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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2017 9 months ago

Westcoast Black Theatre artist finds a new sense of purpose

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In preparation for his third young artist showcase, Michael Mendez is coming into his own.
by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

Michael Mendez will be the first to tell you: He wasn’t a natural-born theater person. The 25-year-old Dominican-born Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe performer says he knew from a young age he wanted to sing and dance, but he never saw himself working in theater.

Michael Mendez. Photo by Nick Friedman.

That changed six years ago, when he discovered Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Born in the Dominican Republic, splitting his youth between summers in his native home and school years in uptown Manhattan, he says moving to Florida was a bit of a culture shock.

“I tried to find my place through performance,” he says. “I never thought I would do theater, but when I was introduced to Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, I loved it. Soul music is a strong part of this company’s core. I was never a natural Broadway kid — that music never grabbed me. But soul singers were some of my idols. I finally found a place where I could develop and call home.”

Michael Mendez. Courtesy photo.

His first performance, a tribute to Marvin Gaye, only reaffirmed that feeling. Since then, he’s gone on to become one of the company’s standout young singers, earning critical acclaim and fanfare for his performances in “Soul Crooners,” as Harry Belafonte in “Harry and Lena” and “The Wiz.”

In 2014, he won the Arts and Cultural Alliance’s John Ringling Tower Fund grant in the performing arts category.

This month, he’s preparing for his third young artist showcase — a program started by the company five years ago to highlight the talents of its young performers. As he prepares for the show,  “My Paradigm Shift,” he says he’s bringing a new  mindset with him.

Michael Mendez in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Courtesy photo.

“Patrons know me in one aspect,” he says. “I’ve done cabaret-style revues in the past, but I wanted to be more dynamic. I’m going to do some dancing, which people haven’t seen a lot of, and I’m working with Ringling students to bring a more visual element. I want to show that I’m more than just a singer; I’m a well-rounded entertainer.”

Mendez says the showcase has  exposed him to all aspects of theater — budgets, scheduling, working with bands, backstage crew and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs to learn all that goes into running a company.

“This is our playhouse,” he says, “Our Motown, where the next generation of actors of color can grow and develop. I have a new vision — someday I want to start my own WBTT that I can call my baby and assist others, like I’ve been assisted.”

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