Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Sarasota recognized by State of Florida for diversity efforts

Organization receives grant from Division of Cultural Affairs for its free WBTT Voices program

WBTT featured a performance of ‘Life in the Cancer Lane’ paired with a medical panel discussion and as one installment of the 2016-2017 ‘WBTT Voices’ series. Contributed photo by Don Daly Photo

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) has been honored by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs with a Diversity and Inclusion Award for its ongoing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the Troupe has announced.

The WBTT, along with other honorees, will receive its award, at a ceremony on Jan. 24 in Tallahassee, a news release says.

WBTT was recognized for its free community lecture series, WBTT Voices, “which examines the people and issues that have shaped the African-American experience in our country,” the release explains. Programs feature appearances by artists, playwrights, professors and theatre professionals. “The forums have all been at full capacity since the program began in 2014,” the release adds.

Past WBTT Voices forums have examined the influence of African-American entertainers on civil rights; the life and work of W.E.B. DuBois; the Florida Highwaymen; the life, work and continued influence of renowned playwright August Wilson; the career of Brenda Watty of The Marvelettes; the work Life in the Cancer Lane by the late playwright Barbra Watson Riley; and the immigrant experience in Southwest Florida, which was the theme of last fall’s special Hidden Voices program.

On Feb. 5, WBTT Voices will feature Melba Moore — a “star of stage, screen and studio” — as the release puts it — who will be performing in WBTT’s production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill from Feb. 11 to March 31.

“As the only black theatre company on Florida’s west coast, we feel a responsibility to foster an understanding and admiration for African-American culture and history through our art,” said Julie Leach, executive director of WBTT, in the release. “We have been grateful for the overwhelming support of this community and found that our audience craves a more diverse cultural experience than can be found through other area institutions,” she added in the release. “We thank the Division of Cultural Affairs for this honor and for the grant, which will be used to enhance marketing efforts to bring this free program to those who will benefit most.”

The Diversity & Inclusion Awards Program recognizes innovative and exceptional efforts that promote diversity in arts and cultural programming, the release points out. “The diversity in nominated programs represents efforts to broaden the reach of individuals engaged in cultural programming in Florida,” the release says.

For more about Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, go to westcoastblacktheatre.org or call 366-1505.