Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe supporters were treated to some sneak peek performances from the upcoming 2019-20 20th anniversary season at the company’s annual “Hush Hush” party Monday evening.
WBTT leaders Nate Jacobs, Julie Leach and board chair Marian Moss welcomed patrons and sponsors to the event in the theater’s Binz Building before moving into the theater auditorium—which will close in May to undergo an expansion and redesign that will feature real, fixed theater seats, a mainstage with new lighting and sound system, larger lobby and restrooms, and more upgrades. WBTT’s Heart & Soul Campaign, having raised $6.9 million, is only a million or so away from its $8 million goal, which makes all the changes possible.
Those changes mean, however, that WBTT will not begin its season until December of 2019; it usually kicks off the season in October. Subscribers will have a choice of a “pick three” or “pick four” season to accommodate those who may not be in town for the summer show of 2020.
Coming up first in the new season at WBTT will be Caroline, or Change, with music by Jeanine Tesori. Jim Weaver will direct this personal story by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner (Angels in America), which is set in 1963 in rural Louisiana and tells the story of an African-American maid and her employers. The score combines blues, gospel and klezmer music, and the show will be staged Jan. 8 through Feb. 16. (A holiday production of A Motown Christmas, not part of the subscription series, will take the stage Dec. 4-6 and 8-20 at the Sarasota Opera House.)
Next up is Vinnette Carroll’s Your Arm’s Too Short to Box with God, which will be directed by frequent WBTT collaborator Harry Bryce. Based on the Book of Matthew in the New Testament, this musical tells the story of Jesus, his apostles and the women who inspired, followed and consoled him. It’s onstage Feb. 26 through April 5.
A world premiere musical conceived by artistic director Nate Jacobs (with help on the book and lyrics from his brother, Michael) fills the third slot in the season. It’s called simply Ruby, and is based on the true story of a black woman who murdered a white doctor in Live Oak, Florida, in 1952, bringing writer Zora Neale Hurston to town to cover the story for a Northern newspaper. Jacobs said while introducing a song from the new work (performed by Teresa Stanley) that this show, as well as others on the schedule, is related to themes of today’s Me Too movement. Ruby is onstage April 15 through May 24; Jacobs will also direct.
Closing the season will be a production of Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West (directed by Chuck Smith), set in the 1890s and focused on the lives of a small group of African-American women who leave the South and settle in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas. They face tough decisions when a male relative arrives and pressures them to sell the land they have worked with their own hands. Flyin’ West will run June 3 through July 12.
In traditional WBTT fashion, after the shows were announced, potential sponsors in the audience had the chance to raise their hands to become producers or presenters of the shows that appealed to them the most. Judging by the response, the 2019-2020 season should be off to a good start.
Subscription renewals for WBTT begin in June; individual tickets and new subscriptions go on sale in August.