SARASOTA, FL – Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe performer Michael Mendez was recently awarded a John Ringling Tower Fund grant of $4,000 in the performing category, a major honor for the young artist. Mendez plans to use the grant to write and produce five original songs, and work on his one-man show celebrating the career and life of Harry Belafonte. The award, which also includes a residency at Sarasota’s Hermitage Artist Retreat – a not-for-profit artist community that attracts artists from all over the world – was given during the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County annual celebration and awards in October.

Mendez began his musical journey as a middle school student, singing an Usher song in front of his peers. The experience inspired his mother to enroll him in an arts program at the Manatee School for the Arts. At 15, he traveled to New York and was introduced to songwriting and recording by his uncle, an aspiring producer with his own studio. He performed several productions with the Manatee Players and then was introduced to Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe founder and artistic director Nate Jacobs in 2011.

In the last few years, Mendez has earned major roles with the company – including his current lead status as “Seymour” in Little Shop of Horrors” – and produced a CD of original records. In 2013, he presented his first solo artist showcase at the Westcoast Black Theatre. He has had the opportunity to tour Germany twice, and he has performed at the prestigious National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina in the company’s musical revue, “The Soul Crooners.”

“I feel that, as an artist, I am a minister of a spiritual platform – the stage,” Mendez said. “Performers have the power to change feelings, emotions, the way people think and the way they view the world. I believe in giving 100 percent to my craft and this grant will enable me to do just that.”

According to the Arts & Cultural Alliance website, the John Ringling Tower Fund Individual Artist Award “was designed to recognize practicing, professional, creative artists residing in Sarasota County through monetary fellowship awards. The program provides support for artists of exceptional talent and demonstrated ability to continue to produce work.”

“What a testament to our development of young African American artists,” said Nate Jacobs, founder and artistic director of the theater. “Since our company’s inception, we have mentored and inspired so many young talents, like Michael Mendez.”

“The competition for the John Ringling Towers Fund grant was fierce,” added executive director Richard M. Parison, Jr. “We’re so proud of Michael for earning this great honor.”

About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission is to produce plays that promote and celebrate the African-American experience, attract diverse audiences, while using its productions as a vehicle for supporting African-American artists and building the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at or call (941) 366-1505.