, over the summer, I was just doing my own research and writing my own character backstories, and just observing a lot of these characters for me are based on people I know, people I have grown up with people I've seen,” Oloyode explained about discovering who his characters were in Jaja’s African Hair Braiding.

“James is a Nigerian Uncle I have. There are so many different people that have influenced a lot of these characters, and that's the beauty of telling stories that are authentic to your experience. You don't have to fabricate who these people are. I think when some of my characters come out, people just start clapping and I personally don't think it's because of me, they see someone that they recognize. They see someone that they see every single day that they grew up with. That's their cousin, that's their uncle, that's their brother that they've never seen on a Broadway stage. So a lot of it, for me, was just paying homage to the men, that everyday man that we see every day that we interact with every day, or we don't interact with every day, and really celebrating them in the moments I get to celebrate them on stage, which is really, really fun,” Oloyede added.

Although Oloyede was born in Britain, he moved to the United States when he was four. So his knowledge about TV, film, and theater wasn't a perspective from how the British or Nollywood in Nigeria tackles it, he learned early on from the US entertainment industry. However, he did share his thoughts on the difference between the UK's devotion to the arts compared to the arts in the United States. “In the United Kingdom, they really hold the arts to a pedestal and it's really important in school, and it's a really important part of their culture. As an actor and leader, I want to really find ways to make it a part of our culture. Arts and education and arts for youth, that's really important to me.”

Oloyede took his love for the arts beyond the stage and was instrumental in creating the Creative Collective NYC and CultureCon where he serves as the art and editorial director. CultureCon, which is set to return to New York at the end of this week, is an annual conference where people of color who are creatives can network, collaborate, and educate each other. He is also a co-founder of The Lay Out, which is an annual meet-up event that allows Black individuals the space to come together.

Jaja's African Hair Braiding Michael Oloyede
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Oloyede has come a long way from working in a career that wasn’t his passion to following his dreams, which led him on a journey from Stella Adler School of Acting to the Off-Broadway stages of the Flea Theater and the Theatre at St. Clements. He has starred in Netflix’s Maniac and is now on the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre stage at the Manhattan Theatre Club on Broadway. But there’s so much more Oloyede wants to do.

“In addition to being in front of the camera, I really want to do work behind the camera as a producer. I've used the last three years to just really understand the landscape of TV and film; like, who are the players? How do things get made? Why do things get made? We're in a very interesting time with the strikes that are going on, and I'm learning a lot about that. A lot of exciting things have started to sprout, so once we get through this moment in time, we'll see where it takes me,” Oloyede stated about his hopes for the future. It is possible that in the near future, he may find himself on the Tony Awards stage.

Jaja’s African Hair Braiding is now on Broadway until November 5. Get your tickets here.


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