WHEN he failed to make the grades to the Medical School, and decided to take up acting as a career, many were those who opposed it.
His own father did not understand why his son, a science student after Sixth Form, wants “to do concerts” instead of improving on his grades and going to study medicine.
As a result of his decision, his father was not on speaking terms with him for more than two years.
He however, insisted on becoming an actor, realising his whole life hunched on it. He is the host of the Western Union popular “Agoro” programme on GTV.
David Dontoh was born 50 years ago in Cape Coast. He had his elementary education in Cape Coast, Winneba and Abakranpa, all in the Central Region. He then continued to Apam Secondary School from Form One to Upper Six. For the sixth form, he read Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics.
After the sixth form course, David worked briefly with his father at APPLE (Association of People for Practical Life Education), a subsidiary of USAID at Atebubu in the Brong Ahafo Region.
According to David Dontoh, it was while working there that he did some illustrations on Agriculture in the Tropics for Dr Olean Hess, one of the directors of USAID, and the director recommended him as a person with artistic talents.
He said because he liked drawing, painting, watching films, musical shows and writing poetry, Dr. Hess’ comments struck him to take acting seriously.
Mr. David Dontoh said it was just around the same time that the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) put up an advert for people who wanted to train as film actors.
He went for an audition and was one of the 40 successful applicants selected out of the 150.
The successful applicants were then trained under the late George Andoh Wilson, who named the school, Wilson’s Acting Academy.
Mr. Andoh Wilson who trained at the London Guildhall School of Drama and was in charge of Osagyefo players, a drama group that rehearsed at the Flagstaff House, took them through the Gild Hall three year training syllabus.
During this period of training, David Dontoh had the chance of taking part in a small play titled – GUS – the theatre cat and written by T. S. Elliot.
The play was showcased on TV during the Mike Hagan show where Mr. Andoh Wilson was being interviewed as a celebrity and was asked to put up something he was doing.
David Dontoh performed the lead role GUS so well such that Mike Hagan praised him a lot. The praises further gave him the encouragement that he could act well.
David Dontoh said he later one day met a former secondary school colleague, Alex Banner, (now Chief Executive Officer of ACROMA Productions), who was doing his fi+nal diploma work at the National Film and Television Institute and was at Dansoman (Accra) to shoot a short film.
David Dontoh lived around Dansoman at the time and had the chance of taking part in that short film titled “The Way To Shame.” The film however never got printed. It was David Dontoh’s first work for film.
He was also lucky to have friends like Ernest Youngman (currently the President’s cameraman), at the Wilson’s Academy who introduced him to the Ghana Theatre Club. The club had members like Emmary Brown, Solomon Sampah and William Abbey Okine.
David Dontoh who was seen as an enterprising young actor, was put in a play the group was doing, titled “Back To Maumau”. It was about Kenyan’s independence struggle and written by Kwesi Wood.
In 1982, David Dontoh joined the “KETEKE,” a drama group which was on air for about one and a half years. The name was later in 1983 changed to Obra when it became a very popular TV programme. Members of the group included Ghanaman, Maame Dokono and Station Master.
He later crossed over to join Talent Theatre Company, of the Cultural Wing of the National Mobilisation programme under the leadership of Mr. Kofi Portorfi. He acted in the play ‘Black Star’ in 1983 and was very successful.
David got the chance of auditioning for a full feature film, when King Ampaw of AFRO MOSES Ghana Limited shot their film, “Kukurantumi” – The Road To Accra.” The film was the first Ghanaian film to be screened on TV in Europe.
It was after this film that David Dontoh started working on radio programmes. On GBC – Two for instance, he started as a stringer, on Carl Agyeman-Bannerman’s programme “Solid Black”.
He also took part in radio theatre with some presenters like Tony Annan Forson, Charlie Sam, the late James Amartey and Gertrude Opare Addo.
While doing the radio programmes David Dontoh was also doing stage performances with Obrah and NAFTI student films and was the host of Ananse-Krom at the Arts Centre in Accra when he was employed in February 1984.
He won his first award, as the Best Actor, ECRAG Award for a play called “MAMBO” in 1984. He also won the same awards in 1989 and 1992. He won the Ghana Actors Guild and ASPA (Association of Students of Performing Arts) in 2000.
In 1999, he was adjudged the Best Supporting and World Centenary of Film, Ghana Film Award. David Dontoh is a proud winner of the PAM African Film Festival, held in Spain recently. He is the first Ghanaian recipient of that award.
He also received a Grand Medal Award last year. For the first time actors, namely David Dontoh and Grace Omaboe (Maame Dokono) were given that award.
Along the line in his career, David Dontoh did drama and theatre studies (From 1985 to 1988) at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, Legon. He majored in playwriting.
David Dontoh and his wife Mrs. Rebecca Dontoh, are blessed with two children, Jojo and Ewurama.
He co-founded the Ghana Union of Theatre Societies with Mr. Effah Nkrabea Darteh. He is also a founding member of Ghana Actors Guild and was his first secretary. Currently, he is the president of the Ghana Concert Parties Union.
He has also been chairman of the planning committee of the Ghana Music Awards for the past eight years.
David Dontoh runs his own company “Golden Kauri” and an NGO, Kaurifire Arts Foundation. He founded three theatre groups that he works with. They are KOZIKOZI Theatre Company, Edzikanfo Concert Party and David Dontoh Cultural Ensemble (DADON CULEN).
David Dontoh attributed problems in the industry, partly to our traditions and inactions from the establishment succeeding government’s lack of interest in the industry.
“This is one industry that is a very powerful medium for communicating, especially entertainment to relieve social stress and focus life for people to actually experience their culture and their history. But the government does not understand this role that film and theatre can play in the development of a nation.
As such, training facilities, infrastructure, certain needed instruments to create the enabling environment are just not there, this makes it very difficult for the corporate community to be interested in investing, as there are no clear laws,” he said.
“One clear example is the film, TV and theatre policy whose draft has been before parliament for two years and has still not been passed, though many other bills have since been passed,” he added.
Mr. David Dontoh said the problem is also rooted in our tradition because Ghanaians generally do not pay to watch themselves perform as in cultural dances and so on.
He said as a result of this, anyone who finds himself in the industry is not regarded or considered a serious person in life. However in other countries, artists are some of the richest people and are very very influential.
“If there would be any change in society, it is the result of creativity and that is what the artiste does so society rejects artiste at its own peril, since artiste work is about life, every sector of the economy must be interested and actively support the work of the artiste,” he said.
David Dontoh also identified publicity in the media as a major problem destroying the film and theatre industry. “Until there is legislation that would enable corporate institutions to do so and get tax rebates for it, we would see our arts dying,” he stressed.
He said Nigerian films have overtaken Ghanaian films because they could afford advertising in the media, adding that these problems should however not be allowed to discourage people in the industry.
Dr. David Dontoh appealed to institutions and corporate organisations to deal with only recognised artistic associations since that is the only way to maintain discipline and quality of work the artiste does.
He also urged Ghanaians to cultivate the habit of patronising the arts, go to theatres, artifacts to decorate their rooms and buy novels for their children as a way of encouraging our artistes.
David Dontoh, therefore commended Charter House for creating the Agoro programme on GTV and Western Union Money Transfer, for continuously sponsoring the programme ever since its inception, up to date.
“Agoro would be 10 years old next April on GTV and that is a record for an entertainment programme. It has been very faithful to Ghanaian TV viewers in helping people learn about their history, culture and social life. We thank all Ghanaians for the goodwill shown to Agoro and hope they will continue to watch it every Saturday on GTV, Station of the nation,” he said.