Filmed Live Musicals

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

October 12, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
Filmed Live Musicals
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
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Filmed Live Musicals
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
Oct 12, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7

Host Luisa Lyons chats with Julie Leach, the Executive Director of Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT). We look at how WBTT were able to pivot during the COVID-19 shutdown, connection with community, the business end of putting theatre online, and Vinnette Carroll's Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.

Based in Sarasota, Florida, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is a non-profit theatre founded in 1999 by Nate Jacobs. The company’s mission is “to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African American experience, that attracts diverse audiences, supports and develops African American artists, and builds the self-esteem of African American youth.” 

Learn more about WBTT's current shows at https://www.westcoastblacktheatre.org/

 Visit Filmed Live Musicals at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support the site at Patreon.  

Host Luisa Lyons is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com or follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Guest Julie Leach is Executive Director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. With a background in finance and management, Julie has worked with the WBTT since 2009.

Show Notes Transcript

Host Luisa Lyons chats with Julie Leach, the Executive Director of Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT). We look at how WBTT were able to pivot during the COVID-19 shutdown, connection with community, the business end of putting theatre online, and Vinnette Carroll's Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.

Based in Sarasota, Florida, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is a non-profit theatre founded in 1999 by Nate Jacobs. The company’s mission is “to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African American experience, that attracts diverse audiences, supports and develops African American artists, and builds the self-esteem of African American youth.” 

Learn more about WBTT's current shows at https://www.westcoastblacktheatre.org/

 Visit Filmed Live Musicals at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support the site at Patreon.  

Host Luisa Lyons is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com or follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Guest Julie Leach is Executive Director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. With a background in finance and management, Julie has worked with the WBTT since 2009.

Luisa Lyons:

Welcome to the Filmed Live Musicals podcast. A podcast about about stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. The Filmed Live Musicals website contains information on nearly 200 musicals that have been captured live . Check it out at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. And now on with the show. My guest today is Julie Leach, executive director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. With a background in finance and management. Julie has worked with the WBBT since 2009. Based in Sarasota, Florida, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is a nonprofit theater founded in 1999 by Nate Jacobs. The company's mission is to produce professional theater that promotes and celebrates the African American experience that attracts diverse audiences supports and develop. African American artists and builds the self esteem of African American youth. Welcome Julie.

Julie Leach:

Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me on the show.

Luisa Lyons:

My pleasure. How did you come to be involved with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe?

Julie Leach:

Well, it all ties in with, Nate Jacob's journey to creating this theater. So he was a drama teacher here in Sarasota at a small private school, African American based and run private school. And he actually was as a visual artist in college, although he has done gospel singing his whole life and, you know, music size been a part of his life. His father actually had a, a gospel touring group. So we saw that as sort of a sidelight when he went to college college and did his visual art major. But, After he started working at the school, he said, well, the students were way too rambunctious to do drawing all the time. Cause it was a, like a full kindergarten through 12 school. And he said, I have, I started telling them stories. Like I used to do my 11 brother and sisters. He's from a family of 11. And then he said we started acting them out and then we started putting up plays at the school and people just loved all the productions. And in the meantime, he started to be an actor here in town locally. So he became an Equity actor here on local stages, in addition to his teaching. And then he. just felt like there was a dearth of roles for African Americans on stage. He found himself kind of playing the same type of role all the time. Like I'm a waiter in this show and I'm a servant in that show. So it, you know, it was just the era. It was the eighties and, So anyhow, in 1999, he, I founded this theater troupe. He decided if he needed to see change, he would have to make it. So he founded Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, and really ran it out of the back of one ramshackle van that somebody gave them and drove these high school kids around town and they performed, you know, cause those were the people he'd been working with. He did put on a couple, before he formed the troupe, he put on a couple professional plays in town at borrowed stages with just community people that he could find that maybe had some acting background and stuff. But when he founded the troupe, really founded, it was five other teenagers, five teenagers and himself. He was probably in his thirties at that point. And, and, they would just perform, you know, in front of the opera house, on the sidewalk for a festival, or they'd borrow a stage somewhere and do a little show for two weeks or something. So they were just a shoestring existence for about 10 years and he got pretty worn down by it. And he was like, this is just not going to work. I think I'm going to go to New York and work on my personal career a little bit. And. Of course it's family and,

Luisa Lyons:

When one is tired, you come to New York where you will be less tired?!

