If you’re a native Savannahian, over 40 and into theater, chances are you’ve taken a class from Tom Coleman III.
“When I was in college at the University of Georgia in 1971 through 1975, I completely, truly stumbled into children’s theater,” Coleman says. “I ended up with a degree in it.”
About that time, theaters were required to establish educational status to be considered not-for-profit. To comply with this requirement, the Savannah Little Theatre began a program called the Savannah Young People’s Theater.
“Since I had a theater degree, the Little Theatre called me,” Coleman says. “I was here in Savannah until 1986.”
Coleman taught classes in theater and directed performances. Then his life took a dramatic turn.
“I thought I wanted to go to seminary and become a priest and teach high school,” Coleman says. “I went to Pennsylvania and went into a monastery.”
During his third year at the monastery, Coleman got a call from the University of Georgia at Athens. He left the monastery to become the artistic director of the Athens Creative Theatre, a position he held for 20 years.
“Suddenly, I was 55 and trying to decide what to do with my life,” Coleman says. “I could retire at 55, 62 or 67.”
A desire to be closer to his family here helped Coleman make the decision to retire at age 55. But since he’s come home, he’s been busier than ever launching the new Savannah Community Theatre.
“I decided to do something and keep running,” Coleman says. “It’s taken a lot of energy to do what I’m doing, but I’m still excited about it.”
So are many local theater buffs.
“Everyone who has something to do with the arts who are 40 and above know me or know someone who was a student of mine,” Coleman says. “They’re all really coming and helping us out.”
The Savannah Community Theatre will celebrate its opening with the musical comedy Radio GALS May 11-June 2. If you’ve never heard of Radio GALS, it comes from the creators of Pump Boys and Dinettes and is a down-home musical set in the 1920s.
“It’s a musical about two old women who’ve retired,” Coleman says. “Their former students give them a radio transmitter that allows them to broadcast six miles, covering the town of Cedar Ridge, Ark. Every morning, they give the weather report, the farm report and read the newspaper. It’s a fun, silly kind of show. The neighbors all come by and perform on the radio.”
Even in musical comedies, there has to be a villain, and in this production, it’s an entire government agency.
“The government finds out they’re broadcasting without a license, and sends a guy to shut them down,” Coleman says. “He becomes enamored with a woman in their group, and ends up on the air rather than shutting them down.”
The cast includes Grace Diaz Tootle as Hazel Hunt, a retired music teacher who creates radio station WGAL in her home. Members of the Hazelnuts, an all-girl orchestra, are played by Suzanne Coleman Cone, Mickey Dodge, Sandra Nix and Kim Albright Shabi.
There’s a lovesick flapper named Gladys Fritts, played by Nicole Koplik. Mark Rand is the government agent with a tenor voice and a hankering for love.
In looking for a venue, Coleman talked to Kelie Miley, director of the Savannah Children’s Theatre, about using her theater.
“Kelie has something going every hour of the day,” Coleman says. “She told me the woman who owns the building (the old Belk building at 2160 E. Victory Dr., where the Savannah Children’s Theatre is located) was looking for another tenant.
“I contacted a bunch of people I knew when I was in Savannah 20 years ago,” Coleman says. “The main thing I heard about community theater in Savannah was that there wasn’t a space where people could go and do shows.”
Many people mentioned the long-defunct Savannah Little Theatre on Gwinnett Street where theater buffs could put shows together, or just hang out. “They wanted a community theater like the Little Theatre used to be,” Coleman says.
Returning to the old Belk building, Coleman learned it had a huge second floor that wasn’t being used.
“Then we found one large obstacle after another,” he says. “The building wasn’t handicapped accessible, so I contacted an elevator company. It would cost $80,000 to install an elevator, so there could be no theater on the second floor.”
A compromise was reached. The Savannah Children’s Theatre is in the front of the building, and the Savannah Community Theatre is now in the back. Each company maintains separate stages, rehearsal spaces, workshops, box offices and entrances. Coleman designed and built the 144-seat, three-quarter round theater with the help of friends and family.
One of Coleman’s former students is helping with publicity. Mary Ann Goldman says the changes at the building are dramatic.
“The dressing rooms from the old Belk department store are now dressing rooms for the actors. There’s rehearsal space upstairs,” she says. “I’m excited about it because right now, Savannah hasn’t had consistent community theater in years.”
Future productions include Beehive the 60s Musical in July. Other productions are Blood Brothers, 84 Charing Cross Road, Shirley Valentine, Mid-Life: The Crisis Musical and Blithe Spirit.
The Savannah Community Theatre will present Radio GALS May 11, 12, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 31 and June 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. Matinees are May 13 and 27 at 3 p.m. The theater is at 2160 E. Victory Dr. Tickets $25 for adults, $20 for seniors 55+ and $15 for Sunday matinees, students and children. Season tickets on sale May 11.
Call 898-9021 or visit www.savannahcommunitytheatre.com.
Savannah Actor’s Theatre plans 2008 ‘Pulitzer Season’
Based in The Ark Theatre on Louisville Road, the non-profit Savannah Actor’s Theatre has announced a 2008 calendar that they say makes its venue Savannah’s only full-time theatre, “with a performance every night of the year.”
During ‘Pulitzer Season’, the company will produce twelve productions back to back, one for each month. Each is a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama from the last half century.
The announced 2008 schedule is:
Jan. -- Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1957), Feb. -- How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1962), March -- The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds (1971), April -- Seascape (1975), May -- Buried Child (1979), June -- Night Mother (1983), July -- The Heidi Chronicles (1989), Aug. -- Lost in Yonkers (1991), Sept. -- Topdog/Underdog (2002), Oct. -- I Am My Own Wife (2004), Nov. -- Doubt (2005), and Dec. -- Rabbit Hole (2007).
Each title will run twelve performances on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:00 p.m. Single tickets are $15 (general) and $10 (student/senior).
Subscriptions for the twelve-show season are available to the public at $150 and to students and seniors at $100. Call 232-6080 or visit savannahactorstheatre.org.