WJBF – Makeda Tené is an actress, singer, ‘Momager’ (a mother who manages their child actor/singer, etc.), and now, she holds the title of author as she has just penned her book, My Kid Wants to Be an Actor!? Now What?: 8 Steps to Getting Your Child Started on the Path to a Successful Acting Career.
WJBF Digital sits down with Makeda Tené as she discusses her journey which started right here in Augusta, Georgia and landed her in Los Angeles, California, where she now resides.
Let’s get started on your journey. You’re from Augusta. What made you want to become an actress and a singer?
My uncle is Tyrone Butler, and he started the Augusta Mini Theater a long time ago. So I started going to his theater company, and I got such a wonderful sense for acting. Of course, I went to John S. Davidson Fine Arts School so after that, that was it. I was like, ‘I wanna do this for life.’ I loved it. I actually begged my parents to take me to L.A. even back then. I was like, ‘Please, please. I wanna go to L.A. I wanna go to New York. I make it. I can do it, I can do it.’ So I always promised myself that if I had a son or a daughter who wanted to be in this industry, I would move to L.A. But I’m already in L.A. so my son had it really easy. (Laughs)
Your uncle Tyrone Butler is the founder of The Augusta Mini Theatre, who just celebrated their 47th anniversary. The Augusta Mini Theatre is the first arts school in Augusta to offer all performing arts disciplines under one roof. How did the Augusta Mini Theatre, even though that’s your family, how shape you as an artist?
Even though it is our family, if anyone knows Mr. Tyrone J. Butler, he doesn’t necessarily give preference to family. So, he treated us the same. When my brothers and I were in acting, if you didn’t do something right, he would let you know it. You did not get a pass. He and my auntie Judy [Judith Simon-Butler] would pretty much treat us the same as they treated everyone else. And I think that helped me learn that you don’t get any free passes in this life. So, I had to be as excellent or even more so that people wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, that’s Mr. Butler’s niece so he’s giving her a pass.’ So, I think that just helped my excellence just continue to grow, and I’m a perfectionist to this day. I want everything to be perfect either when I’m writing my shows or when I’m on stage sometimes I’m directing myself. I think that helped me strive for excellence. Just to see that the people in my family were striving for excellence, and hey, this is what is expected of me, too. No free pass.
As a Davidson Fine Arts alum, how did being a student there shape your career as far as getting into entertainment?
Davidson, to this day, is like the best school ever in life. I love Davidson. Davidson to me – I even spoke about it in my book – is like that Fame school in New York (on television). There was school called Fame, where you just dance and sing in the hallways, and everything was beautiful and like your whole life was a musical. That’s how I felt at Davidson; my life was a musical. I loved it from 5th through 12th grade; I didn’t want to leave. I loved that place. I was able to play piano, I was able to dance, do ballet… I also went to the Augusta Ballet. So, Davidson allowed me to touch into all these different things that I never knew that I was interested in by just being available. Whether it’s guitar or violin, I got to taste and touch it all. So, I think that really helped make me more of a consummate artist, and so I can kind of relate to a lot of different types of artistry whether you’re doing opera singer – which was I do – or jazz or some rock because at Davidson we had it all. So, I think it helped me appreciate all disciplines and have respect for everyone no matter what they are doing in the arts.
You are mostly known for your one woman show, Love In Concert. Can you tell us a little about that?
Love In Concert is something I created because when I came to L.A. I found that there weren’t a lot of parts “written” for me. I started off as an opera singer; I also dance. A lot of times I would go into auditions, and I would sing something, and people would say, ‘You don’t look like how you sound.’ What am I supposed to sound like? I guess they weren’t expecting to see me; I’m supposed to do a crooning R&B song, I guess. I wanted to do something that I felt that I could express so in this piece, it’s a one woman show. I’m able to sing, I can play piano, and I can do everything that I feel like is me. This is a show written by me. The character is not my name, but the character is KiKi McCall. It’s loosely based on some experiences I’ve had in my life. It was a character that I could embrace. I did it because my mother would always say, ‘You should always create opportunities for yourself, and don’t wait for Hollywood to pick because they might not pick you. And that’s okay because you pick yourself.’ Look at Issa Rae, Tyler Perry. You do what you do, you make your own genre and your own niche, and you get in it. So, that’s why I created because I wanted something that was for me and written for [and by] me so I wrote it.