Julie Leach:

I know! He felt like maybe he could just do some acting and singing, instead of trying to run a company. Cause he's an artistic person, not primarily a business person, and as an enterprise grows, you need more business people involved. So when he was feeling that way, one of his board members said, you know, he just joined the board and he'd been a producing artistic director at our local large theater here, our LORT theater. And that was Howard Millman. And he, said, Nate, you just don't have anybody to help you with the business side, right? The business is wearing you down. Let's try and find someone. And it's like, but we don't have enough money to hire anybody because they never had enough. So they went to a local foundation and they got a grant to hire someone for six months. And that was my predecessor, christine Jennings. And the first thing she did was say, well, we need more people on the board that can help us financially and all this, and, and have expertise in nonprofit leadership. And so she started building a board and that's when I got involved. So that was 2009. So I became a board member. Then the next year Howard said to me, You know, I said, I'd be president for two years, so I need you to be president of the board. So I did that for four years and then Christine Jennings retired. She was 70 at the time. And you know, she'd already done a successful business of founding a bank and selling a bank and running for Congress twice and all kinds of things. So, you know, she was kind of ready to step off the rat race a little bit. And I became the interim basically. And then the board was kind of like, do we really have to look for someone else after about six months. I was falling in love with doing the work. So I was like, no, I can do it. That's fine. I'll do that. And, then here I am five years later. We wanted, we were at a point where we wanted to raise money for our buildings for capital campaign. And I thought if we had a lot of transition in leadership that would just get more difficult. So I was just like, I'll stay and we'll do that. So, so we've been able to do that.

Luisa Lyons:

You mentioned the building project, that was the Donnelley family theater. Is

Julie Leach:

It's actually the Gerri Aaron and the Aaron Family Foundation. Theater building and then, the Donnelley, or is our main stage theater though inside it. So let's see, we started that, oh in '16. And, we ended up raising $8.7 million, which is incredible considering how fast this theater company has grown, but the community has been very generous. This is such an arts loving community. Sarasota. We have so many artistic jewels here. We have our own opera company, ballet, I don't know, 10 theaters or something, you know, professional theaters in the general area. And people come here for the arts largely. I mean, the beach is wonderful too. And, and all the, everybody's kids and grandkids, kids come for that. But those of us that are in retirement age, we cover the arts and culture, but we're also attracting younger audiences too, as we go. So we have, we've just been blessed. That it's a community that really cares about that. And we've been able to, and this state supported us with a $500,000 grant too. So bring been a broad based, I'd say we hit over 600 donors to the campaign, everything from $25 to a million dollar gift. Wow, so

Luisa Lyons:

verymuch community driven.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. Yeah. So that's exciting.

Luisa Lyons:

Did I read correctly that the theater had just been finished at the beginning of this year?

Julie Leach:

Yeah. So COVID has really popped the bubble a little bit, but we're still here. So we opened January with our first show. "Caroline or Change" in the brand new theater. And it was a beautiful show and we were able to really showcase the capabilities of the new theater. We added a lot of technical features and the new lighting, LED lighting and all, and, and it was really a beautiful show. And then we, that was successful run. And we usually almost sell out all our shows. Like we have a capacity, we have like 98%, 95% sales for every show we do, which is wonderful, but we did increase our seating to up to 200 from 146. So we're kind of small still, but, intimate, and people like that intimacy. But then the second show we opened was "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God." And I think you watched the video of that.

Luisa Lyons:

Wow. It was so joyous. I wanted to talk about. More of that in a bit, but I'd love to hear more about what happened when COVID hit.

Julie Leach:

So we opened that and we were able to run that for three weeks. And then that's when the closure came about March 16th, 15th, something like that. And so we closed down the theater and I paid out all those contracts for our artists, you know, cause they had three more weeks of work they were expecting. And then, we were also rehearsing a second show at that time. So whenever we have one on stage, we're rehearsing another. And that one was , Nate Jacobs, a world premier show called Ruby, which is a, like a documentary, well, it's a play, but it's about, a true story, about a woman in a White Oak, Florida, in the fifties who shoots a white man. And what's that story about. And the man she's shot was like a Senator. She was a very prominent person in her community too, a very wealthy African American woman. And so it's an interesting story, so that we'll have to do next year. Yeah. We were working on that too. So we had to, stop that. And I also was able to pay those folks some severance, but then we pretty much were closed. Although we moved to online work right away. So we can talk about that a little bit.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. So what was the decision to create WBTT Live?

Julie Leach:

Well, we just felt like, okay, we have to stay connected with people. Like that's what we do and that's what our artists do. And my mission, as you read it at the beginning, our mission is not just entertainment. We're about developing artists and improving the lives of African American artists and self esteem. And you can't do that if you're doing nothing. So if my mission was strictly entertaining, I would shut down and fire everybody and wait this out, but that's not our mission. So we said, how can we connect? And we thought, well, how about we let people get to know our artists a little more? That's one of the things they love the most. Because we have kind of a core group we'll work with over a certain period of time. It's not like a repertory theater, but they get to know our audiences, get to know our casts. And it's normally our tradition, which is also not great in COVID times, of coming out after the show and greeting all the audiences they leave. And so they really get to know different ones and they'll be like, Oh, I saw you in this other show. And you know, you've grown so much or I've loved you every time I see you or whatever. So anyhow, we've decided to do that and let Mr. Jacobs, our artistic director, interview different young artists and see what they're doing in this time of COVID. So a lot of them have interesting artistic projects. They're doing

Luisa Lyons:

Those interviews are so wonderful. They're freely available on your website and Nate Jacobs, he's such a, he seems like such a warm, charismatic, wonderful person.

