A vision nearly 20 years in the making took a major step this week, with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe breaking ground on a large-scale theater renovation set to transform the WBTT experience for both performers and audiences. “It’s a day that, at one time in my journey, I thought would never happen,” says Nate Jacobs, WBTT artistic director and the man who founded the enterprise two decades ago. “It’s been a long time coming,” he says. “I am floating on a cloud.”
WBTT purchased the warehouse space in 2013, converting it to theater use and staging its shows there to sell-out crowds and increasing acclaim, but this new extensive renovation will upgrade the facilities and turn the space into something tailor-made for theater at a more fundamental level. A redesigned MainStage will receive new lighting and sound systems, as well as upgraded dressing rooms and dedicated areas for props and costuming, while a second stage will be available for rehearsals and educational opportunities. Patrons will enjoy more and comfier seating, in addition to a larger lobby space for pre- and post-show mingling and much larger restrooms to accommodate those lengthening lines during intermission.
The second and final phase of WBTT’s ongoing “Heart and Soul” capital campaign (currently sitting at $7.2 million of its $8-million goal), the construction comes on the heels of the newly renovated WBTT Education & Outreach Building. And with Willis A Smith Construction executing the project, plans are for the performers to be back in the building by December, ready to begin the belated season in January 2020 with a production of Caroline, or Change.
In the meantime, educational programs such as WBTT’s Stage of Discovery summer theater intensive will find space elsewhere on the WBTT campus, and hold its performance at State College of Florida. It was important to Jacobs that these programs, which bring artistic opportunities to underserved youth, largely African-American, continue uninterrupted. “We’re that net,” he says, “launched out to capture these artists and give them a chance to shine.” Once completed, the new theater will boost these programs as well. “That building means that this will continue,” Jacobs says.
But none of it would be possible without dedicated support from friends and patrons. “It’s a testament to what can happen when a community comes together,” says Jacobs.The new theater will be called the Gerri Aaron and the Aaron Family Foundation Theatre Building.