How has the pandemic affected the Suncoast's most culturally relevant artistic organization? How has Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's founder Nate Jacobs seen the color barriers of our area's cultural arts offerings change over the past 25 years? What's next for this ever changing organization and its creative and imaginative leader? And...let's settle the score...Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye?
All that and more on this week's Suncoast Culture Club podcast.
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Robyn Bell: I love it when we get to go on location. And today I have landed at one of my favorite performance venues in all of the Suncoast, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe campus. I could, yeah, I could not be more excited.
Jay Dodge: Yeah.
Michael Mendez: That's amazing.
Robyn Bell: I could not be more excited than to sit down with not one, not two but three amazing people from the Westcoast, Black Theatre Troop. We have our production manager and music director, Jay Dodge, production assistant, and assistant to the artistic director, Michael Mendez and founder and artistic director, Nate Jacobs, Jay, Michael and Nate. Welcome to the club.
Nate Jacobs: Thank you glad to be here.
Robyn Bell: We're so excited to have you guys finally on before we go, one second further let's lay out for our listeners. Just how connected all of us in the arts world are here on the Suncoast. Michael Mendez, you were a student at the State College of Florida music programs. You sang in the choir and actually had me as your worst ever music theory teacher. I'm sure .
Michael Mendez: I was just the worst student.
Robyn Bell: That was probably your only music theory teacher. It wasn't until after I met you, maybe even the second time after I met you, that I discovered that you had also been a student in the SCF Music program back when it was Manatee Community College that's right. Yeah. And you had Rex Willis as your theory teacher.
Jay Dodge: Theory and, , sight singing.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. You took, , private bass lessons there,
Jay Dodge: Private base lessons , with Greg Vorhees.
Robyn Bell: He's great. He still plays in my pocket. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and he can do it all. And then we sent you off into the real world and then you came back here and landed this gig with the troop. Can I call it that? The Troupe?. Okay. Good.
Jay Dodge: Back in 2007. Yeah.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. Mean you're the music director and you and I met when the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and my Pops Orchestra were both performing for the world rowing championships. Right? Nathan Benderson.
Jay Dodge: Yep.. I think that was 2018. Yeah.
Robyn Bell: Gosh. Seems like 20 years ago.
Jay Dodge: I know.
Robyn Bell: And then Nate, you and I worked together not only what that same world rowing championships, but, , you helped us secure two of your performers for my Pops Orchestra. When we did it, we did a Porgy and Bess show and they were fabulous. Tsadok Porter and Charles Wesley Latimar Jr. And I'm going to tell you, Oh my goodness. There were. People standing and clapping 16 bars before the pieces were over. I mean, they just lit the whole place on fire. They were amazing. And now we get to spend some time together today taking a little bit deeper, dive into the Troupe and your lives and how you have almost. Single-handedly I think cut the path for safe COVID performances for our performing arts organizations on the Suncoast. And of course our listeners want to hear all about what the Westcoast Black Theatre troop is offering up over the next few months to keep us all entertained. And as I say sane, right, we need, we need
Nate Jacobs: Very much. So
Robyn Bell: I love that. So, Michael, let's start with you. You are originally from this area.
Michael Mendez: Well, I moved to this area about 15 years ago. And then I went to Manatee School for the Arts and then from there did , a short little year in Bayshore high school. And then I went to SCF.
Robyn Bell: And then tell us, how did you come to work at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe? Cause I think I've seen your career. I mean, you came in and it's just gone up and up and up. So tell us about that progression.
Michael Mendez: Well when I left SCF, I was trying to figure out like, , what is my thing? Because choir was, I mean, it was school was school and yeah, and that wasn't really what I wanted to sing. But as I was looking around I met a friend, they introduced me to Nate and. The first thing that I fell in love with was the fact that, you know, we sing soul, heart, and soul is our theme a lot of the times. And it's because this place , it's a different breeding ground. So , I landed here as a performer about 10 years ago. And I told Mr. Jacobs that I just want to know how to sing, you know, like sing the way I want. And then through a very intense apprenticeship that, we decided to embark upon cause he said, if, you're not doing school right now, this is going to be, your college or your academia. So since then it's like, Hey I need a part in the show. Come through in this type of position. And then from there on out he has taught me how to become, , from ensemble to leading man and that experience, I hope to take to a different platform eventually, , when it comes to wanting to go into film , anymore. , As COVID changes the business, I'm just going to have to find it, find a spot. , in a place where I can express my art through my medium.
Robyn Bell: And , you are now the production assistant and assistant to the artistic director.
Michael Mendez: Yes.
Robyn Bell: So in that title, , what your duties look like?
Michael Mendez: I'm the guy running without a head between, between Jamie. So I communicate them to you let
Robyn Bell: Go between
Michael Mendez: Yeah. I connect them
Nate Jacobs: And administration and everybody.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. It sounds like to me, , you had this apprenticeship, here's the performance side of what we do now. You're really learning the administrative side.
Michael Mendez: Yeah. Yeah. The administrative and production aspect which is everything I wish for because , in any other state or city, I would not be , given this position,
Robyn Bell: That's an opportunity.
Michael Mendez: Yes. So learning that just. Eventually transforms me into, you know, well-rounded entertainer and, hopeful businessman, entrepreneur, or whatever.
Robyn Bell: And is there something along the way, like, do you remember at some point in time when you said yourself, Oh, I had no idea something like that kind of happens or, can you give us a scenario where you were like, blown away about how something comes together or some sort of new skill that you've learned?
Michael Mendez: We did a project this summer and we turned , our small black box to a set. And, , I was in the process from beginning to end. , it's a television show that Mr. Jacobs creating and , I bought all the separate material and then. All of a sudden there's a whole house inside this morphine. And I was just like, so like now I get it Jay's life. Cause he does this on, a continuous basis for here. And then I always wonder, I was like, , man, you're not only a band leader, but you're also, manifesting your vision into , Whole thing. So it's always astonishing experiencing those moments when they happen. And, , I hope to experience that continuously.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. And , it's so much performing, it's the music side of it. And then it's the theatrical production, the technical, the set design. It's , like a mini Broadway production that we do here. Yeah.