Julie Leach:

He is, you know, when people meet Nate, they're just taken by his perseverance, you know, he has followed this vision and mission for so many years, and when COVID hit, you know, he's very philosophical about it. Like I'm frustrated! It's opening night, why is happening now. He's like, this is just another bump in the road. We've had so many bumps in the road and we can do this or that. And so we've been pivoting and our artistic team is very creative. We did manage to run our student summer camp program. Would you like me to talk about that?

Luisa Lyons:

Sure.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. So we have a five week, Stage of Discovery program. Every summer that we put on for about 20 to 30 students, they have to audition for it, but the program is free and it runs full days nine to three. And there's an after hour arts piece, if they want to do that, two till five, and it's for ages 13 to 18. And we've been doing it for, this was our fifth year now. I started that when I came on as executive director. So it's a program both Nate and I love, we feel like the theater was started by youth. And so we want to keep that pipeline going. And a lot of the students that graduate from that, they join our main stage productions. Many go on to college for musical theater or other arts degrees dance. And, and, we've started a little scholarship program for them too. So this year I was able to give them about 6 $2,000 scholarships for those going on in performing arts. So it's really wonderful.

Luisa Lyons:

Congratulations. When so many other theaters are shutting their doors and saying, you know, we can't pay anybody. We can't do anything until after all this is done.

Julie Leach:

You know, we have a small budget, so that helps a lot. Plus in town, we have something called the Giving Challenge, which is a kind of nationwide program I think that a lot of cities do where they have like an online giving day for all the nonprofits in the city. So they have happened to schedule that in May, this year. Anyhow. So that was so helpful after the closure with COVID and, and we've received about $165,000 for that. So that helped us keep people employed. You know, but I, other theaters in town have like a million dollar employment. You know, I don't have that large a budget. We just have 18 full time people, about half in production and half in administration. So I was able to do that. Our kids program did go to zoom, this year for the actual classes, but at the end we had them come back on campus and we did outdoor social distancing, and we made a music video. So they made professional soundtracks in the studio ahead of time in small groups. And then we synced all that with the video footage, which we took out doors on our campus. So that's also on our website. If they look at under About Us, I think it's under Stage of Discovery and the video's still there too. Beautiful and the kids just love making it. It was really cool. We had drone cameras and you know, it's very fun.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. So I'm curious about your camera set up because, is it Bill Wagy?

Julie Leach:

So Bill Wagy is an independent videographer that has worked with us for years and donated so much of his time. He's an incredible, kind wonderful person, but also very professional. And so he does a lot of our, he's always done our archival videos and then that's what we did with Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, we had the archival we'd already filmed. So we were like, well, we can share this with people, even though we had to cut the show short. So anybody that purchased a ticket and donated it back for the last three weeks of the show, I let them watch the video for free. We'd just send it out to them. And of course I got Equity and licensing permission to do that. And then we also charged if other people wanted to watch it. So that was quite popular. That was our most popular video offering actually. So I don't know if it's just cause it was great or people were expecting to see it. So that's why they still wanted to tune in.

Luisa Lyons:

I feel like it was one of the earliest videos available too, it feels like your company, that WBTT was able to pivot very quickly and, and put content up straight away.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. We're used to pivoting because of our rough and tumble life. I think we haven't grown out of that yet. I say that, Nate, you know, you can tell who the core troop members are that have grown up with the troop. Because what we're doing right now, pivoting, we're going to put it outdoor performance on our porch. And have seats in the parking lot. And, you know, folks that have been with us for years, they're like, okay, that's what we're doing now. You know, they just like, they pivot, they run with it, they roll with it, whatever needs to happen. And, they're just used to that.

Luisa Lyons:

It's wonderful that you can be so flexible and that you have the space and the people that are willing to make it happen.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. And it, you know, I feel bad that we're not in our brand new theater, but yeah. We are doing it on our brand new campus. And we're using our brand new restrooms, which are wonderful, much better than we had before. And so, you know, we're still using the facility that we've created and eventually we'll get back inside. You know, technically in Florida you can do a show in an auditorium at 50% capacity now, but we just didn't feel like that would be safe. So we're looking at, we do some concerts in our, in our courtyard instead.

Luisa Lyons:

That's wonderful. Did you ever stream any of your productions before the pandemic?

Julie Leach:

I'm trying to think. No, we didn't because normally you're not allowed to, you know, most of the licensing agreements just allow you to keep an archival copy and we're an Equity theater and Equity actors don't usually let you stream their performance. So because of COVID, both the licensors and the Actor's Equity Association have gotten more flexible about that. Of course, Nate Jacobs writes several of our productions. So I do have shows that would be fine to if I could get the Equity artists to agree, which usually they do now. Cause it's, you know, they understand what the times are. So we had one show Rockin Down Fairytale Lane that we put out this summer. It's a cute family show. And that was written by Nate and he wrote of all the music...

Luisa Lyons:

I think of it as like The Wiz meets Into the Woods.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. It's a bit like Into the Woods. Yeah. That had some Equity artists in it, but they gave permission and I actually paid them for the time period that I ran the show, so.

Luisa Lyons:

It's really incredible that you, it's so great having original work that you're able to access and put online, but also that you're able to pay the artists because I know that is something that's just so tricky. It becomes prohibitive for people.

