Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Celebrating a Milestone

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Celebrating a Milestone

Article excerpt

There's always a little something different about the parties and galas thrown by the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. There's a palpable feeling of enthusiasm and energy in the room that starts when troupe members take the stage to celebrate the chance to perform and the people whose support has made it possible.

But even by those already high standards, the troupe achieved something even more exciting as it marked its 15th anniversary Monday night with a show and party at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

The 1,700-seat hall was nearly full of supporters, friends and fans of the troupe, quite an achievement for a company that was, for many years, constantly on the verge of fading away.

There was something special about seeing that large, racially diverse audience whooping and hollering together.

And they had good reason to cheer.

The evening was built around the performance of Chester Gregory in his essentially one-person show "The Eve of Jackie," about the late R&B singer Jackie Wilson. (More on that in a moment.)

But it was more than just a show. The evening was a salute to the persistence of founder Nate Jacobs, who has led the troupe since its founding in 1999 and kept it going despite many obstacles that might have stopped a less-determined person. And it was a salute to Christine Jennings, who retired last month after five years as executive director. Jacobs had a vision, but Jennings brought the financial sensibility to make it feasible. She reformed the board, eliminated the debt, acquired a theater space and then raised the money to pay off the mortgage.

It was also a chance for the audience to once again show appreciation for what Jacobs' creation has done -- give a talented group of performers a chance to shine, as they have done year after year. The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe created a platform for young African-American artists who didn't have one before.

And the community is richer for it. Their growth and development has been astonishing at times. …

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