Michael Mendez: Yeah.
Robyn Bell: Jay you're also from this area, right.
Jay Dodge: I am born and raised right here in Sarasota.
Robyn Bell: Where did you go to high school?
Jay Dodge: I went to a Christian private school Westcoast from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Robyn Bell: And you, left MCC and at the time MCC and you transferred to get your four-year degree, at what point in that development did you say? I think I could actually get a job and make money writing and arranging music.
Jay Dodge: Honestly, I'd finished my four year degree and I'd come back home and I was. Working just a regular nine to five too. You know, you gotta make things work until you can do what you want to do. And it was just weird. How, everything aligned. I got a phone call in the middle of the afternoon, I think on a Thursday. There was a production that I had played on before with the Troupe. Cause I started out in the band pits as a teenager.
Robyn Bell: You, I didn't realize this.
Jay Dodge: Yeah, Nate was , my middle school and high school art and drama teacher.
Robyn Bell: There you go.
Jay Dodge: There's the connection
Robyn Bell: There was a life before the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
Jay Dodge: True. And so When I was 13, 14, 15, 16 Nate was doing some productions in the community at the player's Theatre, and Gumper's Theatre and the Backlot Theatre, a lot of different things. And of course, , budgets were tight and you know,
Robyn Bell: we're
Jay Dodge: are there little. , more fluid than they were back then. So, , he was looking for musicians that had quality, but , needed experience and you know exactly. Yeah. So I got the call Paul and the then production manager then was Tsadok Porter. She called and said, Hey Jay, we're doing this production. Down in Ocala and the music director that we've hired knows none of the music, none of the musicians know anything. Coincidentally, he was a bass player as well. And can you come down here? This show is sold out in Ocala.
Robyn Bell: We need assistance.
Nate Jacobs: I'm music director of opening and,
Jay Dodge: Literally, well, , this was the day before this was Thursday. I had to go talk to myself, supervisor. I was working at Comcast at the time and said, Hey, , is there any way I can get someone to cover my shift? I need to go down to Ocala. , I explained the whole story went down there and I was familiar with the show. So I was able to get the band up to speed. I had a rehearsal with the band, showed them all the cuts. We played the show that, that we can win on. And after that, Nate asked me, he said now this was the first production that I actually ever music directed myself. I've been assist the music director for different artists and things like that over the years. But I never actually ventured out to do that myself and to really test. My knowledge of, music and skillset and all of those things. So doing that really showed me what I was able to do. And if I had given it any more thought, I probably wouldn't. Yeah.
Nate Jacobs: He always shied away from the spotlight. Kind of still does..
Jay Dodge: It was. , if I had a chance to think about it, I probably, would've just been like, you know,
Robyn Bell: You know what, when we talk about this to the college music majors all the time, we say you have to take every opportunity, even when it's something maybe you don't think you're going to do well, you can learn something and you might rise to the occasion, which it looks like that's what happened.
Jay Dodge: Absolutely. And , it was at that. Moment after that, that Nate approached me and said , you did a great job with this show. And would you like to come on as my resident music director for the company? And the company was going through some transitional periods there and that's where the soul crooners was actually birthed. That was one of the first shows that I music directed. Almost 11 years ago now that was 2008. . And as they say, the rest is history,
Robyn Bell: Well, let me ask you this when Nate or Michael or whoever come to you with the show idea, how much general lead time do you need to arrange the charts and rehearse the band.
Jay Dodge: That's not a fair question. Not at all.
Robyn Bell: When you get those to me in an hour,
Nate Jacobs: he kind of learned along the way. What I would you please?
Jay Dodge: What I would like. And what I actually get are,
Robyn Bell: cause you know, sometimes in work cause I work at the college and we, you know, it's a government and people get the salaries and you go, I want to do this and they go, you can't put me under that kind of pressure. I don't have the time to do that, but you don't have a choice in the, kind of the more private world.
Jay Dodge: Absolutely. There, you know, there, there have been many shows where let's just say you learn to sort of. work off the cuff, you know, and be fluid. , we do shows that contain sometimes 40 to 50 songs. We may only do a minute and a half to two minutes of that song, you know, intro, chorus, verse, and then we're out of there. But it's still 50 songs.
Robyn Bell: Are there some artists though, or maybe some styles of music that you really dig or find a bit easier to arrange than others? .
Jay Dodge: Well, I really dig the music of the seventies. Was born in 78, so I was at the latter part of the seventies. So I'm really an eighties baby, but in my development as a musician, I was always learning the music. Of the previous generation.
Robyn Bell: Right.
Jay Dodge: And of course the eighties was very influential, but musically what music was doing in the seventies , it transcends,
Robyn Bell: It was a transformational decade
Jay Dodge: Really was, I mean, just orchestration with R and B music with popular music, all of those type things, you know, adding orchestras with. Okay. Live bands and all that kind of stuff My only, I guess wish sometimes is that I had that string section that I had that live horn section that I didn't have to reproduce these things with like a sequencer, the size, you know?
Robyn Bell: Well, that's that's space limitations. I'm sure. And you have to pay people. I mean, unfortunately, yeah, I totally get that.
Jay Dodge: I kind of. Compare it to like your analog mixing boards to your digital mixing boards now. Okay. So someone could take and really do a lot with a digital. Mixer now. . But if they were given that analog board and this crappy cable and this subpar microphone, you know, how do you make what you have sound the best it can.
Robyn Bell: There you go.
Jay Dodge: So that's always the challenge. , when you only have one person that's actually capturing all of your auxiliary strings, horns, flutes, how do you take. The important parts out of the song that still capture what that song sounded like without all of the orchestration. , how do you do that? , how do you choose which instrument? I'm actually going to make it, give you still the nostalgia of the music and make the people who , are sitting in the audiences that actually went to these people's concerts. Feel like. They were with the Commodores, they were with the Jackson fives, you know,
Robyn Bell: It's a talent and you certainly have that. Now, do you ever get the opportunity to go to Nate or Michael go, Hey, I have an idea for a show.