Julie Leach:

Well, it does, and we didn't make hardly any money on that stream. Cause, you know, most of our audience is not the family audience. So, that's something we need to grow.

Luisa Lyons:

You mentioned that Your Arms Too Short to Box With God was your most popular video that you've put out. Can you speak to the numbers of how many people watched it?

Julie Leach:

We had about 780 views household views. So to me that's probably about 1500 people. Cause most, most people are couples and, about, I'd say two thirds of those were paid and the others were that had received the comp because they had bought the tickets and donated it back. So, so yeah, that was the most successful. The WBTT live, I think our most successful was maybe Christopher. Eisenberg. He's a young student that grew up with us since age eight. He was on our stage. And now he's a record artist with RCA. He's in a developing boy band called Next Town Down and they came to our 20th anniversary celebration and performed there too for us and all the guys in the band with him and he's been working on that project for about three years. I think it was a development project through Sony, and then RCA has contracted with them for the recording works. And so you can find them on Facebook and also he has a big following. So I think a lot of people tuned into the interview for that, so that I think that also had about 800 views or something.

Luisa Lyons:

And when you think that your theater is, you said it's grown to 200 seats ... Julie Leach: Yeah, it's pretty small. Our audience is about 36,000 seats a year. So, you know, so some of those are subscribers, so you've got the same people, but, it's an area I think that we're growing in. And of course it's gotten a lot more crowded. Now. Now there's a lot, like you were saying, we were early out of the box with the Arms Too Short video, but now there's a lot of video offerings and I think people maybe are getting a little tired of that. I don't know. I'm hoping they'll be happy to come sit in the courtyard with their masks on safely distanced and watch an actual concert. Yeah, I think so. Yeah. I think also there's, it's very difficult to find a single place, which is my hope with the Filmed Live Musicals site to find all this content. There's like, there's all this content out there, but finding it is very difficult. so I, you know, that's my hope with the database, is that it will make it easier to find that. Yeah. thank you for making it. That

Julie Leach:

will definitely help us. Yeah. That's wonderful. Yeah. Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

Your Arms Too Short Too Box with God is so joyous and so wonderful. I want everybody to be able to see it. Is it something that you could re-release or because of Equity agreements you can only have that short window.

Julie Leach:

Maybe we could, maybe I'll look to doing that around Easter. Cause it's kind of an Easter story. So I would have to ask the licensors again, if they'd be happy, to let us release it, but they might be happy to do that. And, as long as I pay some of the artists, Equity artists that were in it, then, probably it will be fine with Actor's Equity too. It's an interesting show because this is created by Vinnette Carrol, who was the first African American woman to produce and direct on Broadway. And, she also worked with the Mickey Grant and Alex Bradford who are well-known in the, gospel and Broadway circles as gospel writers. Both worked at both of those, or at least Alex worked on, Langston Hughes, Black Nativity, the first gospel show on Broadway. So anyhow there, her piece had kind of gone underground to some extent. I mean, people were still producing it, but in a lot of college shows and, and then there's, there's a theater, in New Jersey that produces, that has the rights and does produce it quite a bit. Irving Street Rep. Do you know Irving Street Rep?

Luisa Lyons:

I don't. I was curious where their name came into it. I was trying to find, cause I had read in an interview that it wasn't published, but it sounds like it is published. The script and...

Julie Leach:

It's not really. You can't really find the original script published. Or a lot of material, you can get it from Irving Street Rep. So they're the licensor, so, but you know, most, most of our licenses, we just go to MTI or, or, there's a couple other music licensers and we look up the play and we license it, you know, but this wasn't as easy. We had to find out who had the license and it just wasn't public knowledge, a lot about how to get to it. But once you got it, it was great. And so it's nice cause we know them. So if I want to do something else with it, like in Easter time, I probably can just call them up and see if they're willing to do that.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh yes, please. I, I had read a review that said it succeeds where Jesus Christ Superstar doesn't and as someone who is not a huge Jesus Christ Superstar fan. I loved Your Arms Too Short to Box With God because it's so community driven and the women are central to the story.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. It's a different way of telling the story. It's interesting because those came out around the same time and they actually, Jesus Christ Superstar didn't do too well. Well with its Broadway introduction, I think it started in London. And when it came over it didn't do too well, but then the revivals have done much better. Yeah. They were both kind of radical concepts at the time. You know, you forget that now in our more modern that we're used to talking about things like that, but at the time treating Jesus as a human and you know, it was kind of out there.

Luisa Lyons:

And the idea that the people historically were black, and that's still surprising to people..

Julie Leach:

Yeah. Most people had darker skin. I think people have to get used to that idea that the Renaissance image of Jesus probably isn't what he looked like.

Luisa Lyons:

But you mentioned the challenges of, Equity agreements and paying for the licenses to stream. What other challenges have there been to streaming?

