SARASOTA, FL – On February 10, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe celebrated the grand opening of its newly-renovated theater. In attendance were WBTT leaders and supporters, civic and foundation leaders, and representatives from C. Alan Anderson Architect, PA and Willis Smith Construction.
Guests first gathered for refreshments and socializing, plucking glasses from the champagne wall and enjoying “lite bites” from Nellie’s Deli. Then WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs, executive director Julie Leach, the WBTT board, major Heart & Soul capital campaign supporters, and those involved in the building design and construction gathered for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. The scissors were wielded by Alison Madsen, daughter of lead Heart & Soul donor, Gerri Aaron, who passed away last year. The theater building is now named the Gerri Aaron & The Aaron Family Foundation Theatre Building, in her honor.
The guests were invited inside, assembling in the two-story Donelly Theatre for acknowledgements and appreciation. Speakers included board chair Marian Moss, Leach, Gerri Aaron’s children Madsen and her brother, Jud Aaron, Heart & Soul campaign chair Doris Johnson, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown, longtime supporter Hank Battie, founding member Teresa Stanley, and Jacobs.
The celebration culminated with a performance that included numerous popular WBTT artists as well as longtime performers who flew in to be a part of the celebration: Christopher Eisenberg, who is a member of RCA Records artist Next Town Down, and Naarai Jacobs – Nate’s daughter – who has sung back-up vocals for artists including Beyoncé and Logic, and is now singing with Kanye West’s Sunday Service. Students from WBTT’s Stage of Discovery program also performed.
“When I began this journey 20 years ago, I never could have imagined that we would end up here, not only with a permanent home but facilities that are state-of-the-art and beautiful,” said Jacobs. “I am so very grateful to this community for believing in this organization, investing in our vision, and helping to make my dream come true!”
WBTT’s Heart & Soul capital campaign – which exceeded its $8 million goal to land at a final tally of $8.7 million – funded:
* Renovations to the historic Binz Building, now named WBTT’s Education & Outreach Building, which serves as the home for the administrative offices, weekday Box Office, rehearsal and instructional studios, a library, classrooms, and a 6,000-square-foot rooftop terrace for the special events of WBTT and other community organizations;
* Improvements to the parking lot and grounds; and
* Extensive renovations to the theater building, including an increase in seating to 205, with comfortable theater seats and all-new sound and lighting systems; a much larger, more elegant lobby, donated by Andrew and Judith Economos; expanded restroom facilities; a second stage – the 60-seat Howard J. Millman Theatre; and much-improved professional backstage areas.
For more about WBTT, go to westcoastblacktheatre.org.