Jay Dodge: No, I don't. I'm, not a show writer. What, I also do with Nate is a lot of his original stuff. I do go to compose the music and co-write with him.
Robyn Bell: Nice collaboration between the two of you.
Jay Dodge: Yeah, the song at the beginning of our outdoor concert series Light Up the Night. So he came to me and said Of course it's in the middle of rehearsals, maybe a couple of days before we opened, I've got an idea for an opening song and I'm like, okay, well send it to me. You know, I'm thinking it's some music that I just have to reproduce, you know recreate. And so he sends me. This vocal, Light Up the Night, you know, Oop, baby, and the guys are singing behind it. There's no music. And I'm like, okay, so now I need, you need me to compose something, but I like that kind of stuff because I like to let the creative juices flowing
Robyn Bell: creativity comes out.
Jay Dodge: Yeah.
Nate Jacobs: Phenomenal.
Michael Mendez: You want to,
Jay Dodge: right. I mean, you know, there's no choice here. .
Robyn Bell: Now Nate first, I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed This Light of Mine, the documentary that w EDU did on you and your vision for the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. It was excellent. Congratulations on that.
Nate Jacobs: Thank you.
Robyn Bell: You are now in year 22, if I do my math, right, right. Of this tremendous idea.
Nate Jacobs: Yeah, December will be 22 years
Robyn Bell: 22. So it's 21 and a quarter now, I guess. So this idea of having your own company that can bring this specific style and sound at Suncoast audiences. , I know you've seen so much change and growth in our area, but over the past 22 years, can you put your finger on one or two things that have really catapulted your Troupe into such prominence on the Suncoast?
Nate Jacobs: I would say one of the main things we carved our own niche and to the cultural arts landscape, there was very little or no diversity in any of these arts organizations every now and again, back when I was an actor in the Theatres of Florida studio Theatre would bring one. Diverse cast. Typically African-American cast in from New York. They would have a small review or something like that. But one thing I have seen is how Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has influenced the other arts organizations. And right now, , today they are doing a lot of changes in their programming. I'm sometimes shocked. The organization I started with was the Asolo Theatre as a professional actor, and to see some of the things that are in their programming now, I'm just like, I'm going to see Fannie next Monday night. A major production around a black woman's history and a black woman on stage
Robyn Bell: That may not have occurred 20 years ago.
Nate Jacobs: It would have never been. Yeah. Ever. When I first launched out to ask about why there was not those kinds of shows or programs done there, I was told, well, we don't know if our. regular patrons will support it. And black people don't come to the Theatre generally. So that's one of the things that I sing that we have definitely influenced.
Robyn Bell: And that is change here on the Suncoast, but really culturally America worldwide. There's just. been a greater appreciation and understanding and I know , we're planning a concert with the college, the symphonic band and the choir next February for black history month, all black composers, all black soloists. I'm sure we'll be reaching out to you guys for some collaboration there. Because we all see the need. I do the same thing with women composers and women's soloist, you know, it's, we all have to know each other better to understand each other better, to have a better one world to live in.
Nate Jacobs: I agree.
Robyn Bell: Yeah,
Nate Jacobs: I agree.
Robyn Bell: Totally. , the black lives matter thing all happened here, the pandemic, and here we're trying to navigate the arts during, the pandemic. How did that affect you personally? And also , the Troupe here.
Nate Jacobs: I did. I led her to the editor at Sarasota Herald Tribune, and I went to Julie, our executive director, and I said, I think the community is waiting for us to make a statement about this. I could just feel sure people. So , they said, why don't you do a letter to the editor? So I did, and I wrote a little bit of my testimony of our. 20 some year journey here in Sarasota. The amazing thing is that most of the people who come to our Theatre was shocked. Oh my God, Nate, we never knew. And I was like, no, when it all boils down, I'm a black man. Down South in Florida, in America, I deal with being a black man in this country and to be in a predominantly white city and to start a new vision where it celebrates the African-American. I did go through a lot of pushback from the core arts community. We had a audience that followed us everywhere. We went, they would show up when they found out where we were . But the other part. I was shocked because you know, what are you trying to do? Why are you calling it black Theatre and I went through a lot of that kind of education that I had to do in the core arts community, but I knew that I knew that I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew it every day. Send you a, my being knew I was on the right path. And so when I realized that nothing could stop me, I was like a locomotive. You know, I'm still like that today. Our vision is essential. There are artists like Michael Mendez, their music directors, like a Jay Dodge who need opportunities. And this particular organization has offered Jay a position like any other music director in the world. And he, is as good and valid as anyone that I have ever worked with as a music director. And I knew his whole history, but I knew his talent. So sometimes I'd throw stuff to Jay because he's a gifted man. And I have a lot of hope in him, a guy wouldn't do that to know Jay know me like that
Robyn Bell: Hope and faith, right?
Nate Jacobs: Yes.
Robyn Bell: Yes.
Nate Jacobs: I know what he can do.. And, I though something to him and , I'm always kind of amazed how. phenomenal it is, but I know his abilities. So this incident central platform that I know needs to make this black lives matter is just another event in this country that reiterate why we need to understand each other more and more.
Robyn Bell: And, you know, I thought I had a good grasp on it. You know, I teach a lot of black and Brown students at the State College of Florida. I've always felt. A connection, but I have to tell you, in addition to producing a podcast, I also listen to a lot of podcasts. And Bréne Brown has one of my favorite podcasts listens, and she had Emmanuel Ocho on her podcast, not too long ago. , I don't know if you know who he is, but he has the YouTube channel, Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man. . He's a former NFL player and he tells his whole life story. He grew up in a all white Catholic. School. And he didn't really even know black culture till he went to university of Texas. But in my car driving home, it hit me literally like a ton of bricks. I almost had to stop the car and pull over . He was trying to explain why you think you get it, but you don't. He said go into of CVS pharmacy and buy some band-aids. He said, they say, flesh-colored, they're not my flesh color. I went, ah, something as simple as buying band-aids. just changed my whole outlook, which I thought I had a good grasp on. I was almost embarrassed that something as simple as band-aids being. not the color of everybody's skins How could I not recognize that
Nate Jacobs: And its very evident.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Nate Jacobs: Being a person of color is very evident that those messages are right there in your face
Robyn Bell: All the time.
