Talking Theatre: Layton Williams Discusses Hairspray The Musical – Part 2

The UK tour of Hairspray comes to Bristol Hippodrome from March 5, the production features the iconic music and lyrics by Academy Award, Tony and Emmy winning duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Featuring the much-loved musical comedy stars Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle and Layton Williams as Seaweed, Hairspray also stars award-winning comedian Norman Pace as Wilbur Turnblad, Matt Rixon returns to the role of Edna Turnblad and Rebecca Mendoza as Tracy Turnblad.

Following on from the first part of an interview with stage star Layton Williams who plays Seaweed, today, Layton discusses some of his other projects, and of course, Hairspray!

What do you consider your greatest achievement or highlight of our career away from the stage?  

One of my biggest highlights probably has to be the night I had my movie premiere for Bad Education. It was one of those times where I was just looking around and pitching myself. All my friends were there, including my best friend, Jordan Laviniere, who is playing Duane in Hairspray.

I saw my best friends on the red carpet and that was the moment it hit me that I was at a movie premiere and one of the lead actors in the film. I had never expected that to come of a show I had been in since I was 14. Even if that doesn’t ever happen again, which hopefully it will, I’m happy to say I have ticked that box. As a performer there are certain things that I set out to do, whether it’s a film, a music video, or a musical and that was a definite highlight of mine.    

While you have been on tour with the show, you have been doing a series of dance workshops around the country, could you tell us a bit about them and what inspired you to set up DanceWithLayton? 

I started DanceWithLayton when I was about 16. I had been working with my school, Italia Conti teaching and assisting at one of their associate schools in Ruislip for many years. They started giving me my own classes and students to teach which is how I got into teaching.

After a few years I thought I needed to spread my wings and maybe teach elsewhere, they have little associate schools everywhere all over the country, so I started touring and DanceWithLayton developed from there. It was as simple as me offering a workshop, whether it was a general workshop or something from or inspired by the show I was in at the time. Even if it was just to have a little jig and meet the students then I could come! And it just popped off.

Since then, it’s been the only job I do aside from my stage and screen work.  I have always wanted to do something that was fulfilling for me, kept me in the game, fit and healthy but also hopefully inspire other people. Through DanceWithLayton I have got to meet thousands and thousands of kids and dancers around the country, I wouldn’t be able to count how many people I have taught over the years, so it’s fab. It’s something I want to keep on doing until I get too tired which is why I have introduced other teachers because when I get too tired they can do it for me – ha!  

A scene from the stage musical, Hairspray.A scene from the stage musical, Hairspray.

A scene from the stage musical, Hairspray.

You continue to work with some incredible organisations, how did you get involved with this line of work?  

The first organisation I worked with was a charity called Stonewall. I read about them online and had known someone who had been doing the Stonewall Role Model Visits. Through solider, James Wharton, I began working with them and doing Role Model visits myself. The Role Model Visits were set up by Stonewall to have people go into schools, speak to the kids and be a LGBTQI role model for them. It’s important because there might be one kid in that assembly that wants to come out or be themselves but is scared of getting bullied so having somebody like myself talking about it to them could give them the confidence to come to terms with their sexuality or give them hope.

The first time I did it I was 18, it was scary because I remember standing up in front of all these kids, feeling like a kid at the time myself. I did a few of the Stonewall Role Model visits over the years and then I started working with The Diana Award on their anti-bullying campaign. Being bullied at school is not cool, at all. It’s important to learn not just to stand up to the bullies but also understand why it is happening, how to help and to not be a bystander and let it go unheard of. If you hear something or are aware of something going on, go up to that person and ask if they want help etc.

Being an ambassador for those people, being someone that hopefully they can look up to is so important to me. If I can help them in any way or use the platform that I somehow have, then I would love to. I’m just trying to use my time wisely, I guess! I do wish I had more time to do it, with work being so busy and being on tour with multiple shows every week it is hard to get back into it. But, that’s how it all started really. 

2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the original film starring Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Jerry Stiller on which the musical is based, if you could adapt any film into a musical which one would it be?  

Oh! I have always said Moulin Rouge, I think they have just started make that into a musical now for Broadway but that was my choice for ages. Imagine what a musical that would be

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