SARASOTA, Fla. — A theater in Sarasota is heading into its 25th year, performing for audiences along the Gulf Coast with a focus on highlighting African American stories.

What You Need To Know

  • Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, or WBTT, is one of the top African American theaters in the country and is headquartered in Sarasota

  • WBTT is in its 25th year of operations, and was founded by its artistic director, Nate Jacobs 

  • Jacobs created the theater after looking around the community and not seeing stories that reflected his life experience

  • WBTT receives grants from across the state, and hosts workshops for younger performers to perform stories reflecting black history in the U.S.

Many theater critics across the country consider the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe as one of the preeminent African American theaters in the United States.

“The brown and black stories that we tell here at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe are valid, are important,” said Nate Jacobs, founding artistic director for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, or WBTT.

Jacobs started WBTT at the end of the 90s after spending years wondering where the stories that reflected him were in Florida.

“Where the African Americans?” Jacobs recalled asking. “Then, I was told, ‘well, you know, they don’t come to theater in this town.’”

As a young adult, Jacobs concluded that if he wanted to see the stories and performers that looked like him in Sarasota, he would need to be the one to create that space.

It’s a realization that still surprises him.

“Who starts a theater?” Jacobs asked jokingly. “I don’t know anybody who started anything like that.”

But he persevered, and in 1999, WBTT was born.

While the first ten years were tough going, for example, trying to find a performance space and costumes, Jacobs had to get creative.

“We used to borrow costumes from theaters in town, and I used to go, of course, to a lot of consignment shops,” Jacobs said.

But soon, donations started coming and actors started traveling to the Gulf Coast.

Now, in its 25th year, WBTT is considered one of the top African American theaters in the country, much to other theater company’s amazement.

“We were told everybody is watching this company around the nation and we call your theater the miracle theatre, because predominantly white communities don’t support our institutions like they support yours,” Jacobs said.

The support comes in different ways, like financial. The WBTT recently received a grant for $40,000 from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and through actors coming from across America to perform on their stage.

“It just really only validates the mission that Nate started when he started Westcoast,” said Donovan Whitney, an actor at WBTT and Jacobs’ assistant.

Whitney, originally from Indianapolis, never imagined living in Sarasota until he spent time at WBTT.

“I felt like my stories and stories that I relate to were being focused on, were being given a platform for us,” Whitney said.

It’s the mission Jacobs set out to achieve 25 years ago and now, sitting and watching rehearsals at WBTT, he gets to dazzle audiences and himself with how this miracle theater is shaping lives.

WBTT also hosts a program called Jazzlinks every year, which highlights African Americans in U.S. history through music and theatre while also going out to different schools to perform as different historical figures.