Jonathan Royse Windham is thriving in New York City’s performing arts scene
Special to the Daily
Jonathan Royse Windham’s working address is now 1681 Broadway, New York, New York. That’s the Broadway Theatre, and it’s a long way from the Eagle-Vail home where he grew up.
Windham, a 2005 graduate of Battle Mountain High School, has been performing with “Fiddler on the Roof” since the show opened at the Broadway Theatre on Dec. 20. Windham is what is known as a “swing,” meaning his job is to cover seven of the male ensemble roles. While not a leading role, a “swing” is perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in the business.
“I was speaking to Danny Burstein, who has done 16 Broadway shows, after my debut, and he gave me this huge hug,” Windham said. “He said ‘I want you to know how proud I am of you.’ He told me that the swing often has the most difficult jobs because you have to be ready at all times to do so many different things.”
After his debut Jan. 5, Windham met his family backstage. He said he was overwhelmed and exhausted, the culminating emotions of reaching a performing arts milestone that was once a far-off dream.
An unconventional start
Vail and its surrounding communities are not without the arts. The Vail International Dance Festival, Bravo! Vail Music Festival and the Vilar Performing Arts Center bring renowned acts to local stages.
There are also performing arts programs for kids and adults. Mostly, they are introduction-oriented and catered to participation. Organizations such as the Vail Valley Theater Company and the Vail Performing Arts Academy see dozens of kids and adults participate every year.
However, what is missing locally is that difficult step between — the route for a young performer in Vail to the stage at the Vail International Dance Festival, for instance, is not readily paved. It is a journey Windham had to figure out largely on his own and with the support of his family.
“I wasn’t put into dance school. It had to be my own conscious decision. I had to go to my mom and be like, ‘Mom, I want to dance,’” Windham said. The same was the case if Windham wanted to sing, act or perform.
“I always knew I wanted to be performing,” Windham said. “My family was so supportive. Anything that could get me farther with an education in performance, they were more than willing to help me do. It is something I am so grateful for.”
His ambitious pursuit would pay off. As he became a multifaceted performer, he was often asked to perform in leading roles of varying disciplines in high school. When he finally left town to attend SUNY Purchase College in New York, he was left with the difficult decision of what to study.
“I ended up concentrating on ballet, which is kind of hilarious because I hated ballet,” Windham said. “They asked me to concentrate in it, and I ended up loving it. I still love it to this day, but I can’t perform it. I am getting older and the training is so hard.”
Those difficult doors for a kid from the mountains started to open. He got a job dancing for the American Repertory Ballet and then with Gallim Dance, a quirky, contemporary company. He toured the United States and made several trips to Europe. He then danced with the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Company XIV.
Finally, he would end up meeting Hofesh Shechter, the choreographer for “Fiddler on the Roof,” prove he “could still sing a little,” Windham joked, and would be offered his job there.
An endless pursuit
While a milestone, sure, performing on Broadway is only a piece of what Windham is accomplishing in New York City. Stemming from his attitude as a local youngster, Windham’s ambition is still thriving under New York’s bright lights.
The “What’s Next?” tab on his website reads like a ticket wish list for some savvy east coast arts aficionado. Only Windham isn’t buying the tickets as he once did for programs in Vail — he is creating the art.
In addition to his role in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Windham recently performed at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival with his own choreography. He has also created artistic cinematic dance films and written and choreographed a handful of theatrical works.
“I am still differentiating myself,” Windham said. “I have a strong individual opinion as an artist. I think I have a lot to offer in furthering performance art in general in terms of having this diverse training and a strong opinion.
“I think I am pretty f—ing funny. What I create on my own right now is centered on physical humor. I like working with other artists, and becoming as multifaceted as possible is something that is most important.”
None of it is unfounded. Windham was named by Dance Magazine as “Top 25 to watch” in 2013, and the New York Times, Broadway World, Arts and Culture Magazine and others have positively reviewed his ventures.
Dance, theater, film, comedy — Windham attributes his mindset for collecting an eclectic and successful skillset to growing up some 1,900 miles from the epicenter of American arts in New York.
“I for sure think it helped,” Windham said. “I still look for any opportunity to be with a company or a director or an idea I really believe in. It could be some small dinky theater, but if it is something I can commit to, learn, grown from, feel supported and be able to show what I’ve learned, I am going to take it. I find those types of opportunities have always been most valuable.”
Windham knows there is no endgame to what he is trying to accomplish, that he can never learn or be exposed to everything. He said his biggest frustration is to know there is not enough time for it all amidst his seemingly endless curiosity.
“What I really try to think about when I might be losing perspective is that scene from ‘Momento,’ when he is like ‘So here I am,’” Windham said. “It is about stripping away any connotations as to where you are.
“When I am up on stage and there are the lights and the people, and I am wearing a costume, it’s like I can put high school or middle school Jonathan’s brain into this experienced performing body. It gives me so much gratitude as to where I am.”
Hardscrabble stopped by the Vail Daily newsroom to jam as one of their three performances in one Saturday, the last of which was at the Bonfire Block Party.