Nate Jacobs: And the thing is supposed to be, don't say anything about it. You just roll with the punches, , and now black lives matter is a movement that say no, We won't just roll with the punches. We're going to make a statement.
Robyn Bell: Well, I think here on the Suncoast, Sarasota in Bradenton and the cultural arts community in our community, just in general, your organization really sets that example. And we look to you. Absolutely. During that time, we look to this organization for leadership and it was there. So I know on behalf of all the cultural arts fans, patrons, executive directors, performers, you know, just thank you. For that to start with. I think most people would know about your regular schedule of shows , pre COVID but what impresses me most about the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is all the other initiatives you have here. Talk to us about your summer education program, your young artists mentoring program, and the other outreach programs you have here. Things that maybe the general population might not know about.
Nate Jacobs: Most people who know me. know I've spent many, many, many years, probably over 40 years, even as a teacher at the school, Jay attended Westcoast School Human Development, working with young people and they are, so it says very natural as breathing to me. So I was so very happy when the organization grew to a place where we could. Oh, officially launch Stage of Discovery, which is our five week, summer camp where we bring kids on campus. We did a virtual camp last summer because of COVID, they work with our professional directors. They work with professional choreographers, professional music, artists, and professional. acting coaches and they worked five weeks, Monday through Friday. And then they put on a phenomenal showcase to show all of the stuff that they learn while the time they were here.
Robyn Bell: And that that's open to any student, no matter race or
Nate Jacobs: Yes, it is. We make a special emphasis to African-American kids who parents cannot afford. This is a free camp. They don't have to pay anything. We actually provide lunch for them as well. And we have some donors who are very , dedicated to making sure that opportunity is provided for us kids of color, but we do accept 'em all. Races to that program. I found out over many of the years that a lot of the arts organization kind of limit their student enrollment when it comes to kids of color. Cause they so unfamiliar with the black community. And then if they have no one on that staff . Who can go between the two communities. They tend to just ignore it because nobody in that staff, no, we don't really know how to go down there and get them aware of what we're doing. But stage of discovery is one of our signature educational programs. And then we have jazz links. Jazz links is a touring program that we have , about eight performers four women, four men that go into the high schools of Sarasota and Manatee counties. And take stories about the African-American experience and history that are not in the history books are, if they are, there are very limited information there. And so we do a 45 minute presentation most times with music and factual. Facts about the history of that era are that person, the two main ones that we're doing now in the high schools is civil rights. And we also do the Harlem Renaissance, which were remarkable evolutions, especially when it comes to african-American
Robyn Bell: And it's the stuff that's not in the history books that a hundred percent needs to be taught.
Nate Jacobs: Yes. And Made real to these students where they know it was something that truly exists. And the people that it affected are real people like them bringing it more personal to them. That's what I'm trying to do when we develop the programs.
Robyn Bell: That's fantastic. When we return, Jay, Michael and Nate are going to talk to us about the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's experience during the COVID-19 shutdown and their fabulous up, coming outdoor performance Light Up the Night. Back after this break.
Welcome back to the Suncoast Culture Club Podcast, where today I'm visiting with three amazingly talented men with the Westcoast, Black Theatre Troupe , Jay Dodge, production manager and music director, Michael Mendez production, assistant, and assistant to the artistic director and the man who had the dream that was many, many years ago, Nate Jacobs, founder, and artistic director of the Troupe. So Michael, do you remember where you were when you realized all shows had to come to a stop , and maybe for the next two to four or five months, what did you do to fill that time?
Michael Mendez: Wow. Well, I think Nate was creating a show when we were in the middle of creating a show for the spring or summer season. And then all of a sudden, everything just went flat and
Robyn Bell: That's a good word for it.
Michael Mendez: Yeah, . And we were in the middle of Arm's Too Short to Box with God. So we were already on the roll with our season, we just finished a wonderful show, the first show in our new yearly yeah. Carolina Change. And so we're thinking, , Oh, you know, , this is going to pass. And then Arm's Too Short. Just cut
Nate Jacobs: And roll rehearsals for Ruby.
Michael Mendez: We're in rehearsals for yay. Yeah. For his original shows so that , for me, being here 10 years. And just like, it's just go, go, go, go show, show, show, show, and then no show. Okay. I know the first week I slept like a rock.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, you weren't worried. I think we all just thought this would be temporary.
Michael Mendez: Yeah. Yeah.
Robyn Bell: We're almost up on a year.
Michael Mendez: Yeah. Almost up on a year. And so. , your hands are tied, so you really can't do much. , I was staring at the ceiling, so I was like, , might as well take the time to rest. Yeah. Everything will go back, , in a month and then a month came and was like so after a while was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, but accustomed to Nate's schedule of just like creating something. So he started to get jittery and then after he, got the creative juices. Like , I can't sit down, I need to do something. We started doing little interviews of our Administrative crew and also our, production staff crew and the artists too.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, we shifted. And I noticed you guys did this first from kind of a live performing to a video and audio production place.
Michael Mendez: Yes, most definitely. So we've done our interviews here. We switched to, I think Jay was a part of a educational reading video series. So we recorded some of our artists, reading books for pre-K students. And we put that out. And then also , during the pandemic, he's creating a TV series. He just shot the pilot in our, black box.
Robyn Bell: Right.
Michael Mendez: So we renovated the Theatre to create a film production studio
Robyn Bell: Because that is safe entertainment.
Michael Mendez: Yes. And that cast was about. 10. The crew was like eight. So we kept it very COVID friendly and safe. And we just had a screening not too long ago, but I always joke with him that, he always wants to do film and continue to progress in that and this time has shown him. And also
Robyn Bell: it forced your hand. there
Michael Mendez: It forced everybody
Nate Jacobs: And what this facility
Michael Mendez: And the vision is, entitled to. So like Growing in that capacity. So during this pandemic, we haven't necessarily stopped, but we're looking at the art center in different perspective as a company. And , as COVID keeps happening, we, look for more new, innovative ways to keep our brand. At the forefront.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. . And we're going to talk just a minute about Light Up the Night and the outdoor performance and how you've transformed your parking lot and to a really wonderful outdoor seating area and concert hall. Really? So Jay has a band leader. Did you start to rethink what a normal rehearsal and performance was going to look like?
