Grantee Spotlight: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Stage of Discovery Summer Camp

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Dancer Derric Gobourne shows off his moves while other campers look on

Photos by Greg Kaspar

Actors, dancers and singers ages 13-18 took the stage with Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe this summer after a successful pilot of the “Stage of Discovery” program last year. From June 12-July 16, WBTT presented the second installment of “Stage of Discovery,” an intensive summer musical theater program. The 23 participating teens were under the direction of WBTT founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs and Stage of Discovery coordinator Joey James. In addition, WBTT staff and guest instructors such as choreographers, actors and vocal coaches led sessions with students taking lessons in dance, acting, singing and improvisation as well as gaining behind-the-scenes experience with set and costume design. The program culminated with two public performances of Folktale Follies, an original musical showcasing the students’ talents, on July 14 and 16.

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Campers Tianna Harris and Daysha Brown receive dance instruction at Stage of Discovery summer camp

The camp, which was completely free, took place at the Westcoast Black Theatre in Sarasota. “Hands-on Discovery,” an optional post-camp theatre arts program offered further exploration in the visual arts, prop making, and costuming.

This program was underwritten by The Robert E. Dods Family Foundation and Designing Women Boutique, with additional funds raised at the recent WBTT April Fools’ Fete fundraiser.

“Many of these young people, while naturally talented, have never had any formal theater experience. We work them fairly hard – while having lots of fun – to bring their individual talents out and give them a basic understanding of the art of theatre,” said Jacobs. “While WBTT is dedicated to producing the finest dramatic and musical theatre, my dream – my true calling and purpose for founding this organization – has always been to help young aspiring artists who may otherwise be overlooked to develop their talents and have the opportunity to achieve success.”

When asked what she liked best about Stage of Discovery, 16-year-old Moenasia Beall said it was the people she got to know while they learned and performed together. “If it wasn’t for the camp, you wouldn’t get to meet so many people and you also get to discover yourself and talents that you didn’t know you had,” Beall said. “You discover that you can do it.”

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The teens of the 2017 Stage of Discovery summer musical theatre camp

The mission of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc., is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African-American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call (941) 366-1505.

Grantee Spotlight: Grace Arts Center’s R&J the Tempest Too

R&J was first performed in 2015, and focused only on an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. It was written by Grace Arts Center and produced in part with the Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theater supported by grants from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Broward County Cultural Division. This first chapter featured a youth led cast including professional dancers and actors. In February of this year, R&J The Tempest Too debuted with a full professional cast including members of Miami City Ballet and Cuban National Ballet.

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Photo by Robert Church

R&J The Tempest Too combined elements of R&J with a reworking of The Tempest set in modern time with an infusion of real Florida history shared in spoken word by the Narrator (a character created for each iteration). Each previous production was under one hour; the new iteration combined both plays into a full two hour production with a talented cast of visual artists, actors and dance elements ranging from tango, hip hop, to Cuban folkloric and contemporary American ballet.  The next iteration will include collaboration with playwrights with credits including Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London and Washington DC’s Folger Shakespeare Library and the return of live graffiti and visual art production as part of the performance.

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Photo by Robert Church

The project was designed to attract a wide range of viewers. In all its phases,the performance targeted artsenthusiasts, supporters of historic preservation and literature through performance locations and marketing to cultural tourists as well as residents of South Florida. The project also prepared the cast for summer workshops with arts students on track for professional development in various fields. In addition the cast worked with at-risk youth groups to advance their writing and problem solving skills.

For more information, visit https://www.graceartscenter.org/.

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Photo by Robert Church