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BACKSTAGE PASS: The right direction

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 25, 2012
Jim Weaver directed last season's musical play about the life of Cab Calloway at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. The production was a new work written by local playwright Larry Parr.
Jim Weaver directed last season's musical play about the life of Cab Calloway at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. The production was a new work written by local playwright Larry Parr.
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Jim Weaver doesn’t like to hang on too long after a show has opened.

As an actor, he knows what it feels like to have a director linger too long on a production. It can be unnerving.

When the curtain falls on opening night, Weaver bids the cast and crew farewell and moves on to his next project.

As important as it is to give guidance, he feels it’s equally important to know when to let go.

“Once the director actually leaves, the pressure is off,” Weaver says. “That, to me, is when the show takes on a life of its own, when the actors can really flow without having to worry about somebody looking over their shoulder.”

That means by next week, after the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has opened its production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Weaver will be in Kent, Ohio, where he’s currently choreographing “Ragtime” for the Stump Theatre at Kent State University.

The play marks Weaver’s fourth WBTT show in six years — his second in the troupe’s new downtown theater.

After enjoying a hot streak of infectious musical revues, the Lorraine Hansberry classic will be a dramatic change of pace for the theater company, which is now in its 12th season.

“My goal is to make it as real as possible,” Weaver says of the play. “Even though an audience might know the play backwards and forwards, they’ll still be able to get involved like they’re hearing it for the first time.”

He still remembers the first time he heard Hansberry’s indelible dialogue in the 1973 musical, “Raisin,” starring Joe Morton and Virginia Capers.

A native New Yorker, Weaver was 16 years old and already working as a professional actor when he watched the adaptation on Broadway.

“It had such an impact on me that I can still see the show in my mind today,” Weaver says. “It’s so well written and so well thought-out that even today it’s juicy.”

At 17, he landed his first Broadway role in the thriller, “Don’t Call Back,” at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Then a senior in high school, Weaver remembers having to ask for permission to get out of class to attend rehearsals.

The experience would lead to a long career in show business all over the world, bringing him to Sarasota for at least a dozen cabaret productions at Florida Studio Theatre.

At 54, Weaver says he’s happy to be out of the spotlight for now.

“I think it’s a natural evolution to move into directing and choreographing,” Weaver says. “I enjoy seeing things come together, knowing you had a hand in each element. It’s a different kind of satisfaction than when you’re up there under the lights.”

The first show he directed for the troupe was also a dramatic play rooted in race relations: “Fences” by August Wilson.

He’s thrilled to be steering another WBTT production.

Weaver was working at FST when WBTT founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs approached him one night to see if he’d be interested in directing the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.

“I was walking back from a show, and he was driving past me on the street,” Weaver recalls. “He said, ‘Hey Jim, I need to talk to you.’ And that’s how I got ‘Fences.’ That never happens in New York.”

The title for “A Raisin in the Sun” was lifted from the Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem.”
Lorraine Hansberry was the first black female playwright to open a show on Broadway.
In 1961, the film version of “A Raisin in The Sun” was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, including Best Actor for Sidney Poitier.

“A Raisin in The Sun” runs Jan. 27 through Feb. 19, at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. For more information, call 366-1505 or visit


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