By DAVID GAULMAN
In 1999 local actor, singer, director, and playwright Nate Jacobs founded the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, with a vision of great things to come.
The WBTT has inspired many young African American singers and actors to follow their dreams.
Sarasota native, Sheldon Roden is one of them.
The 28-year old singer and songwriter was discovered by Jacobs while Roden was singing at a friends funeral.
“After years of encouragement from both Jacobs and my mom I accepted an offer for my very first show which was in 2009,” Roden said.
Since then Roden has been the lead in the production of Marvin Gaye: The Man & his Music, while piling up awards, performing on international stages and even landing an audition with the great Berry Gordy in New York City.
“It was an amazing experience, Mr. Gordy told me I remind him of Marvin Gaye,” Roden said. “To hear that was very inspiring and motivating to continue walking the road I’m on.”
New director and CEO Richard Parison, is ready to take over the reigns and continue to help lead WBTT.
“When I joined in September, I expected to be a part of a dedicated staff with extreme potential.” Parison said. “The WBTT definitely met all my expectations.”
WBTT has produced many productions locally and nationally, even as far away as Switzerland and Germany, while being the only professional black theater company on Florida’s west coast and one of two in the state.
Roden is not the only member of WBTT that is experiencing great success.
Apphia Campbell has been seen performing her one-woman show, “Black is the Color of My Voice,” in Shanghai and New York. While Teresa Stanley is currently a featured cast member in the Broadway production “Rock of Ages” and was in “The Color Purple.”
Recent awards and recognitions include: Best Production of a Musical (professional theater), Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s 2014 Curtain Call Awards; Sarasota Magazine’s 2012 Best Lounge Act (SAMMY Tonight!); the people’s choice Curtain Call award for 2011’s best musical Marvin Gaye: The Man and his Music, as well as 2012’s best play, A Raisin in the Sun; and the 2011 Handy Award by Herald-Tribune’s drama critic Jay Handleman (Five Guys Named Moe).
“We are looking to expand, while continuing to build a strong educational program to help develop young African American talent,” Parison said.
In October 2014, WBTT held its 15th Anniversary Celebration at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall – 1,500 members of the community came to celebrate the organization’s success and impact.
Highlights of the evening included a performance of “The Eve of Jackie,” a musical tribute to Jackie Wilson, by award-winning Broadway performer Chester Gregory.
An after-party in Van Wezel’s Grand Foyer for the theater company’s most dedicated supporters and sponsors of the evening.
Thanks to generous donors and sponsors, the event raised over $160,000 for WBTT.
“We have certainly come a long way, with a lot of hard work but we are still on a path to financial success,” Parison said.
The WBTT has done an outstanding job of guiding young African American people to reach their full potential, even if the theatre isn’t in their long term goals.
“It’s extremely gratifying to see young people like Sheldon live his dream, but we also want to help young people succeed at any professional level even if it’s not in entertainment,” Parison added.