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John Ssegawa: On the misuse of marriage

`Heartbreaks and being entangled in a love compromises your thinking and yet I want to be open’

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | John Ssegawa is one of Uganda most famous theatre drama actors, script writers, and directors. Most of his work is in the local language, Luganda. A largely self-taught man, Ssegawa rides on the sheer power of his talent. After relying on scripts written by colleagues, for example, Ssegawa says he exploited his relationship with renowned dramatist Mariam Ndagire to “pick a few lessons about script writing”.

He has co-written plays with celebrated actors like Charles James Ssenkubuge and says he is inspired by legendary dramatist Alex Mukulu. He admires both for being abstract thinkers, observing the environment and coming up with dramatic statements.

“They are great writers and for you to achieve in script writing, you must be their students for which I am very proud.”

Ssegawa became popular in the late 90s and is famous for his roles in plays like Bungulu ewa Bungulu, Ensitaano, Maswanku, Ssebalamu Tebesigwa. His latest play is Zansaanze.

Ssegawa’s acting voyage started in the early 1990s after he graduated from Kyambogo University with a diploma in performing arts. He started off as a fan of local drama and when several drama groups broke up, he joined Afri-Diamonds; a combination of then popular groups – Diamonds Ensemble and Afri-Talent.

“I didn’t join as an actor but to help in management having raised some money from the village,” says Ssegawa.

Ssegawa soon jumped on to stage in the play ‘Kilagilo’ loosely translated as ‘Order’. His talent shone immediately and when the play was sanctioned by the Ministry of Defense in 1994 as a good depiction of the army in community, he was part of the group that took it on tour around the country as was the trend at the time. Ssegawa split from Afri-Talent to form his own group, Beyond Borders Entertainment.

Ssegawa is the sixth born of Damiano Ssekiziyivu. He was born in a polygamous family of 25, raised in Mubende district. He moved to Kampala for quality education Kabojja Junior School. He recalls being naughty, undisciplined, and earning suspensions.

Ssegawa has no hopes of getting married. He says that marriage is a mission that requires selflessness, sacrifice and love which he feels he cannot fulfill.

“Marriage has been abused because many have gone into a ministry that they don’t understand,” says Ssegawa, “It has been relegated from being a ministry to a status symbol forcing many to go into it without basic understanding.”

Ssegawa is a father of two sons and one daughter.

Ssegawa says drama requires keenly observing the environment to produce matching scripts.

“The best stories you can have are from real life experiences because you can feel it and they are tangible,” says Ssegawa.

He also says the local drama industry is changing, as it always does, to meet audience demands and expectations. He says previous changes required him to start fusing drama with music and comedy.

Today, he says, technology has birthed ICT enabled theatres and there is more competition with music and comedy for the same audience. He says the audience today wants comedy for instant satisfaction.

“Some people don’t want to use their brain to think hard,” he says.

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