Julie Leach:

I think it's mostly technological, you know, we're a live theater company and, there's a lot of equipment. I mean, we're not a movie company, you know, you look at Mulan or something and how much money they paid to make the beautiful film and, and, you know, we just don't have that kind of equipment. And also, it's making something that's good enough that people find enjoyable watch and don't and are feeling like it's one of those older fashioned, you know, like PBS films of the Met Opera that used to happen, you know, which was way back the cameras way back. And you're just looking at the box of the stage, you know, down there and the people are tiny and stuff, you know, now like the Met HD opera broadcasts, you know, it's so wonderful because you're right there on the stage with the actors. And also it's finding something that feels like that without investing too much money, and deciding resource wise, you know, something, our board will have to discuss how much resources do we put into the live? Are we just waiting for, you know, how much do we put into video? Are we just waiting for live to come back so we can relax and go back to what we're comfortable with? Or do we want to continue to do some of this work? So the WBTT Live, it's not technically gorgeous interviews, you know, that they're good interviews and in the video is good enough, I think. But, it could be better. Or if you had a better camera system and all. We originally created it though with iPads, it's on iPads, and it was meant to be live. But then we realized that it was much better if it was recorded and then put up as live. So, that's what we do. But now I'm thinking maybe if we're going to record it and put it up there, we should just use better cameras. Cause we don't really need to do the iPads which are set up for we're not actually live.

Luisa Lyons:

Do you think going forward, you would stream shows after they've run or during the run?

Julie Leach:

I think I'd like to do it during. So I do this year have some permissions, for, we're going to do Pipeline later in the season, which is a straight play and I have permission to film it. So a lot of the licensors are giving those permissions ahead of time now. So I'm going to do that coincident with it, and we'll be able to put captions on them, the stream and everything. So hopefully we'll be able to reach it a larger audience. Maybe it isn't, maybe live theatre isn't accessible for them even. So, you know, that would be cool. And, those that aren't quite comfortable yet coming back to the theater and that's not one we can do on the porch, so, we may only stream it if, if we can't have, or maybe only have a quarter of the theater full or something like that. So we'll see how that goes. And then also Smokey Joe's Cafe. We're doing it the end of the year, which is a musical great musical.

Luisa Lyons:

The review, the Leiber and Stoller review.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. And that we have permission to film that too. So the plan with those two is definitely to coincidentally offer the video version and the live version so people can find their comfort level.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh, yay. That makes me very happy. I'm very excited. I just interviewed Brenda Braxton, who was in the original Broadway cast of Smokey Joe's a couple of weeks ago

Julie Leach:

Aah wonderful!

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. And that's the original Broadway production was filmed and it's last week on Broadway and that's available online. Yeah.

Julie Leach:

We'll have to check it out.

Luisa Lyons:

It's a really fun production. So I'm excited that there's going to be a new one.

Julie Leach:

Yes. Yeah, that's great. Yeah. It's a very popular show. People do that region and regional theaters do that.

Luisa Lyons:

The music is fantastic.

Julie Leach:

Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

What do you think have been the benefits for WBTT of streaming?

Julie Leach:

Well, it's kept our artists engaged in artistic projects, which they love and need. it's kept us connected to them. A lot of our audience. It gave a great summer program to our students and something, a little different to offer them this year. We also filmed, they worked towards an individual professional audition reel, in their classes too. So they pick their own song they want to do and their own monologues. So they had to read different plays and things to find a monologue that they wanted. And, so we found that for each of them, they came in and individually did that. We filmed it for them. So they could take that with them as a project they created and, and this music video is so great. So, you know, we've had a lot of fun with it and it has been interesting. It's challenging. Like we've spent a whole week trying to upload this next thing we're doing, which now finally we were able to upload, but, that's another gospel piece. So this is coming out, probably next week. I think planning to have it come out on Monday the 21st of September. And it's called, American Roots: The Gospel Experience. And it's a collaboration between a local professional choir here, the Key Chorale and their artistic directors, Joseph Caulkins and then our artistic group and singers and dancers performed with them. So it's a very beautiful show and we did that last fall. We went to several churches doing that, and again, Bill Wagy filmed that for us and has done the the video for us. So, I'm really excited about that coming out. It's beautifully filmed at one of the churches we did and, yeah, that's really exciting.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh, I can't wait for that. Gospel music is so uplifting and such a balm in during all of this time.

Julie Leach:

Yeah, it really is. And of course that's not the only thing we do, but we're well known for it. A lot of our singers learn singing in their churches. Growing up and, you know, Mr. Jacobs, like I said, has a deep gospel history and on WBTT live, we have an interview coming up next week with, Joe and Nate, the two artistic directors about the collaboration and how much fun they had making it. And also the feedback been from audiences, most people love it. We did a fun, we had a fun Marvin Gaye thing -. We had had a fundraiser scheduled, for April, which we'd bumped back to May thinking COVID would be over by then. So then we're like, okay, we have to do something with this cause we had sponsors already. And so we created a socially distanced, Marvin Gaye concert, where each of the singers was on like a turntable. On the stage six feet apart from the other ones. And they danced and say, Oh, don't like American bands. but people really loved that. And we raised a decent amount of money with that too. That that was a good result also. I'm not sure if I answered your question. I think I forgot what your question was?

