By CLINT FOSTER
Few things in life can match the sheer joy that comes from expressing one's self through art, particularly on a theatrical stage. Yet finding success in the world of fine arts often takes years of training, experience and a slow climb to the top.
Not for Jace Duncan.
At the tender age of 13, and after only two years of actively pursuing dance, the Mineral Wells native has already landed a major role in Dallas Theater Center's original musical "Fly" – a new interpretation of J.M. Barrie's classic novel, "Peter Pan." In his second show with DTC, Jace plays one of the five Lost Boys, "Nibs," and has specifically received critical acclaim for his athletic dancing and gymnastics.
"Jace Duncan stood out as a dancer with amazing agility and great hip-hop moves," one columnist wrote in her review of the show.
Naturally, the Duncan family could not be more proud. His mother, father, two sisters and grandmother have all seen his performance as Nibs, and offer rave reviews of their own.
"This kid right here is amazing," Sue Duncan said as she looked at her grandson, seeming to beam with pride. "I was blown away. Everything is happening so fast."
Truly, Jace's road to DTC was a quick one. It was only two years ago that he began taking hip-hop, ballet, contemporary and jazz classes at the Rock of Sports and Performing Arts in Weatherford, virtually on a whim. After taking gymnastics the previous year, the Duncans simply wanted to gauge his interest.
"I've always just been dancing since I was little and my parents put me in class, just to see if I liked it," Jace said. "A teacher there asked me to compete with [Dance Continuum in Hurst] and from there it escalated."
Having begun his meteoric rise in dance, Jace took an interest in acting the next year. His sixth grade music teacher at Travis Elementary, Cody Jordan, noticed his talent and took it upon herself to help him take the next step.
"I'd always be dancing and she told me one day she was going to get me into Casa Manana," Jace said. "She wrote a recommendation letter and got me in."
While taking classes at the historic Fort Worth theater, one of Jace's instructors encouraged him to audition for Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at DTC. He got an ensemble role in that musical and, once again, found a way to get noticed. The director of Joseph asked him to audition for "Fly" and the rest, as they say, is history.
On the set of "Fly," Jace works with a creative team that has quite the pedigree. Coreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has received a Tony award and multiple other award nominations. Director Jeffrey Seller is a three-time Tony award winner. But the awards don't faze Jace one bit.
"It's basically the same. You just have to do what they ask and try not to mess up," he explained. "I've learned a lot about the business. It's a lot of fun, though. If you're enjoying it, you don't really think about the difficulty."
The difficulty throughout this whole process has perhaps been mostly on the shoulders of Jace's parents: Chris and Christine Duncan. As Jace's activities have moved further east, it has only added to the number of miles the Duncans have to drive daily. Chris and Christine take turns driving their son when it fits into their work schedule, and a decent percentage of Jace's paycheck from DTC goes toward the gas bill. Sue Duncan said sometimes rehearsals last all day and don't end 'til midnight, in which case Jace has spent the night with another cast member.
"They've got some close friends that are really special people that they spend the night with sometimes if it's late," she said. "Their hospitality is just unreal."
Travel might only get trickier in the future. The Duncans recently learned that there is a possibility that "Fly" might get picked up to go on Broadway, in which case Jace could potentially be asked to join the cast in New York City. But the Duncans aren't sweating the future, saying they will figure out what to do if and when it happens.
"I'd go, I mean, it'd be exciting," Jace said. "I'd have to leave all my friends and stuff behind. [But] I'd just move for however long the run is, so, I'd see them again."
"We all live very close and we're like, 'Oh my gosh, what's going to happen,'" Sue added. "If it does, it does. We'll just have to adjust our lives accordingly."
Jace said he would love to pursue acting and dancing as a career someday and be involved in all its mediums: live theater, television, movies, commercials, etc. He is in the process of signing with a major talent agency, CESD, based out of New York and Los Angeles. Such an agency can connect him with major national jobs and propel him even higher in the business. But Jace is taking that, too, in stride.
For now, he is making sure he enjoys every moment he gets to perform on stage.
"Just the energy," he said when asked about his favorite part of performing. "It's just a lot of fun to have the crowd cheering you on."
"Fly" runs through Aug. 18 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater in Dallas. Shows are every day except Monday and tickets are as low as $15. For more information, visit dallastheatercenter.org or call 214-880-0202.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55