SARASOTA, FL – The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe recently kicked off its 15th anniversary with a high-energy celebration at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Highlights of the evening included a performance of “The Eve of Jackie,” a musical tribute to Jackie Wilson, by award-winning Broadway performer Chester Gregory, and a sizzling after-party in Van Wezel’s Grand Foyer for the theater company’s most dedicated supporters and sponsors of the evening.
More than 1,500 members of the community packed the Van Wezel auditorium to see the show, which opened with tributes to those who have led, supported and guided the theater throughout its 15 years, and then segued into a killer opening set by WBTT company members, who ran through a high-spirited ‘60s medley, as well as some favorites from the group’s hit show Soul Crooners.
Recognized during the event were outgoing CEO Christine Jennings, who helped to lead the theater from the brink of bankruptcy to fiscal health, and founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs, who learned that the street leading to the theater had been renamed in his honor for the year. New executive director Richard M. Parison, Jr. was introduced to the community.
Thanks to sponsors and ticket buyers, the event netted $160,000 for the theater.
“If you had told me five years ago that we would be celebrating this incredible milestone here, with all of these people, and with so much money raised to support our work, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Jacobs. “I was always certain of my mission – to honor the rich African American experience in this country and to help mentor promising African American artists – but to know that we have such overwhelming support from the community for that mission is truly amazing and affirming.”
“I could not have imagined a better or more invigorating way to start my work here in Sarasota,” added executive director Richard M. Parison, Jr. “I am grateful to all those who have contributed to the theater’s success, and look forward to doing everything I can to continue to build upon it.”
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission is to produce plays that promote and celebrate the African-American experience, attract diverse audiences, while using its productions as a vehicle for supporting African-American artists and building the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.