Jay Dodge: Yes, am, , as of five years ago, a new father as well. I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old now. And , it was no longer about just what I wanted to do. I had to think about my family and the ramifications of my involvement. In things that were not COVID friendly and so , it really just kinda made me think in a different way. , we were in the middle of Your Arms are Too Short to Box with God. We were in the, throws of that performance. And we had to make the decision as a company to discontinue it.
Robyn Bell: What did that look like? Was it an email or bringing everybody in ,
Jay Dodge: We , as a company talked about it then we sent out an email and then we had a meeting with. The cast and crew of that show and let them know that, , this will be our final performance. We sort of did a onstage thing that night for the final audience. , to say that we'll be shutting down.
Robyn Bell: Was it evident as you got closer to that night, that. . Was your audience getting smaller?
Jay Dodge: Yes. You could audiences. They were I mean, we have a 200 seat Theatre and so our, performances are typically sold out. Although the tickets were already sold people were just not , showing up. But it was also something that we had to do. Not just for our audience before our actors, , for our musicians, , for us, we had to place value on, , production versus someone's life. And it was a real thing.
Robyn Bell: When I talk with musicians in the Sarasota orchestra, that's kind of what they pointed to because the Neel Performing Arts Center, as you guys know at the State College of Florida holds 830 people. And when those Sarasota Orchestra plays there, it sells out They played on Thursday, March the 12th, because it was Friday, March 13th, right. Friday the 13th. And they said they walked out on stage in there only about 125 people there. And even though maybe all the tickets had been, pre-sold it wasn't about nobody's buying tickets is everybody was freaking out. We're not going to come. So yeah, I can imagine that last performance probably did was not a full house,
Jay Dodge: right?
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Jay Dodge: I think back to almost a year ago now and. I knew that. If, I didn't have kids, , I might've been a little more carefree about things.
Robyn Bell: Sure. Changes everything.
Jay Dodge: It changes everything. , My parents are older now and, , if I were to bring something to them, , , we had to be responsible as a company. To do those things
Robyn Bell: Now, Nate, other executive directors that are leading the cultural arts, they talk to me very openly candidly about. The financial hit, their organization took in the measures. They had to take that. Yeah, we had to furlough some people we had to cut back on this. We were able to pay 20% of salaries or whatever financially. what has the pandemic look like for the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe?
Nate Jacobs: The fortunate thing is that we were in a good financial place when COVID hit The most. amazing and thing that we are so grateful for is that we had just finished an $8 million capital campaign. We had just opened this brand new five star Theatre, February 10th, right before that. So we were just so grateful that. COVID didn't hit in the middle of a capital campaign because it would have put a big Glick into us being able to raise that amount of money. So we were so grateful for that. Julie and I sat down and thought about, she was like, everybody is laying people off. Our board got just very aggressive. We had some board member give just unrequested special donations to make sure that none of our staff was furloughed. And that just touched my heart really, really deep. We got phenomenal people on our board. We really do. And I think most of staff and even most of our artists know these phenomenal people that sit around our board table, but they step forward even more so because they said, no, we don't want them to be out of work. So we have been able to keep everybody on staff during this whole year almost. My heart is always hard because of the actors. I was getting calls from all over the nation from artists. What do I do? Some of these people who do this full time, they do nothing but perform and go from show to show. They were just lost. And I'm on the phone counseling. I'm home recording team talking to an actor two or three times a day. That's calling for encouragement. So that was a really crazy time for us, but they call us the miracle Theatre and it really is just to be honest with you, I am definitely convinced of that being a founder and seeing what happened, but the ticket sales. Yes, , typically, like Jay said, the seasons are sold out. A lot of the patrons, when we start going to working on reimbursements, a lot of them just said, we know you guys are going through, keep the money. . We were kind of fortunate in that area. Cause we had like hundreds of thousands of dollars of tickets already sold and because of the kindness of our community , a lot of them, there were some people who wanted their money back, but most of them said, no.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. That same way with the Pops, , it was really great season ticket holders. I think as a community, cultural arts community patrons, really understand what's going on here. We're all been really grateful about that, but now you've kind of ramp things back up. ,
Nate Jacobs: Yeah.
Robyn Bell: Tell us about Light Up the Night.
Nate Jacobs: Well, you know, me, Mr. Resilient, Mr. Can't sit down.
Robyn Bell: Yes.
Nate Jacobs: , I heard somebody somewhere was doing Theatre outside and , we were in a board meeting. We had a special board meeting about what we were going to do, And I said to the board, I said, look, if anybody in this country. Yes, doing Theatre, we are going to find a way. So I called Jay and , he pulled together our entire production team and we went outside and walked around our campus. And we were thinking at first to set up a performance space in the back of the Theatre. And we were actually getting ready to move forward and. I don't know who we, I think we did another walkthrough again, and we all decided the front was the best thing to do. And we got remarkable people who work in with us and everybody just put their thinking cap on and we've come up with a phenomenal social distancing space that our audiences feel very safe. We have kind of kicked it up another notch since, because we did get an outbreak at one point and we had to close again. Of course people know me, I had actors got them and said, we know you going through because we just know this is affecting you. But, you know, I just kept my hope alive. It was very evident to me that things were different. And I had to make some adjustments personally, myself of how I felt about things. So this time around, we sell no concessions. The audiences have to sit with their masks on the entire time. They end the gate. We do a. Hour and 30 minutes show straight through no intermission. We'd take a little break. The band, do a number for a second and we come back to do the latter half and it is working for us. Light Up the Night is truly lightened up our lives artistically, and we're able to get back to our faithful fans. And it's so very evident when we're in that parking lot. What difference we are making to our audiences people need. And like Jay said earlier, I chose this seventies music because seventies music is truly therapeutic the lyrics and the music and the arrangements. They are really a music genre that really affect people in a most amazing way. So we're seeing that happen every night and I'm so glad we're back..
