WBTT 4/10/2019

Nate Jacobs Inspires LWRWC

L to R: Kathleen Cleveland, Lakewood Ranch Women’s Club President, presenting a Certificate of Appreciation from LWRWC to Nate Jacobs, founder and artistic director of The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

Nate Jacobs, founder and artistic director of the highly acclaimed Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT), was the featured speaker at the LWRWC’s general meeting held on April 10, 2019, at LWR Town Hall. Nate is an actor, singer, comedian, playwright, composer and director who has produced and appeared in many local shows that have won acclaim from critics and the public alike! During his presentation, Nate shared his poignant story about what motivated him to work for more than 25 years in the Sarasota community mentoring and developing young aspiring performers and to be come the founder of WBTT.

The Women’s Club members in attendance were deeply impressed with Nate’s amazing talent and they felt an immediate connection with his passionate desire to help and mentor others. Nate told them that “While WBTT is dedicated to producing the finest dramatic and musical theater, my dream – my true calling and purpose for founding this organization – has always been to help young, aspiring artists who may otherwise be overlooked to develop their talents and have the opportunity to achieve success.”

Nate told the club members that as one of 11 children, he was responsible for looking after his younger siblings and entertained them with funny stories he made up himself. He decided to major in fine arts at Florida A&M University because he was told he was a good artist and considered himself to be an introvert.

While attending Florida A&M, he met his mentor, professor, Henry Porter, a Sarasota native and a graduate of FAMU and Yale University, who was a bishop at the local Westcoast Center for Human Development Church. Although Nate had early aspirations to have career in New York, his dream was detoured when Henry Potter, asked him to teach art at his Church School and Nate agreed to do so for 3 months.

Teaching art expanded into teaching theatre and the three months stretched to three years as Nate started writing plays for students, which grew into popular seasonal performances. Eventually, Porter and his wife Cynthia encouraged Nate to become a professional actor at the nearby the Asolo Repertory Theatre. As part of the Asolo Theatre Company, Nate realized he was the only black person around and it became a constant topic of conversation why were there no black theatre companies.

The Players Centre for Performing Arts was the first to invite Nate to direct a black show at the professional community theatre: James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner. They got a grant for the production, but Nate had to literally recruit and train his first cast from individuals he approached in the black community who had virtually no professional acting experience. The results were tremendous! Despite a lack of advertising and advance ticket sales, Nate told us that “the place was packed. “Half black, half white. The third performance was sold out.” Confidence gained from the show’s success and the inspiring letters from fans who loved the performances, finally motivated Nate to create the black theatre company he had dreamed of having in Sarasota.

WBTT Founded in December 1999

In December of 1999, Nate founded, The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe as a not-for-profit organization. For years, WBTT presented shows in arts venues throughout the region, including many musicals that Nate wrote himself. With virtually no budget, WBTT, relied on their exciting shows to gain community support and, eventually, the money to take them to next level.

In 2010, WBTT shows found a home in the warehouse next to the historic Binz Building in Sarasota and they purchased the entire property in 2013. Nate describes WBTT as “a gift bigger than anything he could have ever dreamed,” and it is a gift that keeps on giving. Hundreds of actors, directors, and playwrights started their careers on WBTT’s stage before being recognized as some of the top talent in performing arts.

Many Prestigious Awards

Nate Jacobs has received many prestigious awards for his outstanding contributions to Black theater and mentoring young people. Recent awards include the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award in 2015 for “his contributions to Black theatre specifically and American theatre in general,” and in 2017 he was named a Goodwill Manasota Ambassador of the Year, an award honoring “those who help change lives.” In October 2018, he received the Arts Leadership Award for Artistic Achievement from the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County.

Nate told the Women’s Club that ”At WBTT, we give a unique, high-spirit feeling to our patrons that is unlike any other experience they would have anywhere in the realm of cultural arts.“ The troupe is still growing and their “Heart & Soul” fundraising campaign continues work towards its $8 million goal to start renovating the theatre next door in May 2019, to create WBTT’s vision for a new, state-of-the-art theatre.

After telling his story, Nate sang the song “Little Drops of Rain” and explained the analogy between the lyrics and his mission to mentor talent and bring black theater to our community. His deeply moving performance received a standing ovation. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.