“It was what it was, and I knew the narrative as a Black man in the South,” he said, reflecting on the experience.
It was the day after the “Eubie!” performance, and he was sitting in his airy office at the performing arts complex. We could hear upbeat singing from a rehearsal of a holiday show. On a window sill, he had placed several African figurines and a gold star ornament. Awards and citations lined his walls. A photo of his original company led him to boast about the careers he had fostered.
One actor, Teresa Stanley, joined the company of “The Color Purple” on Broadway and has toured nationally with “Rock of Ages.” Another, Apphia Campbell, took her solo play “Black Is the Color of My Voice” to Shanghai and Edinburgh, as well as New York.
“We’ve been in this together for a long time,” Jacobs said.
But back to the hard lived past. After his first community theater production, which, he said, sold out its 500 seats for several nights to racially diverse audiences, he directed three more shows for the Players. Then he said he was told that the diversity funding the company had been receiving had ended. So, the company said goodbye.
He recalled wondering, “What am I going to do with all these actors I brought into the theater?”
With a nudge from several of his early supporters, he decided to incorporate. A lawyer did the paper work pro bono. But without a permanent home (an old white van served as a storage unit, a dressing room and more) and even with positive reviews for his shows (performed at churches and community centers), the pressure was overbearing, as was the debt.
That’s when more supporters stepped up.
“I told him he needed an executive director or he’d have to close down and would never open again,” said Howard Millman, who joined WBTT’s board in 2006 after stepping down as Asolo’s producing artistic director.
His mentoring of Jacobs began right away, as did the fund-raising and search for an executive to run things. Soon the company owned a warehouse (purchased in foreclosure). Then Christine Jennings, a former banker, came in as chief executive and got the company on its feet. With the help of the board’s chairwoman, Doris Johnson, she spearheaded a campaign that raised $8.3 million for a three-year renovation that turned the warehouse into a state-of-the-art small Equity theater.
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