NIDA acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which we learn and tell stories, the Bidjigal, Gadigal, Dharawal and Dharug peoples, and we pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present.

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Five questions with Acting student, Dalara Williams

We spoke with third-year Acting student, and Wiradjuri and Gumbayngirr woman, Dalara Williams, about how she came to study at NIDA and what her plans are for life after her final year of study.


Photo: Dalara Williams in NIDA’s 2016 production of Twelfth Night

We recently spoke with third-year Acting student, and Wiradjuri and Gumbayngirr woman, Dalara Williams, about how she came to study at NIDA and what her plans are for life after her final year of study.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into acting?

I grew up here in Sydney, between Redfern and Maroubra. I had always wanted to act, even in high school, but I was too scared to express my feelings. I went to Matraville Sports High School where I played netball, which was a big part of my life. Being Aboriginal, having sports skills was considered ‘a way out’ – an escape. And a lot of people think acting doesn’t really go anywhere, that it’s a hard unstable journey.

When I was 20, I decided to go on a six-week holiday to New York City, by myself. Unfortunately, I was a victim of fraud and ended up not having a place to stay when I first arrived on that December night. It was late, around 8pm, so I had to go to a YMCA to get in contact with someone at home in Sydney, who knew someone in NYC who could help me out. Experiencing the not-so-glamourous side of New York made me street-smart… it made me stronger. Surviving that made me realise I could survive the ‘unstable’ career of acting.

Upon my return to Redfern in 2010, I started my acting journey. I did a year-long acting course at TAFE, followed by an Aboriginal Performance certificate at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).

In 2014, I was lucky to be part of two major productions. I toured the country as part of the acclaimed production Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui – a Tiwi Island adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I was then asked to be a part of Malthouse Theatre’s production of The Shadow King (a reworking of King Lear), as part of that year’s Darwin Festival.

After that, I applied to NIDA’s Acting course and here I am.

How did you prepare for our auditions?

Having already been in two productions, I was very relaxed coming to the auditions – I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed as I was already working and making connections. I came here to try my best and having that attitude helped me be to be the truest version of myself. The last piece I did – Denise from Patricia Cornelius’ The Call – I picked last minute, and I was told it was the piece that got me in.

What have been the most exciting and scariest parts of your NIDA journey so far?

Learning different skillsets that I had never touched on before or thought I’d be able to do has been the most exhilarating and scariest parts of this epic journey. For example, in my Applied Theatre elective, I have to go out into the community and create a theatrical experience that suits the community’s needs – that could be workshops with people that aren’t theatre-based, for instance. And what’s great is the experience of meeting these people who, while not theatre-based, are just as interested in telling stories. It’s eye-opening.

Another scary thing for me is singing. I freak out every time I have to try any singing exercise. But singing isn’t the point of the exercises. You don’t need to be able to sing; it’s about getting over the nerves. Our tutors constantly remind us that everyone can sing, just at different levels. The point is to get out in front of people to do something you’re not gifted in, to perform it and then enjoy it because you have the support of your peers.

Why did you choose Applied Theatre as one of your electives?

I knew I was always going to be working with communities because I have such a strong tie with mine. Growing up in Sydney, there’s not a lot of stories based on Aboriginal people growing up in the city, and that’s one of the things I’d like to work on because there are so many of us here. Growing up in the city is all I knew, but nothing that I saw. I tried finding scenes/monologues I could relate to, but just couldn’t.

There are a lot of people that I know, family and friends, that have great stories and I’d like to give them an opportunity to share their voice and confidence. When I finish my studies at the end of this year, my focus is going to be on building a stronger community – to say it’s okay to hear your voice, your story is important so share it. I would also like to change this idea that our culture is all grieving, sadness and hardship – there’s a lighter side to us that is not often expressed on stage or screen.

There’s a small close-knit community of Aboriginal actors in theatre, film and television and I’m keen to collaborate with them to build a new generation of storytellers.

Reaching for the stars, I would love to go to America and share the other side of Australia because most non-Australians have a specific idea of who an Australian is, and Aboriginal is not part of that.

Who is your most inspiring actor and why?

Finding characters to play is an ongoing battle and many actors don’t know where they sit – it’s that struggle between not wanting to be pigeonholed and wanting to stay true to yourself. One of our teachers, Kristine Landon-Smith, told us to just bring ourselves into a role, no matter what the role is. Whether it’s white or black, you then bring yourself, which changes that character because you bring your cultural context through.

And I think NIDA graduates, Miranda Tapsell (2008) and Shari Sebbens (2009), have managed to do this beautifully. They’ve had similar journeys, gone out there and made the roles their own, without forgetting who they are, which I admire. Both women are just hard workers who want to be part of that change and that’s what I aspire to do.

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