Robyn Bell: And , you have a runtime, through March 14th.
Nate Jacobs: Yes.
Robyn Bell: And then do you have a plan for a second outdoor shows or something in the making right now
Nate Jacobs: On the heels of that we are getting ready in a week or so to start rehearsals for streaming show Pipeline, which is a drama, it will be stage in here and our Theatre. , and filmed with three cameras and it would be streamed for several weeks for people to see pipeline, which is a very popular drama. That's going on across the country
Robyn Bell: With the vaccine. Rolling out. Nobody can predict, but do you have any kind of date circled where, where we'd like to start having in person shows
Nate Jacobs: The fall, , the fall,
Robyn Bell: Maybe September, October,
Nate Jacobs: Like most professional Theatres around the country. We kind of go in with the Broadway schedule. So we're looking at October, which is the regular time that we would do our first fall show. So we're hoping to be back in here in October. If it's like half capacity or what have you.
Robyn Bell: Okay, great. That's really good. All right, guys, it's time for our chamber of commerce moment here. We like to use this podcast to show off our town, our artists, favorite things to do and places to eat. So Jay, let's start with you. You have a night off from the Troupe and you want to go catch a show. He did a nice dinner with your wife, maybe do an activity. What are your favorite spots to hit?
Jay Dodge: Well, , our favorite spot because we have kids now, so our
Robyn Bell: changes, everything.
Jay Dodge: Our date night has to be condensed. So typically we would go do dinner and a movie, but now we have the Cinebistro so we can condense. The dinner and the movie so that the babysitter is not, , keeping the kids for four hours. So we like Cinebistro that's going to be our choice..
Robyn Bell: And the food's good there.
Jay Dodge: The food is eehhh...
Robyn Bell: It's not about the food, Robyn!.
Jay Dodge: No, it's about the movie. It's not bad. , Let me say that.
Robyn Bell: You're a musician, a bass player you ever hit any of the, kind of the live music scenes, check out any of the local bands.
Jay Dodge: I do, unfortunately, a lot of the live band type stuff here is in a bar. And so that's really not my scene.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Jay Dodge: But I do have friends, , who perform and things like that. And I love to support local artists so I'll go in and check them out for , that type of thing.
Robyn Bell: That's cool.
Jay Dodge: But , my hobby is playing pool. I like to go shoot pool.
Robyn Bell: Really? Where do you shoot pool?
Jay Dodge: Down at Livingston's on Cattlemen.
Robyn Bell: Maybe we take up some sort of a GoFund Me, buy you a pool table for your house.
Jay Dodge: Oh, that'd be great. That'd be great. Eight footer
Nate Jacobs: A break from the boy
Robyn Bell: , He's gonna make you put one in his office.
Jay Dodge: Yeah, that would be the office. Yeah,
Michael Mendez: I've been playing him for like five years and still can't beat him.
Robyn Bell: I did not know you had that extra special talent. Now, Michael, I run into you all the time at the Wicked Cantina. My favorite favorite Mexican restaurant in town, but , what are we going to find you doing on a day off on a
Michael Mendez: On a day off there's actually a Korean restaurant in between 12th and 17,
Robyn Bell: You're not the first person to tell me about this on the podcast
Michael Mendez: Sam's bar. It's a phenomenal place. They have amazing food
Robyn Bell: Should be a sponsor for the podcast. Cause everybody on here tells me about him.
Michael Mendez: Hey, listen. If it works, it works. But they're really great. And then when I want to go see like a band or something, there's a what's that spot it's next EVs. It's a whiskey place, but I love it because the band plays open air. So, huh. Cask Ale, Cask Ale. Yes.
Robyn Bell: Cask Ale.
Michael Mendez: They on me street. The band plays open air, so there are seats outside. So I don't have to be in the bar and I could be, , solo , on my own. And the food's all right, but definitely the band.
Robyn Bell: We go there for the whiskey and the band.
Michael Mendez: Yeah. We go there for the whiskey in the band. I think the band that plays there is the dirty bird, the dirty bird. No.
Robyn Bell: What if it's not, they need to change their name. Love that.
Michael Mendez: Dope. Dope. Super awesome.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. I used to see you at, it was Broadway bar. Right? And then it was,
Michael Mendez: Then it was Starlight
Robyn Bell: Starlight, and then it was a Mexican place. I haven't been there since. Yeah, it's closed. Oh, that's too bad. That was a great location from here. Like after a show, you could just skip over there.
Michael Mendez: The jazz band was definitely, that was actually my spot.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. I would see you there forever in the Wicked Cantina now how's that outdoor seating that they built, which is really nice.
Michael Mendez: They, they had a live band situation the other night too.
Robyn Bell: Oh, okay. You have to , shoot me a message about that. I love to go check that out now, Nate. I know you probably don't ever get a night off, but what are your favorite things to do on the Suncoast when you have some free time or where do you like to go enjoy a nice meal?
Nate Jacobs: I like St. Armand's it's open air right now. And it's a change of the kind of environment that I pretty much like to keep myself in, which is my workaholic head that helps me step away. I go out there and sight-see and sit down, open air. I can walk to Lido beach and look at the sunset and come back. Yeah. And that's just new to me because before that, I very seldom took that kind of advantage for myself. I started that. It just happened maybe since the COVID.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. You kind of found a space where you could get away and enjoy. There's some outdoor activity and yeah, the St Armand's is a really nice place. We go down there and just have dinner and walk around
Jay Dodge: Cha Cha Coconuts. That's the outdoors. Yeah. I love it. People watch
Nate Jacobs: People watch it and , you feel safer cause there's a lot of outdoor activity.
Robyn Bell: The Columbia, Blue Cozina right. Yeah. A really nice restaurant there. There's
Jay Dodge: Crab and Fin is nice. Yeah. And we love Kilwin's.
Robyn Bell: Oh, the ice cream. Yeah. You go straight to my hips
Nate Jacobs: They have lines now. And they had so many people go in at one time and then they'd come out and they let more people into it.
Robyn Bell: There's actually three ice cream. Cause there's a Ben and Jerry's and if you don't want to wait in line and you know, the little off the beaten path, when there's nobody ever, I don't even know these things.