Is there any possibility that ‘Love In Concert’ will be coming back anytime soon?
Yes, right now, I’m actually working on a couple of other shows to pitch to networks, and that show, I’m working on adapting to the screen. So, I’m not saying I’m putting up my hat with doing it in the theater. I will probably in 2023, but right now, I’m focusing on the film aspect of it. So, we will be adapting it for film.
Not only are you an actress and a singer, you are also a MOMAGER as your son, Innocent Ekakitie, has acted on FOX’s 911, Netflix’s Ivy + Bean, ABC’s Abbott Elementary, Freeform’s Good Trouble, Apple TV’s Little America, etc.. What made your son want to get involved in acting?
I think that it’s natural because his mama is an actor, and his dad is a comedian. So, his whole life he was around it. He was with me in the performances and the rehearsals sitting back there watching me and my director. So, I just think it was just so natural for him. When he was 3, he just said, ‘I wanna do this.’ And I asked, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Shoot, I’m still doing my career. Do I even have time to work on this little 3-year old’s career?’ It’s a lot. A kid’s acting career sometimes can be even more intense than an adult’s acting career. So, he said he wanted to do it, and I said okay. So, at the age of 3, he landed an agent, and he’s been working ever since.
As a mom, how proud of Innocent are you?
I am so proud, but I have to go back to what I was saying about my uncle not giving us those free passes. I see that my son so I don’t let him slide. I’m his coach, which I’m probably going to have to switch up soon. I am really tough on him. I make sure he delivers. When he did Ivy + Bean, he had a two-hour call back. He went up to Vancouver to shoot for three months. But during that two-hour call back, the coach was behind the screen encouraging, letting him know which this and that saying, ‘Okay, do this a little differently.’ After that two-hour audition, they called back a couple of days, and he booked the job. But I said, ‘Honey, you see Mommy has to keep on you.’ Sometimes, we can kind of butt heads, but because he’s like, ‘You’re kind of hard on me, but I understand now why you have to be like this.’ So, he finally gets it, but at first, we were like… GRRRRR! But yeah, the momager and coach hat isn’t easy to blend, so it’s a delicate thing you have to do.
So with that, you wrote a book entitled, My Kid Wants To Be An Actor?!? Now What? What made you want to put the “author hat” on?
I was helping so many people; I was helping different friends and strangers with their kids. In the arts community, they kind of saw me as this: ‘You go to Makeda, and she’ll tell you what to do.’ I’m not the type that’ll hold information. If you want your kid to be the industry, there are a lot of people I took under my wing and said, ‘Let me help you get an agent.’ I’ve helped at least a dozen kids and their families land agents and managers singlehandedly because I have this knowledge. I don’t want to be one of those people like, ‘I can’t tell it. There’s not enough room for everyone.’ I feel like there’s enough room for everybody to have their blessing. So, my inbox and social media became flooded with questions, ‘What do I do?’ I really don’t have the capacity to respond to everybody, and other people in my life were saying that I needed to put something out. ‘Tell us what you did so we don’t have to keep coming to ask. We can just go to something whether it’s a course of something. So, when I was in Vancouver last summer for three months with Innocent, we had some downtime. So, I said, ‘Let me just do it. Let me start it. Let me put everything that I know in a book.’ So even now when I get inbox messages, I say, ‘Glad you asked. Go to Amazon, and it’ll teach you everything you need to know.’
My Kid Wants To Be An Actor?!? Now What?!? is available on Amazon, and it’ll be available on Audible, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets soon.