The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is more than just an award-winning local theatrical outfit. Since its founding in 1999, the theater troupe has offered up to Sarasota drama lovers laughs, music and performances that stand on par with anything the community has to offer. But more than just quality productions, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has become a home. Local actors, dancers and singers have discovered an artistic sanctuary and family in the institution that founding artistic director Nate Jacobs started some 15 years ago.
And with their recent move to a permanent location tucked into 10th Way, the Sarasota performers who have grown in age and in talent have a stage to practice on and a foundation for their potential careers in the theatrical arts. Jacobs and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe nurture and educated these burgeoning artists with their Young Artist Program. Unlike the rest of the troupe’s season of ensemble productions, the Young Artist Program allows individual members to organize, direct and produce their own one-night personal showcase, highlighting their particular talents and passions.
“Since I found the company, it’s been a grassroots training program for local performers,” says Nate Jacobs. “It started for me pulling aspiring artists out of the neighborhoods and get them onstage for our audience to see, and the Young Artist Program instills in them that you are an artist and you have to work on your career.”
This is the program’s second year and will showcase the talents of troupe members Leon S. Pitts II, Michael Mendez and Christopher Eisenberg throughout the season. Each of the three actors had to go through an application process and be approved by the troupe’s professional and volunteer board and leadership. Once each of the three actors received approval to produce their one-man show, they work with Jacobs on developing and focusing on the final version of the show. The program is a crash course in theater production with the proceeds from the night’s performance going to back to the artist’s career development.
Leon S. Pitts II will present the first artist showcase of the season titled “Showtime with Leon Pitts,” a tribute to James Brown on Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. The program will be in two parts with Pitts using the first section to talk about his life and career on the stage, and the second half being a rollicking and electric tribute to the “Godfather of Soul.”
“I felt like there was a lack of real music out today,” says Pitts, “and James Brown has a legacy that shouldn’t be forgotten and should be spoken of so artists today can know who paved the way for them to be here.”
And even though Pitts has been performing in theater since he was five-years-old, leading and being responsible for every facet of this production was a definitely hurdle. “I’ve learned the language of theater production,” says Pitts. “As an actor, you never really know what it takes to put a show together until you’re raising money, making contacts, hiring a band, singers, actors and then organizing advertising and marketing. It’s a whole lot to do.” Even though Pitts has had to act as producer, director and performer, he still hasn’t lost any gratitude in his art or the rhythm in his step.
“He amazes people with how fast and agile he is on stage,” says Jacobs. “He moves literally like lightning.”
IF YOU GO:
Where: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, FL
When: Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $26.50 for general admission, $101.50 for VIP seating
Info: Call 366-1505 or visit westcoastblacktheatre.org