SARASOTA, FL – For the sixth year, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe – in collaboration with The Jazz Club of Sarasota and the Sarasota County Schools – will help history to come alive for area students. Jazzlinks is an integrated arts experience to help illustrate, through music and theatre, the contributions of African Americans in U.S. history.
Due to the coronavirus, WBTT will present Jazzlinks virtually this year, streaming the songs and stories of the Harlem Renaissance into high school classrooms from February 15 through March 12. The presentation will feature musical performances by WBTT artists and interactive discussions with cast members and students about the historical and cultural contributions of African Americans.
This year’s installment of Jazzlinks is one of the programs supported by a 2020 Gulf Coast Community Foundation Arts Appreciation Grant to WBTT.
At press time, Jazzlinks is slated to perform for more than 1,500 students. The presentation will be via Zoom and interactive, incorporating video from a previous Jazzlinks production with added commentary from artists Syreeta S. Banks, Brian L. Boyd, Brentney Stephens and Donovan Whitney. The subject matter will focus on the Harlem Renaissance.
WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs worked with staff members Travis Ray, Michael Mendez and Adrienne Pitts on the script and creating related program materials. Jacobs directs and Ray is the coordinator.
In prior years Jazzlinks has had significant support through the State of Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs Specific Cultural Project grant program; however, this year that funding was not included in the state budget, so programming costs will come from WBTT’s annual fund.
Jazzlinks connects historical events with musical and dramatic illustrations. In the video from a previous program year, actors assumed the roles of the following noted African American historical figures such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker. Some of the songs students will hear include “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” “This Joint is Jumping,” the haunting “Strange Fruit,” and the hopeful “Lift Every Voice.” Topics such as Jim Crow laws, lynching and “The Great Migration” will be discussed as well as the successes of and strides made by noted Black artists; then, WBTT’s artist moderators will engage students in conversation.
“While we prefer to be able to see students enjoying the performance in person, we are confident that our video resources and wonderful artist moderators will help them to gain an understanding of the subject matter in a way that’s much more fun and memorable than simply reading from a textbook,” said Jacobs. “We are also happy to bring an arts experience to many students who may not have the opportunity to enjoy live music or theater.”
Jazzlinks was originally created by The Jazz Club as a 4th grade curriculum that was implemented in all Sarasota elementary schools in the early 2000s. In 2013, the state curriculum changed the focus of late 19th and early 20th century U.S. history to high school, encompassing the Jazz era. Program organizers enlisted the talents of WBTT to help transform the original Jazzlinks units into a dynamic experience for 11th grade students. Last year, one middle school – Booker Middle – also enjoyed a Jazzlinks performance. WBTT began gauging interest in this year’s offering with a Teacher Workshop on January 20. The program is available to 11th grade students in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Teachers can sign up for Jazzlinks through the “EdExplore” website (edexploresrq.com). For more information, or to find out how you can support the educational programs of WBTT, call (941) 404-7801.
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 professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.