Sarasota County Arts Council


Members of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) have just returned from performing Soul Crooners at the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF) in Winston-Salem, NC. The all-male ensemble and WBTT musicians had four scheduled performances, each of which were sold out. It was the first time the Troupe had been invited to the Festival, which is the most important showcase for African-American performers in America.

“Words can hardly capture our experience at NBTF,’ replied Nate Jacobs, founding artistic director of WBTT. “The audiences were ecstatic and their enthusiasm for our show was exceptional. The applause was thunderous and spontaneous standing ovations became the norm. Word spread quickly and by the second day, there was not a ticket to be found.”

The all-star cast included Jacobs, Emmanuel Avraham, Charles Manning, Michael Mendez, Leon Pitts II and Sheldon Roden, all of whom appeared in the original Soul Crooners cast. Joining them were band members Todd Bellamy, pianist, Jamar Camp, Auxiliary Keyboard, James Dodge II, Bassist and Musical Director and Etienne Porter, Drummer.

NBTF takes place once every two years. WBTT’s Soul Crooners was selected by a prestigious committee who reviewed submissions from across the US and abroad. Although Jacobs has performed his solo piece “Aunt Rudele” at past festivals, this was the first time the Troupe was invited to come and present their work on a national stage.

NBTF is known as the Mecca of black theater. Professionals and theater enthusiasts from the east coast to the west coast were in attendance. Groups traveled by bus from Chicago, Connecticut, Michigan, to name a few. Over the five performance days, more than 60,000 people enjoyed musicals, straight plays, literary and new play readings, poetry and films. There were dramas, comedies, one-person shows, all dealing with African-American themes, from historic to present day. Many were presented by regional theaters and performed by professional actors, some of who were Tony, Golden Globe and Emmy winners.

“I was fortunate to join the Troupe at the Festival, along with other WBTT Trustees,” remarked Board Chair Julie Leach. “Seeing their work alongside such well-known venues as The Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Legacy Creative Arts Company in Chicago, New York City’s New Federal Theatre and Negro Ensemble Company, and The Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago was amazing. WBTT was the talk of the town! This experience has lifted WBTT into the national spotlight with other well known venues who present work by and about African Americans. We are thrilled for the Troupe and look forward to the future and all that it will bring.”

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. (WBTT) was founded in December 1999, by local actor, singer, director and playwright Nate Jacobs. It is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission of WBTT is to “produce plays that promote and celebrate the African-American experience, which attracts diverse audiences while using its productions as a vehicle for supporting African-American artists and building the self-esteem of African-American youth.” Throughout the past decade, WBTT has produced many productions locally and around the state of Florida. The company has gained a reputation for high quality, thought-provoking and entertaining performances.

Since its inception, WBTT has mentored and inspired many African-American youth through participation in the company’s productions. Many of the aspiring professional artists trained in the WBTT performing arts program have gone on to work with national and regional companies The company has provided a springboard for many national careers including Apphia Campbell who most recently has been seen performing her one-woman show, Black is the Color of My Voice, in Shanghai and New York. Teresa Stanley was a featured cast member on Broadway in The Color Purple and presently stars in Rock of Ages. The two youngest Troupe members, teenagers Chris Eisenberg and Alyssa White, have reached national acclaim; Chris making the top 48 on “America’s Got Talent” and most recently had a singing tour of Boys & Girls Clubs across America. Alyssa was selected to perform in the Harlem Apollo Theater’s Best of the Best show in 2011.

The Arts Council - Sarasota's Source for the Arts