A Match Made in Heaven

Arts & Culture


Nate Jacobs and Joseph Caulkins knew they wanted to collaborate, but the timing never seemed right. For Jacobs, artistic director of West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, the last year and a half has been hectic with unprecedented growth culminating in the renovation of a new space. Similarly, Caulkins, director of Key Chorale, was hard at work formulating the envelope-pushing programming his organization is known for. This weekend, the timing is right as the two will finally get to witness the fruits of their collaborative labor with American Roots: The Gospel Experience.

The Gospel Experience represents the third offering in Key Chorale’s American Roots series and will explore the rich tradition of African American spirituals. Naturally, no group of performers were better equipped to front the show than those from WBTT, the organization built to celebrate and preserve African American history. “Of course, WBTT was the first thing that came to Joseph’s mind,” says Jacobs, “because he wanted to be as authentic as possible.” Caulkins, who has seen many of WBTT’s shows, says it was an easy decision to make. “Anybody who has seen their shows would want to collaborate,” says Caulkins, “they have incredible energy.”

The show will feature music adapted from one of Jacobs’ all-original productions called How I Got Over, a musical that explores the role of gospel music in the African American experience. It includes versions of “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Oh Happy Day,” spirituals that have transcended race and religion through America’s history. Though the music was a perfect fit for the show, adapting three-part harmonies to eight or more had its challenges. “Many of the WBTT performers learned music by ear,” says Caulkins, “so we had to transcribe the music for this production.” Ultimately, the process reinforced to each group that there are many paths to harmony with talent and practice. And harmony will be the main through-line for the show, both musically and in underlying message. “There is just so much joy in gospel music,” says Caulkins, “it speaks to everyone.” Jacobs hopes the performance can offer audiences some peace and comfort in what he feels is a divisive time in this country. “We can celebrate, worship and sing as one,” he says.

The series opens tonight with a performance at First United Methodist Church in Downtown Sarasota, followed by a 4 pm matinee show on Saturday, October 19th at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key. Tickets are still available for Saturday, October 26th at Venice Presbyterian Church.

Photo by Soicha Augustine.

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