By Katie Jackson
Early in the first act of Hamilton, after Alexander Hamilton has made his way to New York City to pursue his dreams, this talented, passionate young man sings “My Shot,” a song about seizing the moment and capitalizing on his innate talents.
How appropriate that Desmond Nunn, a young, talented, passionate Alabamian who went to New York City to pursue his own aspirations, is now getting a shot at those dreams as a member of the national touring company of Hamilton—a shot that began at Southern Union State Community College.
A native of Woodland, Ala., and a standout basketball player at Walter Wellborn High School in Anniston, Nunn originally hoped basketball would be his ticket to college. When that hope was dashed by a knee injury, Nunn’s mother told her son, “We have to figure out what your next best thing is. What do you love to do?”
Though Nunn had a strong interest and aptitude in science, he also loved music, a passion he developed and honed growing up in a musically gifted family and a music-filled church. So he applied for and received a music scholarship to SUSCC’s Wadley campus where he found mentors among its faculty, most especially dance director Sonja Fincher.
With permission and encouragement from his choral teacher, Nunn began to drop in on Fincher’s dance classes and, though he had never danced before, he took to it immediately.
“That led to this addiction to dance where any time I was not doing music I was dancing,” said Nunn. “I got very serious about it very quickly and I wanted to be very good at it, so I ate, slept and breathed dancing.”
“Desmond is a natural,” Fincher said. “He has timing and a good body shape for dance and great eyes that tell a wonderful story. Even though dance is mostly about the body, the face carries a huge part of the story for a dancer and Desmond has that. Plus he can just move!”
Though Nunn had a lot to learn, he committed himself to dance and was soon performing in SUSCC productions, which gave him a chance to not just learn, but also do. Then SUSCC gave Nunn a shot at furthering his dreams by awarding him a prestigious Presidential Scholarship, which made it possible for Nunn to enroll in the University of Alabama’s exceptional dance program.
At UA, Nunn found another mentor in the nationally renowned dancer, choreographer and dance educator Cornelius Carter, who helped Nunn polish his natural talents and encouraged him to take a shot at New York City.
“He kept telling me, ‘New York is where you need to be,’” said Nunn. “I kept saying, ‘I’m from small-town Alabama. I cannot afford to be living in New York City. I’ve never even been there.’”
When Nunn went to New York on a school-sponsored trip, he realized Carter was right. If he wanted to be a professional dancer, NYC was where Nunn needed to live. But Nunn couldn’t afford to live there right out of college so when he graduated from UA in 2013, Nunn accepted a job as the principal dancer for the Huntsville Ballet, which made more financial sense and kept Nunn closer to his mother and two sisters in Woodland. A year later, at the age of 24, Nunn was promoted to Huntsville’s ballet master, making him the youngest ballet master in the South.
Despite his success in Huntsville, however, NYC kept calling to Nunn and, in 2016, he moved to the Big Apple and began taking on a variety of dance jobs including a six-month gig playing in The Wiz at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Not long after returning from Oregon last October, Nunn went into a grueling weeklong audition for Cats, a job he didn’t get, but for a really auspicious reason.
“I got a call from my agent saying Hamilton was trying to get in touch with me and I thought that was crazy because I never auditioned for that show,” said Nunn. But in a sense he had. The choreographer for Cats is also the Tony-award winning choreographer for Hamilton.
“I checked my email and there was a message saying, ‘Hey, will you come down and audition with us at 12:30?’ This was at like 10 o’clock,” Nunn said. He made it to the audition on time, was quickly called back in for two more auditions then, just two days before Christmas, he got the call: Nunn was in the first national tour of Hamilton.
The show was set to hit the road four and a half weeks later, so Nunn immediately began a demanding regime of rehearsals that lasted until the troupe left in late February for their first show in San Francisco, which kicked off a nationwide tour that will include Atlanta’s Fox Theater in 2018.
Nunn’s job in the show is actually a number of jobs. He was hired as a male “swing” for Hamilton, which means he understudies all six male characters and has to be ready on any given night to play any one of those characters. Though learning all those roles in a short period of time was no easy task, Nunn tackled them with his characteristic commitment and zeal.
“I have probably worked a little harder than the average person,” Nunn said, “but I truly believe you cannot let anything stop you from what you want to do.” And he said he will always be thankful for the mentors at Southern Union State Community College for helping him discover what it is he wants to do.
“I would not be doing anything that I am doing today if not for SUSCC and especially Miss Sonja,” he said. “I probably would have been a science teacher because, without SUSCC I would never have been introduced to dance.”
Nunn’s mentors are proud of their former student, but also not surprised that this talented, passionate young man is getting—and taking—this shot at his dreams.
“Desmond is one of the most well-rounded individuals that I have encountered in my 25 years at Southern Union,” said Steve Spratlin, associate dean of instruction and fine arts department chair at SUSCC. “He definitely fits the definition of multi-talented!”
According to Fincher, Nunn’s talents are just some of his many exceptional qualities. “He has an amazing spirit, a great set of manners and the ability to be proud of what he has accomplished but also be humble and thankful,” she said. And, taking nothing away from Nunn’s innate gifts and dedication, Fincher believes there may be a little kismet involved, too. “There is magic out there and I am so glad it happened to him.”
“His is a wonderful, wonderful story,” Fincher said, “and I can’t wait to see where he goes.”