SARASOTA, FL – On April 4, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe presented its lively and music-filled fundraiser, the April Fools Fête, in the ballroom at Michael’s On East. This year’s country-themed celebration was a sold-out success, with 300 community members in attendance – most of whom were wearing cowboy and cowgirl-appropriate attire. The event raised more than $200,000 in support of WBTT’s education programs.
Guests were welcomed by WBTT board chair Doris Johnson, then event co-chairs Nancy Flanagan and Lois Wilkins recognized sponsors, committee members and the organization’s hardworking staff and consultants. After a barbecue dinner and classic dessert of apple pie a la mode, executive director Julie Leach, education director Jim Weaver, and founder/artistic director Nate Jacobs took the stage to focus on WBTT’s mission and education programs.
Stage of Discovery students Isaiah Belt, Jaliyah Campbell and Samuel “Sammy” Waite then wowed the crowd with their performances of “Jolene” (Dolly Parton) and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” (Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson). After a short video highlighting WBTT’s impact on artists and the community came the paddle raise, emceed by Brent Greeno of Sights and Sounds.
WBTT artists performing during the event were Syreeta S. Banks, Ariel Blue, Tarra Conner jones, Derric Gobourne Jr., Michael Mendez, Leon S. Pitts II and Sheldon Rhoden. Highlights included jones’ sassy performance of “Man, I Feel Like A Woman” (Shania Twain), Pitts II’s rendition of “The Gambler” (Kenny Rogers), Mendez’s version of “All Of My Exes Live in Texas” (George Strait) and Jacobs’ emotional performance of “You’re Still the One” (Twain), dedicated to WBTT’s Ambassador Circle co-chair and former CEO Christine Jennings, who has long encouraged Jacobs to direct a country-themed program.
The performers were accompanied by WBTT’s sizzling live band, led by music director/drummer Etienne J. Porter. Band members were: Brandon McCrae, guitar/keyboard; Brad Foutch, guitar; Alan Robinson II, keyboards; and Marvin Hendon II, bass.
“We could not have been more excited to be back in-person with our supporters for our April Fools Fête this year,” said WBTT’s Executive Director Julie Leach. “The wholehearted support the community feels for our mission and work could not have been more evident; we are immensely grateful for the generosity of our sponsors and guests, which will translate into greater reach for our education programs.”
WBTT’s education programs include: the WBTT Voices Community Forum, an ongoing series of free community forums about issues impacting society, explored through an African American lens; the Jazzlinks and Rhythm & Tales school outreach programs; Stage of Discovery summer musical theater intensive program; and workshop opportunities. The organization is also deeply invested in mentoring and offering a stage for young, aspiring artists and playwrights of color.
Platinum sponsors for the event were John & Kitty Cranor, Sy Goldblatt, and Dona & Sam Scott.
For more about WBTT, visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
The mission of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates African American history and experience, engages a broad base of patrons and audiences, supports the development of a dynamic group of aspiring artists and builds self-esteem in youth of color. Visit westcoastblacktheatre.org.