Duane rises from stage to star

Duane Williams, seen here in rehearsal, plays Sharks gang member Indio in West Side Story. The musical opens on Wednesday March 7 at the Artscape Opera House.

With big dreams and a fighting spirit, a young Hillview boy used hard work to make his vision of being on the big stage and screen a reality.

Now 27-years-old, Duane Williams will again be appearing in the musical West Side Story at the Artscape from next month.

Duane’s passion for acting started in primary school and his passion for hip hop dancing – which then became his first love – started in high school. He attended Square Hill Primary, Sibelius and Steenberg high schools.

“I love performing and I’ve always had a passion for drama, arts and dance,” he said.

He studied to become a teacher at UWC until he decided to pursue dancing and performing as a career and so far his decision has paid off.

“I studied because at the time I had the drive and love for dancing but didn’t think that dancing could be a career. After two years I decided that dancing would be my number one priority. It was a big decision because many people, especially from my community, didn’t think that it was possible for me to make money or a living dancing,” he said.

He then joined an agency and did his first commercial for Play energy drink.

“After that I kept my ear to the ground and kept looking for work. It was hard as a freelance dancer but I was always looking for auditions that I could go to and went to every casting,” he said.

He then got an audition for Funny Girl, which was being staged at the Fugard Theatre.

“It was a musical so it was out of my comfort zone but I gave it a shot. That’s when I got a feel for the stage and heard that there were auditions for West Side Story. I did the audition and was cast and the rest is history.”

Playing the role of Indio, Duane also appeared in the West Side Story production staged in Johannesburg last year.

He also took part in an acting internship programme at SABC and was cast in the Afrikaans soapie 7de Laan as the character Vernon who made his debut on Thursday October 19 last year.

This was, however, not his first time on screen. The actor and dancer was cast in international dance film Honey 3 ‘Dare to Dance’, Bring it on ‘Worldwide Cheersmack’ as well as A Cinderella Story ‘If the shoe fits’. You might also recognise him from commercials by Hunters, Play and Toyota. Asked what he would advise other youngsters from communities such as Hillview who aspire to be actors, actresses or performers, Duane said: “Use your circumstance as your driving force. Look for every opportunity and every door or window that you can find. Often people are so scared of what our friends or family are saying and it can be daunting but believe in what you want to do, whether it’s music, dancing or even knitting, it’s about putting your everything into it and believing in your passion and that is the first step to your success,” he said.

“I still have a long way to go and there is still so much I want to do. So far I have played feature roles in films and theatre but I appreciate every role I have gotten. One day I hope to open a dance studio and help children, especially from Hillview, Lavender Hill and the surrounding areas.

Duane thanked his mother for always supporting him.

“She is my driving force and is constantly praying for me. At the moment I am based in Joburg but often visit my family,” he said.

He also thanked choreographer Rudi Smit and all the dance crews he has been involved with over the years, as well as Greg Philander, a community leader from Lavender Hill, his family and friends and everyone who has played a role in his journey.