Luisa Lyons:

It was how audiences have responded?

Julie Leach:

Oh yeah. So they love that. So a lot of people emailed us and were like, we were dancing in our living room. And so people love the student video. We're getting all kinds of comments from our folks about the student video and how wonderful that was. And it's inspired some people to give some donations, which has been wonderful.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh, that's fantastic, that keeping that element of community engagement and keeping your subscribers engaged, it's all very positive.

Julie Leach:

And some of them, they're reaching out to friends across the country. So, that's nice too. I heard yesterday, one of our board members, she says, I'm so bored with television. I'm just sending all these WBTT things to everybody I know in the country instead! So that's wonderful.

Luisa Lyons:

It really is wonderful. Do you think that filming shows and streaming them online, do you think that's going to change the way we stage future productions?

Julie Leach:

Well, people may continue to do both. Cause they're, you know, it's hard to know when we'll be past this particular pandemic as you know, but, it seems like it's going to affect everything this year, for sure. And there may be some people that are nervous about it for the even longer run. And nervous about other things because of it, you know, so, you know, flu and other things that are dangerous out there in the world too. So you may see more mask wearing like South Korea too, you know, maybe that people just wear more mass normally on the subway or, or things like that. But, but I do think there's a role for the film stuff. And as long as, licensors and producers and artists can work out a fair way to recompense everybody for those, I think they should be a part of the repertoire. But I don't think it replaces the feeling you get of live theater. And one thing I hate about filming is that, you know, it can be perfect. So that's what costs so much I've decided to make these movies. Because with live theater, you know, it's never perfect. And every night's different and that's part of the joy of live theater could have a wonderful show. Even if somebody changed one word in the script someplace, you know, it's just not, it's not perfection. Perfection isn't the goal, it's engagement and experience, and connection is the goal. Whereas with film often, perfection is the goal. And I think that leaves a different feeling for people in their lives.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah, I think for me, when I watch filmed live theater, I love it when things go wrong, because you feel like you get that sense of liveness. It isn't perfect like you say. And I love in Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, there's a moment, I forget the number, it's toward the end and there's a woman singing solo.

Julie Leach:

That's probably Theresa in the blues dress.

Luisa Lyons:

Yes. Oh my goodness. And she's singing her heart out and it's incredible. And a woman like directly in front of the camera stands up.

Julie Leach:

Oh yes, I know!

Luisa Lyons:

And it's like, exactly any other seat, she's right in front of the camera. And there's this moment where you like the camera's there and you're like, is this gonna move? And then suddenly the camera person realizes and they, the camera jumps up and moves to the side, but it's so exciting as a person watching from home because you feel that excitement, you feel like you're kind of with the woman standing up, you're not, you don't want her to sit down. You want to stand up with her.

Julie Leach:

Right, right! Well, you know, when we filmed that we knew it was going to be the last show of it. So a lot of the members, audience members, and we closed it to the public at that point, so most of the audience members are in-house staff and family and friends of the performers, so that you hear some engagement during the show too, like they're like, sing it! And Teresa Stanley though, the woman who sang that piece, she's a Broadway actress and has been in Rock of Ages on Broadway and in the tour and in The Color Purple on Broadway and other shows her voice is just truly beautiful. So that's a highlight of the show.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah! Well, all the soloists in this production are incredible! I

Julie Leach:

I know. I love the one that plays like Jesus's mother. Oh, I just love that song.

Luisa Lyons:

That's the older lady?

Julie Leach:

I forget what it's called, but yeah, she's just amazing. It makes

Luisa Lyons:

me so furious that this show is no mtore famous, or as famous as JCS because I, the music to me, it touches me in a different way. And the feminine energy of it and the idea, I love the messaging in it that. The political power play happens in this production that you don't really see in JCS, JCS is, you know, about Judas and, and that tension with Jesus. Whereas this production that you get... For me, I got a sense of like the historical context of, you know, what it meant for who Jesus was. And yeah, really powerful.

Julie Leach:

So I think it's a little different take on it, more of, like you say it's more of a, he's more of a political problem, which I think in a lot of cases is historically fairly accurate. In Jesus Christ Superstar, I think it's more sort of shown as maybe a personality issue. Like he got maybe too big for himself. Like his ego got too big. That's sort of what Judas thinks and that's why he sells them down river, I think. But you know, it's different. We don't know. There's very little historic documents about Jesus. So it's, it's a fascinating endlessly, fascinating story with many different takes on it.

Luisa Lyons:

Any chances this cost would go into the recording studio?

Julie Leach:

Oh, that's a fun idea to make an album

Luisa Lyons:

As one audience member. I am requesting such a thing.

Julie Leach:

That's a great idea. We have a wonderful, gentlemen here in town who has a professional recording studio that we work with quite a bit. BJ Porter. He's also a drummer and sometimes in our bands, but, but we have done some stuff, ome soundtrack recording with him. This summer, we did a project with some of our younger artists. Who's been in a lot of shows with us. He is more of a mid career artists, but he has written a wonderful, a musical called Real Life. And we put it on our stage a couple of times as a work in progress. And then, this summer we invested in making a recorded album for him of the music. So that was some professional singers that came into the kind of a smaller group of singers. But so he'd have a, like a teaching tool cause he tours it a lot. So when he goes out and gets different or artists in it, they can listen to how the songs are supposed to go.

