WEDU Spotlights the WBTT Story with Feature-length Film

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY DEC 18, 2020

For Nate Jacobs, the last 20 years have been an uphill battle. From an upstart performer at Asolo reprising roles as outdated Black stereotypes to the founder of a once-fledgling theatre company that now finds itself at the top of the theatre food chain, Jacobs has kept his eyes on the prize. “It started with me, a poor, struggling artist,” he says, “and I just felt like our community needed to hear more Black stories and see more Black artists.” And through all the campaigning for diversity and bouncing around from venue to venue, he always found a stage to stand on and a song to sing. Yesterday, in a collaboration with The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, WEDU premiered “This Light of Mine,” a documentary about Jacobs, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected him and his vision.

“The pandemic has been the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced,” says Jacobs, “this is the first obstacle that has kept me off the stage.” A big milestone in WBTT was when the company secured a place with Actor’s Equity Association. It ensured the company’s performers got paid, but it also ensures their safety and dictates the conditions under which its members may perform. For most of this year, that meant no performances at all—a bitter pill to swallow for a theatre company that just finished its gleaming permanent venue and training campus earlier this year.

The documentary explores how the company maneuvered to make do during the pandemic that still keeps indoor productions largely off-limits. “They’ve been filming for over 7 months or so,” says Jacobs, “but more recently they wanted to explore more of what’s happening now in terms of COVID and what our plans are.” Filmmakers went behind the scenes on WBTT’s push to create an outdoor theater space in the parking lot of their campus on Orange Avenue, and they also explore the relative success of the performances produced. The documentary also features fresh footage of the completed interior renovations, with shots of all-new accouterments and the now-ubiquitous empty seats.

But in spite of the continuing uncertainty surrounding live performance in the time of COVID, the final cut of the documentary is full of the hope and optimism of the theatre’s singularly focused leader. “This is my calling and my destiny,” says Jacobs. It shows a man and a company that continue to make moves behind the scenes and formulate a plan for the future. “I’ve wrestled with this baby [WBTT], this is just a new wrestle,” he says, “but I have full confidence this will pass and we’ll get back to building our platform so that it’ll be here for generations to come.”

The documentary airs again today, December 18 at 10 pm; December 20 at 2 pm; December 21 at 9 pm; and December 28 at 11 pm. A Zoom panel discussion featuring Jacobs and WEDU editor Danny Bruno takes place at 3 pm after the December 20th showing.

Photo by Sorcha Augustine.

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