J. Clayton Winters makes Inland Northwestern debut in Spokane Valley Summer Theater’s ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Actor Equity Association guest artist J. Clayton Winters will make his Inland Northwest debut as he joins the cast of the Spokane Valley Summer Theater’s “The Bridges of Madison County” in the leading role. Marking the musical’s regional premiere, “The Bridges of Madison County” opens at 7:30 pm June 17 at University High School.

Selected to take the part after a nationwide search, Winters began preparing for the role just two months ago.

“It’s been a very quick process,” Winters said. But with executive artistic director Yvonne Johnson at the helm, Winters has had no concerns about the turnaround.

“We’re solving problems at this point in the rehearsal that sometimes don’t get solved until opening night,” he said. “She’s got a spectacular process. And her team really knows how she likes to work – they’re doing a wonderful job.”

Taking on the lead role of Robert Kincaid, Winters will be the first Actors’ Equity Association guest artist to star in an SVST production.

Based on the eponymous Robert James Waller novel, Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown and Pulitzer Prize-winner Marsha Norman’s musical adaptation of “The Bridges of Madison County” follows a traveling photographer, a housewife, and a series of what-ifs.

“Clayton’s portrayal of Robert is brilliant, nuanced and backed by his years of training and professional practice,” Johnson said in a news release.

Winters holds a bachelor’s degree in acting from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in theater pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University. With about as much experience acting as in writing, directing and choreographing, Winters identifies more generally as a theater professional than as an actor.

“There are folks who are actors. There are folks who are directors and choreographers, and then there’s kind of this multihyphenated middle ground where you … take the work that comes based on the recommendations that you have,” he said. “You just continue to tell stories with music that change lives. That’s what I’m here for. That’s why I walk this earth.”

After wearing a multitude of theatrical hats over the course of his past two projects – writing the book for a musical based on Mark Twain’s “The Million Pound Bank Note” and another about the creation of Gene Kelly’s last musical – Winters is looking forward to, “saying his lines and not bumping into the furniture.”

“Being able to just focus on the actor side – that’s been so sweet, and really such a treat,” he said.

Winters had nothing but praise for the rest of the local cast, and especially for his co-lead, Andrea Olsen, in the role of Francesca Johnson.

“An absolute gem, she’s a star, really,” he said. “Beginning to collaborate with her on a piece where our characters have a lot of interaction – it’s been spectacular, because we’ve just walked into the space with our own preparation and we’re already in the same world, the same story – and so that’s really allowed us to get deeper quickly.”

“The Bridges of Madison County” will run from June 17-26. For more information, visit svsummertheatre.com or call the Box Office at (509) 368-7897.