WBTT Closes Black History Month with a Forgotten Classic

Todays News

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY FEB 28, 2020

For Nate Jacobs, Black History Month is a time to reflect upon and remember the triumphs of the African American artists upon whose shoulders he stands. Some of these giants of African American letters are well known—Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison—but others contributed quietly to the body of black art without much fanfare, and it is one of these unsung heroes that Jacobs celebrates with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe production of the musical “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.” 

The musical was written in 1976 by Vinnette Carroll, who six years earlier had become the first African American woman to direct on Broadway. With “Arms Too Short,” Carroll revived and reinvented the gospel tradition of the African American community with a new form of theatre called the gospel song-play. With this new form, Carroll was able to retell the Book of Matthew from the perspective and in the cultural language of African Americans, using song and dance to tell the story of Jesus’s betrayal and the women who supported him along the way. For Jacobs, the musical checks all the boxes on the WBTT’s mission.

“Vinnette Carroll was a trailblazer” says Jacobs, “and she opened the door for more black productions.” As WBTT continues to polish the uncut gems of talent in the Sarasota region, Jacobs will look to greats like Carroll and remember not just his own journey to the theatre’s stage, but the obstacles many before him have overcome for their moment in the spotlight. “Predominately white regional theatres don’t usually go for black stories,” says Jacobs, who cites the documented difficulties experienced by Lorraine Hansberry in getting “A Raisin in the Sun” to be the first Broadway musical production from an African American playwright. 

For Jacobs, it’s about removing those obstacles and allowing artists to be artists. “Theatre was never talked about in my household as a possibility,” says Jacobs, which is why reaching back in time to revitalize an almost-forgotten musical is, paradoxically, also a time to think about the future. “We want to honor Carroll’s legacy and continue our mission of being a trailblazer,” he says, “and to continue giving black artists the mentorship and development they need to achieve their aspirations.” 

So, as Black History Month comes to close, Nate Jacobs stands gratefully on the foundation of his predecessors’ triumphs and gazes boldly into the future. “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God” runs through April 5th.


Pictured: The cast of 'Your Arms Too Short to Box with God' includes Cequita Monique, Syreeta S. Banks and Teresa Stanley, Carvas Pickens, Dai'Sean L. Garrett, Charles Wesley Lattimore Jr. and CJ Melton. Taken by Sorcha Augustine.

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1012 N Orange Ave., Sarasota, 941-366-1505

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