Jay Dodge: It's that? Yeah. That place is sort of nostalgic for me because my grandfather used to always take me there. I think it's called the Creamery or
Robyn Bell: yeah.
Jay Dodge: Right off.
Robyn Bell: How neat?
Jay Dodge: Yeah.
Michael Mendez: Where, where, where,
Jay Dodge: so
Robyn Bell: You know where Tommy Bahama's restaurant is. Okay. So it's on the other sidewalk across the way, but it's so you got on
Jay Dodge: But its down that street down there
Robyn Bell: about 20 feet.
Jay Dodge: Yeah.
Michael Mendez: I know where I'm willing to take a visit.
Jay Dodge: Yeah,
Robyn Bell: That's right. If you don't want to wait in line at Kilwins, that's what
Nate Jacobs: It is.
Jay Dodge: Yeah.
Nate Jacobs: A lot of people on St. Armands, how much do you miss it? If you don't know it's there.
Robyn Bell: Okay. Thank you for that. Now I've got to go spend some time on St. Armands. Thanks a lot, Nate. So rapid fire. Each one of you get your own individual question and you get your first answer. You don't know time to think. You just blow me away with it. All right, Mr. Nate Jacobs, we're going to start with you. Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye,
Nate Jacobs: Marvin Gaye.
Robyn Bell: It was hard. It was hard, Michael. Motown or hip hop. I say that because you and I did a hip hop show together with the pops. So I was thinking ,
Michael Mendez: when's the, when's the offspring of the others. I'd rather go with you.
Robyn Bell: I hear ya. I hear ya. There you go. That's good. Now, Jay, and you have to answer this question without any kind of. Personal characteristics qualities in mind. Okay. So there's this, this is just, just think about them as their, their output of their work and not their, their lives issues. Phil specter, or Quincy Jones,
Jay Dodge: Quincy Jones,
Michael Mendez: Not even a thought.
Nate Jacobs: Okay.
Michael Mendez: Didn't you meet him at
Robyn Bell: Quincy Jones. Yeah. Awesome. He's he is genius. Yeah, just a genius.
Jay Dodge: Genius. Yeah. All right, Nate, have all the questions I'm asking. I'm most excited about this one, the ballad or the production number.
Nate Jacobs: The ballot,
Robyn Bell: because you're a romantic, I knew this. Maybe you just don't like dancing
Nate Jacobs: As they know, I love opening numbers and all of that.
Jay Dodge: See, he couldn't say both.
Nate Jacobs: It was hard to see that Light Up the Night we was almost in and I was like, Oh my God, I need something. I heard that.
Robyn Bell: I love it. All right. The ballad I'm with you. , Give me a beautiful ballad anytime. Great. All right. Michael Diana Ross or Beyonce.
Jay Dodge: Oh
Michael Mendez: yeah, that, that, that, that, that banty,
Robyn Bell: That would be really tough for me because. I, I love them both unique in their talents beyond Beyonce. I remember one time she was on the today show, like, I think it was Thanksgiving morning or something crazy. And it was just on, in the background. I didn't even know she was coming on and I just heard this sound. I stopped. It was always like, what is that? It was totally captivating.
Jay Dodge: And they were both pioneers of their time.
Robyn Bell: They are, yeah. And , you know, Beyonce has an all women band.
Jay Dodge: Yes.
Nate Jacobs: Yes. I keep forgetting it.
Robyn Bell: Now. I was in Chicago for a conference a couple of summers ago and on a whim. I was like their night early and I just Googled what's there to do in Chicago. Cause Lord, I'm going to get into some trouble out of town. And here, Diana Ross was doing a show in Chicago and I got online, bought one seat left in the whole place, $80 ticket. And it was amazing.
Nate Jacobs: People love her.
Robyn Bell: Oh my God. We have to get her to Sarasota.
Nate Jacobs: We do. She comes every so often. Van Wezel has brought her,
Robyn Bell: , My goal, my bucket list is to see Beyonce seeing concerts.
Nate Jacobs: I've seen
She was fortunate. , the funny thing with her very quickly, she grew up from first. It was. Whitney. And then about 13, 14, it was all about beyond say. And I remember Naomi, I just want what you want first. I want to do a Beyonce birthday. I want to Beyonce lunchbox. This girl grew up to become a woman and after college she goes and randomly a very good friend of ours. EJ. Had a call who looking for a singer, she was like, I don't know who this person is. I don't want, I said, just do it. It ended up being Beyonce and changed her entire life. I bet that it wasn't just a performance. It was a masterclass to saying I'm want to be a singer to watch that woman. And the whole process of putting Coachella together was a masterclass with me. So,
Robyn Bell: Wow. Well, you know, you mentioned Whitney Houston and because I have friends that are in like the, , professional LA arranging orchestral kind of scene They say to a T there's three of them that I know very, very well in separately, not even communicating with each other. They've had the opportunity to work with Whitney Houston, arranging stuff for her, or even on the super bowl, the Star-Spangled banner, they say without a doubt, the best musician they have ever been in a room with the most talented pitch. Perfect. One take. They would take a 10 minute break. She'd come back and not even need the pitch. , She would just sing the right note, Whitney Houston. , They go, on and on and on about her.
Jay Dodge: Absolutely.
Robyn Bell: Yeah.
Nate Jacobs: Wow. Well,
Robyn Bell: Such a loss.
Nate Jacobs: Yes,
Robyn Bell: Jay.
Jay Dodge: This next one, Hartley
Robyn Bell: Mac or PC.
Jay Dodge: You're giving me all the easy ones.
Robyn Bell: So sorry. You're going to get a hold of one. All right, Nate, fill in the blank. The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is.
Nate Jacobs: Unique
Robyn Bell: And so many more things, I'm sure your list would be long and long and long
Nate Jacobs: Three words right quick. But then I think unique encapsulate can capsulate it. And they Jacobs what I wanted to say.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, it is. It's one of the most unique places I've ever been. So
Nate Jacobs: Thank you,
Robyn Bell: Michael. You sort of hit on this earlier, but in a perfect world pie in the sky, where is Michael Mendez in 10 years. And what is he doing with his life?
