The burgeoning acting scene in Sarasota is due in many ways to the presence of local theaters who are dedicated to nurturing young talent. Take Westcoast Black Theater Troupe. By partnering with organizations like Semkhor and FOUNDERS+, WBTT is able to bring renowned actors to the theater in a series called "Conversations with Nate Jacobs" to impart wisdom to the next generation.
This Tuesday, Golden Globe winner and Emmy and Screen Actors Guild award nominee Ving Rhames, best known for his roles as gang kingpin Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction and Agent Luther Stickell in the Mission Impossible film series, visited WBTT to present a masterclass.
The day began with Rhames receiving a tour of the facility with Jacobs, executive director Julie Leach and other WBTT leaders. Then WBTT actors, community actors and a limited number of patrons and supporters filled the seats of the blackbox theater, where a film reel highlighting Rhames' best work was shown, followed by a Q&A session with Nate Jacobs, WBTT's artistic director and founder, on the stage.
Rhames found himself getting emotional speaking about his beginnings as a young actor of color in New York City, where he graduated from the Julliard School and started out in Broadway productions such as The Boys of Winter in 1984. He also spoke with tones of spirituality, attributing his success to a higher power and acting to saving his life and being his emotional release from trauma of living in Harlem in the 70s.
"There were many trials and tribulations to get to this point, but I stayed above it all," says Rhames. "I was operating at a higher frequency because I had a spiritual father that put me on this earth to act."
Rhames then answered questions from the audience, where many actors asked how to use emotion to fuel their craft, how to shift from theater to film, and how the business end of the industry works. He spoke about his close friendship with Mission Impossible cast member Tom Cruise, his college roommate Stanley Tucci (who gave him the nickname "Ving") and other connections he's made in the industry.
Cast members of WBTT's current show, Broadway in Black, asked questions about his audition process (he hasn't had to audition since Pulp Fiction) and what other characters he'd like to explore in his career—one of which is a new role in a future film with Vincent D'Onofrio and Forest Whitaker.
"I've played a black, gay drag queen in Holiday Heart," says Rhames. "That is nothing like my real-life experience, but after studying the character a bit more, I found myself relating to parts of his life, the hurts and turmoils, and that helped me portray his story."
Rhames has found being classically trained carried his career, as well, and praised WBTT about the home it provides to young actors. He also expressed his surprise at how connected and supportive the acting scene in Sarasota is.
"I had never heard of Sarasota before, but I am pleasantly surprised at the community that Nate has built up here and the home that actors can return to to hone their craft, no matter where they are in their career," says Rhames. "It is really special and the actors here are lucky."
WBTT hopes to invite more actors in the future and host regular "Conversations with Nate Jacobs" to keep growing the resources available to aspiring actors wanting to stay in Sarasota.
For more information about WBTT's current season and more "Conversations with Nate Jacobs," click here.