By Nate Jacobs
In the fall of 2009, I was in my car thinking about the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. I had founded the troupe 10 years ago, full of hope that a theater company focused on the African-American experience could grow and succeed in Sarasota. But I was tired—tried of struggling financially, tired of fighting for legitimacy, tired of doing everything myself, from casting, directing, and costuming to marketing, fund raising, and administering daily office tasks. “Why are you letting my vision die?” I asked the Lord. I felt beaten down, frustrated and so alone. I decided I must close down the troupe, move to New York and concentrate on my own acting career.
My eyes drifted up to the blue sky, and one last idea flashed in my mind. I called a celebrity living here who had previously seemed interested in WBTT. The individual responded enthusiastically and sent me a large check, enough to get the season of shows up and running.
From that point on, miracles started happening. One of my board members, Howard Millman, called the next day. “Listen, Nate,” he told me. “No theater can survive when one person single-handedly carries the artistic and business sides. That’s got to change.”We went to speak with the Patterson Foundation’s CEO, Debra Jacobs. Debra suggested we contact a well-connected, business-savvy proven fund raiser. “Someone like Christine Jennings,” she suggested.
Christine, along with her colleague Michael Shelton, agreed to help us for six months. Soon her belief in our vision, mission and the importance of cultural diversity led her to become our full-time CEO. In only nine months, she eliminated our $150,000 debt, stabilized us financially and instituted sound business management. On March 26, 2013, under Christine and our board’s leadership, we purchased a permanent home for WBTT.
Together, we make a great team. She handles all the administrative and fund-raising tasks and I concentrate on what I do best: creating exciting shows and mentoring aspiring artists. While other African-American theaters are closing around the country, we are growing and thriving.
Today, WBTT shines brightly in a community that values diversity and supports my vision.
Nate Jacobs is artistic director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.