Jay Dodge: Wow.
Michael Mendez: Wow. Honestly in 10 years I will be doing a lot more TV and film on the production end. As well as on the forefront, but also , I'm slowly trying to shadowing Jay a lot of the times because whenever he needs help, I've usually been the quickest helping hand shadowing, Jay, and then also shadowing Nate. I like. How both worlds interact. So , if the universe willing, I hope to synthesize both of their creative mentalities and production mentalities, too. , find my niche, my place, . Where I feel comfortable.
Robyn Bell: Well, we all know that Nate Jacobs is a young man still, and that he's going to be around for a hundred more years, but it often comes up in conversations in the cultural arts community. Let's take the circus arts conservatory. What happens when Dolly and Pedro say I'm done? What happens with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe? When Nate says I'm done, is there a exit plan?
Nate Jacobs: Yeah, it is a succession plan that the board constantly keep us aware of.
Robyn Bell: It's kinda like writing your own obituary, but I know I'm going to leave this
Nate Jacobs: Awkward kind of weird, but the thing is because I'm a founder we want to make sure that time is perfectly right, because a founder walking away does change things. People feel differently about things and I will not leave until I know that. It's the right time.
Robyn Bell: That's right. And the next person is groomed and ready to step right in.
Nate Jacobs: And we are grooming someone yes.
Robyn Bell: Outstanding. Okay. Jay a show concept you would want to arrange for, but haven't gotten to yet
Jay Dodge: I would say I want to do something more current. . Honestly more, it doesn't exist yet. The music doesn't exist yet. The writing of it. . I'm working with collaborating with a singer artists now because I'm a musician and I don't write lyrics. And this person is a lyricist and does not write music. So I'm collaborating and , I'm falling in love with music all over again.
Robyn Bell: Isn't that awesome?.
Jay Dodge: It is. And just being able to create, I like to create music. I do. And so I think it's been fun over the years when Nate says, well, I have this idea and here's what the song, this is the song I'm going to sing it to you. Someone just presents me with. A melody of words and I'm able to then create around that. I like that. So it would be something that, does not exist in this world yet.
Robyn Bell: The, you know, it brings me to a thought because we're doing a lot of this at the college. Cause all of our performances are a Facebook live stream. And so we have to go get all these sync. Licensing and all of this publisher, copyright requests, you have a whole division of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Like when you want to arrange a particular song, it's already been covered. You have to go get permission.
Jay Dodge: I think it's the licensing, BMI, EMI, whatever, whoever was the last yeah, the licensing.
Michael Mendez: Julie's our division.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. That's a big job. That's a, that's a really cause you guys, like you say you have 50 or 60 songs.
Nate Jacobs: Yeah. We have a gentleman
Jay Dodge: Tony Moon. Oh
Nate Jacobs: Yes, he does the initial work for us. We write our list of the 30, 40 songs. He go and confirm. Who are the true right owners, and he gets back to us and then it becomes the more administrative side Julie gets on the phone and we find out sometimes Sony has 10 of them, BMI have another ten, and then you may have to call a couple of people for it.
Robyn Bell: And then you got to write a check for all that.
Nate Jacobs: They assess us.
Robyn Bell: I know everybody wants to get paid. I understand Michael Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.
Michael Mendez: Instagram.
Robyn Bell: Good. Good. This one's for all three of you and we'll go, Jay,.
Jay Dodge: I was going to say, do answer at the same time.
Robyn Bell: No. Jay Michael, then Nate, that gives you time to think you have one more song left in your life to perform. What would it be?
Jay Dodge: One that I create.
Michael Mendez: Wow.
Nate Jacobs: All right. I love that.
Michael Mendez: I'm like, why do I always come after the goods? Like I even have to come after that for Nate. And I'm like, Oh man, that was great. Why am I here? I think I would sing
Jay Dodge: You can copy my answer.
Michael Mendez: NA Hector Lavoe his song El dia de mi Suerte , which is my lucky day.
Robyn Bell: And it could be your motto for your whole life.
Michael Mendez: Yeah, it is
Robyn Bell: Nate. I know you have a good one for us.
Nate Jacobs: A million, as you can imagine songs, crowd my mind, but one that really kind of encapsulates my journey and my life is Great is Thy Faithfulness.
Michael Mendez: I thought you were going to see the Donnie Hathaway song.
Nate Jacobs: That was one, but. It falls on the, under the, lining of Great is They Faithfulness.
Robyn Bell: Beautiful. Perfect. All your answers. Say a lot about you as individuals, your creativity, and where you are kind of right now in your space. So that's awesome. Nate, tell our listeners, where can they go to follow you in the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
Nate Jacobs: You want to go to www.westcoastblacktheatre.org Westcoast. That's one word Westcoast, black Theatre.org. To know about all of the upcoming activities that are coming down the pike at Westcoast Black Theatre.
Robyn Bell: And from there on your website, you can , click to the Facebook and to the Instagram and Twitter and YouTube and all that. I don't know if you do Twitter. Yeah, Twitter can be a main place. I try to stay away from we'll do is we're going to put links to all of those places in our show notes, so that listeners , if they're listening on the website and they can just click right to all your places.
Nate Jacobs: Great.
Robyn Bell: Well, Jay, Michael and Nate.
Jay Dodge: Thank you audience. Thank you so much.
Robyn Bell: We haven't heard that sound a long time. You are now officially part of the club. I want to thank you for your time today. That is one resource that we can never get. Back in the one. I certainly value the most in my life. So anytime someone shares their time with you, I am just so appreciative. It was a true pleasure. Getting to know more about the three of you and this amazing important and cornerstone cultural arts organization in Sarasota. Linda and I are looking forward to the upcoming Light Up the Night show. We can't wait to get our tickets, and I know we can all give three big cheers to our Suncoast cultural arts scene, post COVID. And I look forward to working with all three of you again in the near future.
Nate Jacobs: Thanks
Robyn Bell: Robyn..
Michael Mendez: Thank you.
Nate Jacobs: Great to see you.
Jay Dodge: Thank you, Robyn.