WBTT Summer Intensive a Success

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY AUG 12, 2016

With the big show just a couple days away, the rehearsal at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is rocking. Roughly 20 young performers crowd the stage, belting in unison and harmony as WBTT founder Nate Jacobs directs from the front. Heads bob in the makeshift audience, but something isn’t quite right and Jacobs signals LaTerry Butler, pianist and longtime WBTT collaborator, to stop the music. “Give me the top one,” he says, and Butler plunks a high pitch. Jacobs holds the note, instructing his sopranos to follow suit. A choreographer works through a few moves with a girl up front. Jacobs continues from group to group, ensuring each performer has found their pitch, before returning to the front. “Again!” he says, and the stage comes alive.

These are the closing days of Stage of Discovery, the summer musical theater intensive from WBTT introduced this year to bring underserved or underprivileged children from the community into the world of theater to discover their hidden talents. Underwritten by the Robert E. Dods Family Foundation for this pilot year, WBTT hosted 25 students ranging from middle school to just entering college free of charge. Beginning July 20, students met five days a week to work with vocal coaches, choreographers and dance instructors, rehearse their scenes and even construct the sets, props and costumes. Culminating in a production of Rockin’ Down Fairytale Lane, written and directed by Jacobs, on August 14 and 15, the experience has been “over the top and past my expectations,” says Jacobs.

It’s been a project long in the making, he continues. Jacobs prides himself on the “homegrown” nature of WBTT’s stars—all plucked from the community before moving on to become industry professionals—and that means working with local talent and taking the time to groom the next generation of artists. “That’s the heartbeat of what I do,” Jacobs says, and he’s encouraged by what he sees at Stage of Discovery. “We’ve been driving these kids and they have embraced everything,” he says. Some have already requested the intensive begin earlier next year and occupy more of the day.

For Mya Perez, an incoming 8th grader at Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences (SSAS) and the actress playing Snow White in this weekend’s Rockin’ Down Fairytale Lane, Stage of Discovery represented an opportunity to expand on the passion for musical theater engendered at school. It’s been a tough intensive and Perez’ eyes widen a bit when asked about her daily schedule, full of rehearsals and instruction and even a little behind-the-scenes work building props. But she enjoys it, she says, and even signed up for the bi-weekly dance classes also offered at WBTT. Key for her, Perez says, has been learning to project her voice and how to properly get into a character. Her biggest takeaway? “Being more confident,” she says. “I’m hoping that will make a change when I go back to school.” With SSAS putting on a production of Hairspray this coming year, Perez hopes to bring her newfound skills to bear on landing a meaty part.

With the pilot year already considered a success, Jacobs is confident that the program will continue next year and possibly even expand. It’s been too long since WBTT could actively engage in such outreach and on such a scale, he says, and it feels good to get back to it. “WBTT wants to be a net to reach out and grab all this incredible raw talent,” Jacobs says. “We are so very excited to get back to that mission.”

Rockin’ Down Fairytale Lane opens August 14 at WBTT Theatre at 7:30pm, with a second showing August 15 also at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students.

Pictured: The students of Stage of Discovery. Photo by Don Daly Photo.

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