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Wausau West High School drama standout performs on Broadway stage

Nolan Travis is one of two Wisconsin high school students chosen to represent the state at the 15th annual Jimmy Awards in New York City

Nolan Travis, of Wausau, performs June 24, 2024 at The Jimmy Awards at the Minkskoff Theater in New York. Courtesy of The Jimmy Awards and provided by the Wausau School District

A Wausau West High School junior last month realized his dream of performing on a Broadway stage, as one of two students representing Wisconsin in a national drama competition.

Nolan Travis, along with Middleton High School’s Ava Greenberg, performed June 24 at the 15th annual Jimmy Awards, a program that honors theater arts education in schools and rewards excellence in student performance. The event was held at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City.

Travis was nominated for his portrayal of Sancho Panza in the October Wausau West High School musical production, “Man of La Mancha.”

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About 100,000 students participate in regional awards programs nationwide for the right to qualify for The Jimmys, which are often referred to as “The Tonys for Teenagers.”

Nolan Travis, of Wausau. Courtesy of the Wausau School District

Travis, who has been involved in theater productions since middle school, said the experience has only strengthened his resolve to create a future for himself in the performing arts.

“I honestly don’t see myself doing anything other than theater, even if it’s just me helping out with theater,” he said. “It’s the one thing in life that really gets me going. It’s one of the things that makes me happy to wake up in the morning.”

Travis told WPR’s Morning Edition being on a famous stage where so many Broadway stars have performed their magic was an awe-inspiring experience he will never forget.

“I still feel like it hasn’t sunk in yet, the fact that I performed on a Broadway stage,” Travis said. “We were on the Minskoff stage, which is where ‘The Lion King’ performs. I saw ‘The Lion King’ a couple of years back in Milwaukee. It was a life-changing moment, watching that show, because it was gorgeous. Being on that stage, knowing the people who have performed on that stage, it was just insane.”

The following transcription was edited for brevity and clarity.  

Shereen Siewert: Talk to me about the process. How were you chosen for this?

Nolan Travis: How it all started was back in the fall when we did our high school show, “Man of La Mancha.” We applied for the Jerry Awards down in Madison, and reviewers came and watched our show to nominate us for different various awards. In March, we found out that me and one of my other friends won for outstanding lead performance. That gave us the opportunity to go down to Madison on Memorial Day to audition for the Jimmy Awards.

SS: What went through your mind when you found out you were chosen? 

NT: It it was a utter shock. It was one of the coolest experiences, like the one of the coolest feelings in my entire life. I went down with my parents and so that was a really good moment to have with my parents. This is something I’ve dreamed of for a very long time.

I remember waking up in the mornings in middle school and showing my parents videos of all these different people performing at the Jimmy Awards. Finding out that I was going to be able to go and do that was awesome. 

SS: They say that people who find success in theater have a special something that makes them really come to life on stage. When did you know that you had this gift? 

NT: It was definitely when back in seventh grade I played my first ever lead role in the show, and it was the first time that I’ve ever felt truly confident in what I was doing. It was the first time I ever felt genuinely supported from everybody. 

SS: Do you have a favorite role that you’ve played so far?

NT: My favorite role I’ve ever played was back my freshman year. I did a show called “Pippin,” and I played Pippen in that show. He doesn’t have as much character development as all the other characters around him, and it was really fun getting to work with that.

That whole show was pretty much me and a lot of all my best friends working together, and it was right after COVID. It was just great getting to work with everybody again. 

SS: Do you have a dream role that you’d like to play in the future?

NT: I do. One of my all time favorite shows is a show called “Kinky Boots.” I really want to play one of the characters named Charlie Price. His character development throughout the entire show is phenomenal.

He sings all these great songs, and the whole show is about being yourself and living your truth. You get to watch this character go from figuring out what he wants to do and then turning into everything that he didn’t want it to be before he’s saved by all his friends. It’s about being true to yourself.

SS: What kind of support have you gotten along the way that has helped make this such a great journey for you? 

NT: First off, it’s definitely my my parents. My parents are my backbone when it comes to these kinds of things. And my two sisters really mean a lot to me, always coming to my shows, supporting me.

My director at West, Brad Schmucker, is very helpful and always supports me, coaches me for everything. My vocal teacher, Bill Day, is great. I’ve never seen him as happy for me, and it was one of the best feelings in the world seeing that.

I expected to get support from my peers, but I just didn’t expect as much support as I did get, and it really was one of the best feelings in the world.

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