As a child growing up in Kiwafu, Entebbe, John Rwothomack did not ever think he would be a professional actor. He was only 11 when he left Uganda to join the rest of his family in Sheffield, UK where he did his education. At the end of his A levels, he wanted to study engineering like his brother, David. He had seen his parents’ pride of their son and he too wanted to make them as proud. But that was not the thought his class teacher carried. He had observed him through his classes and he thought he would make an excellent actor.
He was 18 when he applied to join the Rose Bruford College of Performing Arts for his college. He did not know much what that meant. Sometimes in life, the same thing one achieves at 40, another achieves at 20 and another at 32 and another gives up on the pursuit.
The Rose Bruford College of Performing Arts is one of the highly sought after drama schools in the UK. Of the 3000 applications received annually, only 30 are considered. Where other people get admitted on their fourth or fifth application, John made it on the first application. It did not hit home how big a deal that meant. “I think I needed like a year before getting admitted to Rose Bruford, maybe then I’d be able to appreciate it better.” But nonetheless, he fell in love with the school the first time he entered the gates. “I either belong here or I belong here,” he assured his friend that dropped him off at the college.
Three years later, he aced his classes and made it out of school with his name already signed up by an agent. An acting career was already waiting for him.
Last year before COVID-19 led to the world lockdown, John was a day old into his world tour of his first acclaimed play, FAR GONE. The play tells the story of a young boy who is abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and forced to become a child soldier. At 8, John was abducted by LRA and he promised to one day tell the story.
John’s work has graced the Kampala International Theatre Festival and the Sheffield Theatres. Before the lockdown he was due to stage the play at the Crucible.
Between the time John graduated from Rose Bruford and now when he is doing world tours, a lot of water has flown under his bridge. The place of an actor is hard to tell in a world of a thousand and more.
Yet you could say, John has been chanced upon to stand in waters with both of his legs. Where many artists have not been lucky to get help from the Arts Council of England, he has had it four times now. Just like how he made it to college, the first time he applied to the Arts Council for funding to direct the Bad Blood Blues play he got the funding.
The acting profession is hard because you have to make the decision to stay. There are many reasons that convince you to leave. Passion convinces you to stay. It has not been any different for John. The first three years after college put a real test to his love for acting. He stayed in London after graduation with a hope he would make it there. But London was too expensive for this Sheffield boy. In 2017, he packed his bags to take off a two months break back home as he thought of his next move. While there, he decided to link up with the Sheffield theatre. The two months became six then a year to date.
Sheffield was an already familiar environment but also presented the opportunity of beginning from scratch as he negotiated other means of survival. Launching out as a director for the Red Blood Blues, the ball was set rolling. Within three weeks, he was able to pull off a successful production together with the entire team which earned him a mark before the Arts Council and the theatre stakeholders in Sheffield theatre. Shortly after in 2018, he pitched the Far Gone project first as a short play which was a success. From then on, he got accepted. The big boys were now looking out for him. He did not have to labour much to put on the full production of the play when the time was due. In his words, “I knew everything had come to full circle.”
Rwothomack is currently researching his second play Never Look Back, a play on African soldiers in the Second World War. He wants to use the stage to question the many changes that have shaped the African way of life with a bias on Sub Saharan Africa.
It is for this reason that today, at 27, Rwothomack still maintains his Luo/Ugandan accent. From the day he stepped in Sheffield at 11, he made a decision not to lose his accent. He became aware of the challenges that came with being different. He wanted to know more about himself by continuously questioning the idea that defines one’s identity. A Jonam from Pakwach in Northern Uganda, John speaks Luo and Luganda, the languages of his childhood like he never left.
As the future draws nigh, John plans on spending his time between Uganda and Britain. There is more work to be done and he is ready for it. He describes himself as a confused artist trying to understand both worlds searching for answers and telling the stories to the audiences. He believes that if you are good at something and you stick long enough at it, it will pay off. But first you have to be good at it.
Learn more about his works here.