Sarasota theatre group invests in artists on and off-stage

West Coast Black Theatre

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is known as a group of performers who have touched hearts in Sarasota for nearly 20 years. Their musicals, comedies and dramas have made a lasting impact in the hearts of people who are here for the weekend and those who are here to stay.

But there’s another side of the performers that the audience doesn’t see on stage - their journey developing as artists and as professionals.

Tears filled the eyes of artist Ariel Blue as she watched a gospel singer perform, passion fogging her vision.

“I graduated from college with a degree in communications and a minor in theatre and I wanted to go into journalism and be Oprah," Blue explained. "But I kind of got bit by the bug and started performing and acting and I wasn’t really a singer, but it blossomed into something.”

It blossomed like a flower in spring, but behind that stage presence, Ariel Blue has something else that sets her apart.

“I shut that part off, when I’m not on stage,” she said. "Like, that Ariel is gone, now it’s ‘9-5 Work Ariel.’”

‘9-5 Work Ariel’ is the artist relations and development associate for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, booking flights for actors, making sure they get paid, finding housing for their stays and much more.

“So it’s teaching me how to like, be in the moment and work on short deadlines, versus something long term which is good," said Blue.

Most are guilty of watching the clock slowly tick closer to the end of a workday, but for Ariel, 5 p.m. only signals the start of another.

“So our schedule for performance is Tuesday through Sunday night,” she explained. "So Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, twice on Saturdays, once on Sundays.”

She’s not alone. In fact, Michael Mendez explains it in a similar way.

“As a performer, it’s kind of like a light switch thing," Mendez said. “So it’s like turn on, turn off, turn on, turn off. When you’re on the administrative side, you have to start communicating more. I set up for events. I connect everybody to the Artistic Director, I fix his schedule.”

Like Ariel, Michael Mendez has been performing at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe for a decade.

Now, the Troupe is preparing him to excel behind the scenes as much as he does when he’s acting in them.

“This is definitely teaching me a lot," Mendez said. "A lot of stuff that I didn’t do, because I was mostly a performer. I’ve just become more efficient. What makes a performance? Within the performance, what makes a moment?”

Moments they’re known to make.

“Creating a moment within the community of Sarasota and just invigorating the life of the community," said Mendez.

For Sarasota, but also for the next Ariel and Michael.

“I hope to create an entertainment company and continue the same type of vision just for a different generation somewhere where it’s needed,” said Mendez.

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