Luisa Lyons:

That's really cool. I'd love Your Arms Too Short To Box with God.

Julie Leach:

Okay. That is registered.

Luisa Lyons:

It looked like the original is available in LP, but no one has,

Julie Leach:

Yeh, there's an LP, but there, and there's some video of it online, but I think like from students, maybe college shows or something, but, but not a lot.

Luisa Lyons:

I found one from California. I forget the name of the church, but a church did it as like their 15th anniversary and it was filmed by A&E but I, I can't find, I haven't found the full video yet.

Julie Leach:

Well, the problem with it, you know, it's, it's really traditionally how African-Americans are treated in the industry, you know, you see, because Vinnette Carroll, I think was nervous about sharing her work in a public way. She wanted to make sure the rights didn't get taken away from her. And if you, Alex Bradford kind of lost the rights to that. There was a lawsuit over that, because he'd signed his rights over to the production company which himself and a couple other people, but he passed away. I think even before, before it was on Broadway or right after it opened on Broadway, but because he passed away, he lost his rights. They weren't transferrable upon his death. So then, you know, there's a lot of stuff like that in the industry that, yeah, it was really unfair to African American artists who didn't maybe know how to navigate some of that then, or maybe they were purposely, I don't know, you know... I don't want to accuse anyone.

Luisa Lyons:

Well like you said, he has the artistic side, but not necessarily the business side, and sometimes you don't have people looking out for you.

Julie Leach:

A lot of artistic people are like that, not just African Americans. But, you know, you look at the recording industry and there's just story after story of, African American artists who didn't really get the rights to their music or the proper payouts to their music and things like that, that, so I think all that's gotten a lot better. Yeah. People are treated much more professionally now, but because of that history, Vinnette Carroll held that piece, very close to her and just trusted a few people with it. And they never published the music. There's a small publication of some of the songs. It's more like a, almost a piano and voice piece, you know, that you can get. But it's not all the songs. So you can hear the Broadway album, so our musicians listened a lot to the Broadway albums, so they would have the same feel as the original show.

Luisa Lyons:

Right. I would really, I'd love to see it published and more widely performed.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. Mickey Grant is still alive. She was one of the. composers and, and also - Luisa Lyons: They did Don't Bother Me, I Yes, yeah. I would love to do that at our - did you like it?

Luisa Lyons:

Didn't get to see it, unfortunately. I've seen lots of clips.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. That's something we should look into doing at our theater.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh absolutely. And Vinnette Carroll is such, was such an extraordinary person. And it's such a shame she's no longer with us. Did you ever get to meet her?

Julie Leach:

Later in life, she moved to Florida and started a company, a theater company in Miami, and she and Nate talked a couple of times, but then she passed away, so.

Luisa Lyons:

Did I read correctly the director of Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, who directed Your Arms Too Short to Box With God?

Julie Leach:

Harry Bryce.

Luisa Lyons:

He had worked with Vinnette? Yes. I

Julie Leach:

think he had, yes, he had. So he had that relationship too. So that helped a lot with the production. Cause he knew what her vision was and all yeah. Yeah. Our choreographer. Well, Donald Frisson worked on the show too. He's the gentleman that played Judas, he's a wonderful choreographer. He and Harry worked together on that. Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh, I really hope it is released again because more people deserve to see your cast and your crew, and everyone deserves their work to be seen. It's really, it's an extraordinary piece of work.

Julie Leach:

Thank you. That's wonderful. Well, if we release it again, we'll still have the lady standing up.

Luisa Lyons:

Right. So I have a series of quick questions. don't you don't need to think about it too much. whatever comes to mind and there are no wrong answers.

Julie Leach:

Okay.

Luisa Lyons:

Okay. So do you have a favorite musical?

Julie Leach:

You know what? I loved The Color Purple, our production of The Color Purple. It was just so moving and, you know, tears at the end. And, and we had this wonderful actress that played Celie, who is one of our founding troupe members, and now lives in Edinburgh. I think or London, maybe she lives in London, but she's, she was gone over to Europe and she writes some of her own shows about Nina Simone and others and tours them around Europe. And she's been in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for many years with her great Nina Simone show. So to have her come back and do that, it's a lot to all of us and she was just perfect for the role. So.

Luisa Lyons:

That score is so beautiful.

Julie Leach:

Oh, it is. Yeah. I also love anything. Ashman and Menken, you know, Howard Ashman, Alan Menken. So we did Little Shop of Horrors too. I absolutely love that. I ran around the house singing "Somewhere That's Green" for weeks afterwards!

Luisa Lyons:

As you should.

Julie Leach:

It was just in my house. So no one had to hear me!

Luisa Lyons:

If you watch other filmed live musicals, do you have a favorite filmed live musical?

