John Rwothomack is one of the six writers participating in the inaugural year of our Nationwide Voices programme. This is a blog post with his thoughts and reflections on the first two Nationwide Voices sessions that he experienced back in August and September… Enjoy!
So it might be useful for me to start by introducing myself. I am John Rwothomack from Uganda, now based in Sheffield and proud to belong to both. My journey to being part of this incredible initiative that ETT has put together, I guess began when I went to drama school. After graduating as an actor from Rose Bruford in 2015, I moved back to Sheffield. Where, although I trained as an actor, thanks to Theatre Deli I found myself directing Bad Blood Blues by Paul Sirett. Having somehow successfully managed this, the next challenge was to write a play. A challenge that was overcome by the completion of Far Gone, a one-man show that follows the life of a child soldier which I both wrote and performed. I very much enjoyed writing the play and it made me want to write more. Not being a classically trained writer – if there’s such a thing – the opportunity for Nationwide Voices could not have come at a better time. I applied with a hope of course to be chosen, but being actually chosen is very humbling. Thank you Sheffield Theatres for trusting and putting me forward.
The first session, which now seems like a century ago, was such bliss. It flew by so quickly. Of course, as with any first day in the theatre scene, we cracked the day open with meet and greets, coffees, teas, nervous laughters and zoom etiquettes. Then came one of the moments I was looking forward to most: getting to know everyone. From Sheffield, to London, to Leeds, to Wales, to Watford we introduced ourselves. The first ever playwrights of ETTs’ Nationwide Voices. It did feel honourable to be part of such a great team of talented and diverse people. I will not say much, but from the people I’ve had the privilege to meet in this cohort, I am very excited to see what plays will be manufactured by June. Theatre, you are in for a treat.
I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the first session. Prior to it I was thinking – this is going to be an introductory session, get to know everyone, and the plan for the scheme. We did do all that, but what was quite a pleasant surprise was that after that, course leader Chris Bush jumped straight into it with an exceptional session on structure. I am predominately coming from an acting background, and as such I am used to following through the journey of my character from the beginning of the play to the end, working out what their purpose is in that particular play. I have written a play, which was done out of necessity as it was felt and advised by a playwright I approached that I was the best person to write it. The writing process was rather straightforward in terms of structure. A beginning, middle and end. Like any other story right?
No, said Chris Bush, there’s more to it than just that. For example, there is a five points system/five stages that form the frame of a well structured arc of a three-act play. These are like:
- Everything is Normal – this is where we establish the daily normality of the world and the introduction of main character.
- The World Changes – an event/s occurs that changes the norm; challenges and forces the main character to go on a journey.
- The Plot Thickens – more challenges arise on this journey.
- The Cards Are Shown – the height of the challenges, the point of highest drama, solutions have to be found, the moment of change, discovery.
- The Dust Settles – the new normal; how different is it now having ventured on this journey?
As somebody who is not traditionally a writer, it was great to be walked through this structural method that someone with Chris’ experience has. I was introduced to a system of structure that not only made my understanding of the arc of a story much clearer, it was also lovely to know that I had applied some of those techniques in my writing. However, it was done unknowingly. Here lies the difference between skillfully applying the necessary ingredients to a story’s structure and arriving to it accidentally. I left the session feeling much better equipped with the understanding of structure, which I’ll definitely be applying to my next writing project. Well, let’s wait and see how it turns out.
The second session was quite exciting. We had none other than guest speaker Rebecca Lenkiewicz rock up and grace us with her knowledge, experience and some incredible advice. Filled with laughter and absolute honesty, this was a session that gave a wider understanding of playwrights’ professional life beyond the creative aspects. From navigating your way around companies as big as The National Theatre, to TV, to smaller theatres, I personally took so much from Rebecca. One thing that stood out particularly was an exercise on character she offered. The exercise:
Without spoken lines, describe a character getting dressed in the morning, and undressed at night. And then without words again, put someone else in the same space watching them dress and undress. The idea here is that people are both body and mind, the two work in conjunction, but we often describe what actions we do differently with someone else watching us.
If the character is not a child, put them in a scenario in their childhood and describe what they do as a child.
This proved to be a very useful exercise for a particular character I’m working on at the moment. Having such a vibrant, transparent and giving writer with such vast experience as Rebecca was beyond perfect for this.
Writing in any capacity is challenging, but to make a career out of it, that calls for a certain type of person crazy enough to venture into it. Having Chris lead us through these sessions, and hearing from writers like Rebecca, makes it seem possible; hard, but not impossible. It has been a great few sessions so far. I’m very much looking forward what the next ones bring. Whatever they bring, I am certain that six new exciting plays will emerge out of Nationwide Voices.