Florida’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe plays outdoors to ‘Light Up the Night!’

An innovative professional company keeps its doors open with open-air concerts.

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida, took advantage of balmy 75-degree evenings to perform a special Valentine’s weekend open-air concert series titled Light Up the Night!

Henry Washington is one of the artists featured in WBTT’s first installment of the ‘Light Up the Night!’ open-air concert series. WBTT courtesy photo by Sorcha Augustine.

A sold-out audience of nearly 75 at double-seated tables danced in the aisles in their socially distanced circles and enjoyed a romantic evening under the stars. The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, now in its twentieth year, is an example of an innovative theater company that is taking advantage of its $10 million building renovation to keep the doors open by using its parking lot during the height of the pandemic.

Raleigh Mosely takes the lead vocals for a song during WBTT’s ‘Light Up the Night!’ open-air concert. WBTT courtesy photo by Sorcha Augustine.

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe reemerged from behind closed curtains to present Light Up the Night! in October 2020. After just a few weeks onstage, though, the production was forced to close due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among cast and crew.

WBTT Founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs. Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

“With the pandemic, it’s felt like every time we take one step forward, we’ve been forced to take four steps back. It breaks our hearts to see our beautiful new theater building still sitting unused,” said Nate Jacobs, WBTT’s founder and artistic director. “We are excited to begin performing again, and I can guarantee patrons are going to leave our performing arts center feeling energized and happy.”

Founder Nate Jacobs is joined by Henry Washington, Raleigh Mosley, and other popular WBTT artists who are part of a revolving cast. Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

Cedrick Soul Child kicked off the evening’s ceremonies in four-inch platform shoes and a gigantic Afro with a string of 1970s hits starting with “Betcha by Golly, Wow.” The band’s 38-song playlist covered a wide range of popular hits including Earth, Wind & Fire’s  “September,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” the Bar-Kays “Brick House,” and a medley of Stevie Wonder classics including “Superstition” and “My Cherie Amour.”

Cedric Soul Child served as the evening’s MC for the sounds of the 70s and was part of the revolving WBTT cast of performers. Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

Light Up the Night featured a live band led by Resident Music Director (and bass player) James “Jay” Dodge II, Todd Bellamy on piano, Brennan Stylez on auxiliary keys, Brad Foutch on guitar, and Etienne “EJ” Porter on drums.

WBTT’s Resident Music Director James “Jay” Dodge II on bass (right) is joined by Todd Bellamy, piano for the ‘Light Up the Night!’ open-air concert series. Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

The artists performed under the awning along the west side of the theater building, while patrons watched from the closest areas of the parking lot. Chairs were set up within painted six-foot circles — to ensure safe distancing.

WBTT’s renovated 1926 Binz Warehouse building with iconic Black music performer mural on Orange Avenue. Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

“As much as our artists wanted to perform and we were ready to start generating some revenue again, the safety of our patrons, artists, and staff must always be paramount,” said WBTT Executive Director Julie Leach, who added a safety officer to the staff for the outdoor events. “With virus rates on a downward trend and rigid protocols in place, we are looking forward to entertaining the community while being responsible about public health.”

Entrance to WBTT’s $10 million renovated performance hall. Photo Malcolm Lewis Barnes

WBTT relaunched its outdoor performances over the Valentine’s Day weekend and two of the three performances went on as scheduled with only Sunday evening postponed due to wet grounds.

DCMTA photo feature contributor Malcolm Lewis Barnes and fiancée Arlene Evans at WBTT musicians mural.

But again, this is Florida where everything goes, and thousands of maskless Super Bowl fans celebrated Tampa Bay’s victory just a week ago 50 miles to the north! The perfect place to push the experimental outdoor performance window where you see theater ladies showing up early to tailgate under the Westcoast Black Theater Troupe marquee?

Lady tailgaters arrived an hour early to enjoy the balmy evening air under the WBTT marquee parking lot. Photo by Malcolm Lewis Barnes.

Light Up the Night! presented by the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe performs through Sunday, March 14, 2021, on the WBTT Campus at 1012 North Orange Avenue, Sarasota, Florida. Tickets, available online, are sold in one-week increments to accommodate exchanges for inclement weather.

© 2021 Malcolm Lewis Barnes

SEE ALSO: A challenge to theaters to reopen now—outdoors by Malcolm Lewis Barnes


  1. Thank you Malcolm for this excellent article. Sarasota is becoming a magnet for Black retirees and artists. It has a reputation for arts and culture throughout the region. Now it is expanding its offerings for Black arts and culture.
    Please continue to educate more people about Sarasota and all the other communities with Black arts organizations.

    • Thanks for the kind feedback William. Community arts and the contributions of Black arts organizations such as WBTT is one of the amenities that attracted me to “Martha’s Vineyard South”! Looking forward to covering more events and artists in the future.


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