It all began in high school. As drum major of the marching band his senior year at Richmond Hill High School, Travis Coles knew he enjoyed music. When he needed another elective to fulfill his high school requirements, Travis decided to try chorus.
“I was really surprised,” his father Max Coles said. “He said, ‘I’m going to do chorus’ and I said, ‘Chorus? What’s chorus?’ He said, ‘I’ve done everything else I can do in music, and I need a subject’. So off he went. The next thing we know, we’re down at the Johnny Mercer Theater watching him in All-State Chorus.”
Travis, who graduated in 2002, had a musical background being in band, but he had never done any singing with a group. He said he just enjoyed singing. But soon, he began to realize how much talent he had after being accepted to All-State Chorus.
“It was definitely an ego booster,” Travis said of participating in All-State. “It was an enjoyable experience. Singing with other voices, especially without instrumental accompaniment – it is amazing the beautiful sounds you can make with just your voice. Being in a group, especially at All-State where there were 300-400 of us singing together in the senior men’s choir – it was an awe-inspiring experience. It’s a swell of energy when you are singing with that many people.”
After high school, Travis began college at Armstrong University but wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do as a career. Already having management experience from working in Richmond Hill, he began working at Club One in Savannah. Seven years ago, he became the general manager of the club.
At the time, there was already a community theater in town and Travis enjoyed their productions.
“Club One already had a stage for the drag shows and Lady Chablis, but I thought it was being underutilized because it was only being used about four hours a week,” Travis said. “I didn’t want to go into competition with the community theater that already existed.”
That troupe, however, ceased after the founder moved to New York. Travis spoke to some of the actors and decided to use the stage at Club One for productions. Bay Street Theatre was created.
The first production was a fundraiser for the Rape Crisis Center in Savannah. Now, the theater is in its sixth season and Travis estimates they have performed 30 productions throughout the years.
Bay Street Theatre has done some big name shows including “Avenue Q,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Rocky Horror Show.” This past month, Travis, 30, has played one of the lead roles, Billy Flynn, in “Chicago.”
“I enjoy the camaraderie of theater,” Travis said. “The actors do it because they are passionate about it. They are there because they love performing and interacting with each other.
“There’s not another feeling quite like getting on stage and feeling the energy from the audience and giving that energy back. Being on stage with an audience is like having a conversation because you give and they give. It’s like an exchange. ‘Chicago’ is my favorite show right now. Billy Flynn is probably the biggest role I’ve had. That exchange with the audience is what makes it really worthwhile.”
Travis said although the production has a lot of dancing in it, he doesn’t do much dancing. Instead, he does a lot of singing.
“We went opening night,” Max said. “I’ve seen him in everything he’s been in. We make a point of going out to the opening or closing night each year. We were looking so forward to this production that we went to opening night and closing night.”
Max explained that Travis hadn’t been feeling well on opening night for “Chicago.” He had been sick as well as busy finishing the stage, working his regular job and memorizing lines.
“I saw him Friday evening before he performed and he didn’t look well, but he nailed it. I couldn’t believe it,” Max, Richmond Hill resident, said. “He’s done a lot of production work with Bay Street Theatre but this his first lead role. I was so proud of the fact. He didn’t miss a beat – all the notes and all the lines. He shows wonderful focus and put on a great show.”
It seems more than just Travis’ parents enjoyed the show as many nights were sold out. For Travis, he doesn’t see theater being a career. Instead, he sees it as his creative outlet.
“I’ve worked at the club for 10 years now, and I’ve enjoyed it,” Travis said. “Having the theater here allows me the free time to be involved. Being on the property lets me do two things at once. I definitely want to continue performing in some capacity.
“We do a lot of partnering with non-profits. We usually work with two or three charities a year. It’s like my humanitarian side, my artistic outlet and my job – it’s a three in one for me.”
Travis, who lives in Savannah now, will be directing the upcoming Christmas performance of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Travis directs the Christmas shows each year and says he enjoys directing as well.
Lee Lawrence, 2001 graduate of RHHS, was also in the production of “Chicago.” This was his first performance at Bay Street Theatre.
For more information on Bay Street Theatre, visit www.baystreettheatre.org.