Julie Leach:

Oh, well, the Hamilton piece was amazing. We were lucky to see that on Broadway and then to see it in from the same theater. Cause it was at the Richard Rogers Theater that they filmed it to to see it again and to be able to see it up close, like we were in the balcony when we were there to see it. And it was just fabulous. That was so, so wonderful. But, I also love the Met HD programs, so I'm a big opera fan. I love singing in general. So. Maybe that's part of what brings me joy being part of this troupe, but I do love the human voice. And what else?

Luisa Lyons:

Do you have a favorite Met Opera piece?

Julie Leach:

Well, yeah, I'm a big opera fan and I always tell people there's operas that have great music and there's operas that have great stories. And there's a very few operas that have both. So if I'm introducing someone to opera, I recommend La Traviata or La Boheme. but you know, Andrea Chenier has a, is a beautiful piece. The Sampson and Delilah by Saint-Sans has both great story and great sound. So, you know, there's, there's a lot, but if you're sticking a toe in, I wouldn't start with Wagner! Yeah. The

Luisa Lyons:

Met Opera is so incredible. They were a trailblazer in filming digitally and releasing their content worldwide.

Julie Leach:

And their productions are amazing. Yeah. And maybe that's even better to watch at home. Cause I know I like to go sometimes and watch him at the movie theaters. And sometimes if you're not in the best movie theater you hear like Star Wars next door with guns firing off. So, visually it's transfixing, but the sound quality is not as great as being there live, you know, being live at the Met that's the ultimate, but, but yeah, but the HDs are beautifully produced.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. If filming theater, it's not exactly live theater and it's not exactly a film. What should we call it?

Julie Leach:

I don't know. I think it's still theater. I think it's still theater. Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

Why do you say that?

Julie Leach:

Because really you're just being the eyes for somebody on stage, because it really is a theatrical production. You don't have quite the same feeling as being there yourself, but, but it's not a film. There's a lot of special things that happen with films, with editing and everything that you just can't do with films.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. Where do you stand on bootlegs?

Julie Leach:

Oh, I don't like that. No, I think everybody should be paid fairly, you know, I'm on the business side and I get it. I think the artists need to be paid and, the licensers need to be paid for their original creative works. And so I'm strongly opposed to that. And we try and follow all the rules. There's a lot of them.

Luisa Lyons:

Yes. There are a lot of rules, but for good reason.

Julie Leach:

Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

What do you wish had been filmed?

Julie Leach:

Oh, wow. Of our repertoire or in general?

Luisa Lyons:

Both.

Julie Leach:

Oh, let's see. Well, I wish we could have filmed, wellt we did film The Color Purple, I wish we could put that out, but maybe we can, I'll have to think about that.

Luisa Lyons:

Yes, please.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. Yeah. Maybe I'll look into some of that. Maybe we look a little deeper in our archive and see if we can get some permissions to do that. So I guess that would be my top choice.

Luisa Lyons:

Yes. Absol - yes, please. Yes, please. Yes, please!

Julie Leach:

I saw Denyce Graves once in Carmen at the Dallas opera, she was wonderful, early in her career and she was Carmen. That would have been nice to see on film. I'm sure they didn't film it probably I'll have to see. Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

Oh, I love Carmen. That was the first opera I ever saw.

Julie Leach:

Yeah. That's a good one to recommend to people just starting to see opera, beautiful music and a great story. Yeah,

Luisa Lyons:

I remember, the production I saw in Sydney had real horses.

Julie Leach:

Oh, wow. that's cool.

Luisa Lyons:

Very special. A special memory. And finally, what would you like to see filmed in the future?

Julie Leach:

Oh, well, let's see. what are we doing in the future? well, I'd love to see Nate's piece it, his world, premier Ruby. We're definitely planning to film that, we'll have permission, for, from him, of course, to do that. And I think,

Luisa Lyons:

Is it a play or musical?

Julie Leach:

It's, a play with music. So it will have music in it, but it is a story with quite a lot of lines and all, and it's, it's really about, a topic that's very important now. Of whites and blacks in one town and how they live together and, and didn't live together. And the clashes that come from all that. And what happens when somebody who's subjected to maybe a lower place in society. Stands up for their rights. Yeah. And, how the town deals with that. And also it's a, it's a tragic story, but it's a good story with interesting lessons with it.

Luisa Lyons:

And that will be next season when you're able to re-open?

Julie Leach:

Yeah, we were going to do it this January, but we don't want to open it in a COVID time we really want to have a large audience for it and have people really enjoy the experience of being there for live theater. So I think it will be next year. Yep.

Luisa Lyons:

Okay. And just crossed, where can we find Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe?

Julie Leach:

Well, you can find it at our website westcoastblacktheatre.org, or you can come down to Sarasota and see us in Sarasota, Florida. Right now, the website's a good location for all the filmed things.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. Plenty of content to keep you occupied.

Julie Leach:

Yeah.

Luisa Lyons:

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Julie. It's been so wonderful to chat with you today.

Julie Leach:

Thank you. I really appreciate it. Special treat for me. Thank you for having me.

Luisa Lyons:

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