James Dodge arrives at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Fruitville Road rehearsal space at the start of what will likely be a long, busy day.
Dodge, the troupe’s music director, has been working 12-hour days in preparation for “Jar the Floor,” WBTT’s last performance of the season. The play, which Dodge describes as an African-American version of “The Golden Girls,” requires more props than the usual WBTT show, including an electric wheelchair.
For weeks, Dodge combed Sarasota and Manatee County consignment shops for a kitchen countertop and a full-length mirror on castor wheels. Although he eventually found both pieces, they had to be modified by the set designer. The wheelchair is on loan from a discount medical-supply company.
“It’s tough for actors to work without props,” Dodge says. “You need them to learn their blocking. The whole visual and mental correlation has to be there.”
A bass player in the band, Quintessence, which played the opening night of this year’s Sarasota Film Festival, Dodge has served as the troupe’s music director since 2008. For “Jar the Floor,” a play with no musical numbers, he stepped in as production manager, a role that comes naturally to the 31-year-old musician. When WBTT is not in season, he spends the summer and fall on the road with Piston Sound, a company that produces concerts and runway shows from Las Vegas to New Orleans.
“It’s like a flip-flop thing,” Dodge says of working with WBTT director and founder Nate Jacobs. “Nate was my elementary-, middle- and high- school drama teacher, and now I’m his music director.”
A graduate of the Westcoast School for Human Development, Dodge, a Sarasota native, was 13 when he was cast as the prince in Jacobs’ production of “Cinderella.” It was the first time he had to wear tights — and he hated it.
“I’ve tried to destroy all the videotapes of that performance,” Dodge laughs. “But they keep creeping up on me.”
His cell phone rings and he quickly mutes it while apologizing for the interruption.
The consummate professional, Dodge earned his go-getter reputation before he even joined the troupe.
Three years ago, the company was performing “The Hot Mikado,” in Ocala, when Dodge got a phone call from then WBTT Manager Tsadok Porter, a former high school classmate.
Jacobs had hired a music director for the show, but he had failed to learn the music. Desperate, Porter called Dodge and asked if he’d be willing to fill in for the weekend run. Dodge, who was working for Comcast at the time, requested the weekend off. He drove home, changed his clothes and made it to Ocala in an hour-and-a-half.
“I didn’t have time to think,” he says. “Nate was like, ‘You saved the show. How about you come on as our music director?’ I’ve been with him ever since.”
If You Go
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s “Jar the Floor” runs now through May 9, at Art Center Sarasota. For more information, call 366-1505 or visit www.wbttroupe.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at email@example.com.
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