WBTT Coming Out Strong For 15th Anniversary

Todays News

Tonight marks the premiere production of the 15th season for the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, with a special performance of The Eve of Jackie: A Musical Tribute To Jackie Wilson. For one night only, in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, writer and award-winning Broadway performer, Chester Gregory, will take the audience back to singer and showman Jackie Wilson’s final performance before his on-stage collapse in 1975, singing the songs and reliving the moments that made Wilson one of the stand-out greats of his time.

The show will also include a preshow musical performance featuring many WBTT members in a ‘60s musical medley accompanied by the WBTT band and director Jay Dodge.

The night is a special celebration for WBTT, which begins the new season debt-free and, for the first time, owning its own two-building theater complex.

“We wanted to do something in a big way,” said WBTT founding artistic director Nate Jacobs, who wanted a change from past kickoff events that typically could not incorporate all of the company’s community supporters, and so opted for the larger Van Wezel for this year's celebration. “We really needed to find a venue where our patrons could celebrate our 15 years with us.”

It’s been a varied 15 years, according to Jacobs, who described the time as both “challenging” and “rewarding,” as well as “eye-opening” and “simply wonderful.” He credits much of the company’s survival and success on a supportive board and the work of WBTT CEO Christine Jennings. Tonight's event will also mark Jennings’ final show with WBTT, following her retirement and the arrival of new WBTT executive director Richard Parison.

A theater veteran, Parison comes most recently from the CenterStage Foundation at Richmond CenterStage in Virginia, where he served as executive director since 2010. Parison was selected after a nationwide search by WBTT.

“The posting was very appealing because it appeared to be an organization on the cusp of very dynamic and exciting things,” said Parison, who began his tenure at WBTT this September. “It was ultimately the right fit at the right time at the right place.”

Jacobs and Parison hope in the coming seasons to capitalize on WBTT’s past success and solid foundation and develop a more nationwide presence. Currently, a capital campaign to help renovate the theater is in the early stages of conversation.

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s 15th Season celebration with The Eve of Jackie happens tonight at 8pm in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Tickets are still available through the Van Wezel Box Office.

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