JAG Productions Founder Jarvis Antonio Green Steps Into the Spotlight in 'Every Brilliant Thing' | Theater | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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JAG Productions Founder Jarvis Antonio Green Steps Into the Spotlight in 'Every Brilliant Thing'

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Published April 26, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


Jarvis Antonio Green at rehearsal - COURTESY OF ROB STRONG
  • Courtesy Of Rob Strong
  • Jarvis Antonio Green at rehearsal

At a recent rehearsal for Every Brilliant Thing, Jarvis Antonio Green stepped away from the practice space momentarily, took off his black Doc Martens sneakers, and put on a pair of black-and-white slipper socks. When Green returned to the rehearsal floor, the 41-year-old actor seemed to inhabit the body and spirit of a young boy who was, instinctively, doing what he could to comfort himself: wearing warm and cozy slippers.

The role Green was working on that day is the central one in Every Brilliant Thing, a one-person play in which his character — called simply the Narrator — confronts his mother's depression, and later his own, at various times in his life. When his mother attempts suicide when Green's character is 7, the boy makes a list of reasons to be alive, including eating ice cream, the color yellow and peeing in the sea (with no one knowing). The list grows over time. During the play, Green calls on audience members to recite some of the "brilliant" items that populate his list.

Presented by JAG Productions, Every Brilliant Thing opens with preview performances at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction on Thursday and Friday, April 27 and 28, before formally opening on Saturday, April 29. JAG, whose name corresponds with Green's initials, was founded by Green, its artistic director, in 2016. His performance in Every Brilliant Thing, written by British playwright Duncan Macmillan with comedian Jonny Donahoe, is his acting debut with the company he established.

"I chose this play because for the first time in my life [last fall], I experienced what I now know is depression," Green said during a rehearsal break two weeks ago. "I lost my life force."

Based in White River Junction and New York City, JAG is committed to developing and presenting the work of Black theater artists. It's the second arts organization, along with Barnard's BarnArts Center for the Arts, that Green has founded and led since he moved to the Upper Valley more than a decade ago.

In addition, Green was the first artistic director of the theater program at Artistree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. Kathleen Dolan, founder and executive director of the 20-year-old nonprofit, said Green brings "charisma" to the arts groups with which he works.

"He has such a magnetism," Dolan said. "He's got a lot of connective energy with people. His constant marveling at existence is kind of contagious."

Dhira Rauch (left) and Jarvis Antonio Green - COURTESY OF ROB STRONG
  • Courtesy Of Rob Strong
  • Dhira Rauch (left) and Jarvis Antonio Green

In recognition of his work, last summer Green received the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, which the Vermont Arts Council calls "the most distinguished recognition bestowed by the State of Vermont. (Green was a corecipient with visual artist Larry Bissonnette.)

"I think the award was a nod, a reflection, an honoring, of the hard work that it takes to build community," Green said. "This award has been given to folks who have been creating and making work longer than me. I was really kind of honored that I received it at my age and where I am in my career."

Reflecting on his decade of making art in the Upper Valley, Green noted that 10 years is "both a long time, but in other ways I haven't been here that long."

Rehearsals for his current project unfolded in a less ambiguous time frame: fast. He and Brooklyn-based director Dhira Rauch started rehearsing a few weeks before the play's opening. Their schedule included eight-hour days in a rented space at theater company Northern Stage's offices in White River Junction.

"It's an intense process in all kinds of beautiful ways," Green said. "I've got to be able to recalibrate my energy so that I can actually be present and not have anxiety for the roller coaster."

While the Narrator is the only formal role in Every Brilliant Thing, Green interacts with audience members in each performance. The participants are selected by Green, during the show, to join him and play certain roles, including his father and his therapist. In some scenes, the Narrator gives the audience members their lines; in others, he might ask them a question and they respond, devising dialogue. These exchanges imbue each performance with fluidity and spontaneity.

"Not only is this show a means for me to tap into the emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives, it's a reflection of who our audiences are," Green said. "They are game; they want to experience theater in a different way."

For Green, the initial work on the production started before his rehearsals with Rauch as he attempted to emerge from his depression. "It was an effort to bring me out of the dark," he said.

Jarvis Antonio Green - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Jarvis Antonio Green

Performing has been integral to Green's life for as long as he can remember. As a youth, he sang with his family at home and at church in Anderson, S.C., where he grew up, and participated in performing arts groups. That led to later professional acting roles around the country.

To perform again in his JAG debut is a way "to be in conversation with the world," he said, and find joy in the work that's meaningful to him.

The very act of "tapping into another character" requires a kind of excavating of the self to clear space for a blank canvas on which to create, Green said.

"My soul and my body were like, 'Now it's time to deal,'" he said. "And it was scary. It's been really interesting to watch me get out of the way of myself."

Rauch, the director, recognized Green's interest in the process of making the play — his willingness to explore both himself and "what art can do."

"My job as a director is to go to that edge, the edge of our comfort," Rauch, 42, said. "There's a beautiful area where you are stretching yourself beyond where you thought you could as an artist, as an actor. And my job is to find that tension and inspire and push us to go right to that edge, so that we create the possibility of transformation for both Jarvis and for everyone who's in that audience."

As Green anticipates taking the stage in Every Brilliant Thing, he knows how his days will unfold before an evening performance. He'll get up early in the house in West Lebanon, N.H., where he lives with his partner, Julien Blanchet, a roboticist, and their dog, Jameson. He'll play a sound bath in their home, a soft recording of tones and rhythms as a kind of "invitation" to the day for him and his family.

He'll burn palo santo, a tree bark, and go for a run; he'll do some yoga. Green will arrive at the theater at about 6 p.m. for a 30-minute physical warm-up before his 7:30 p.m. performance. He'll be ready to welcome the audience, which he called "the last component" of a play.

The process of making Every Brilliant Thing met its purpose of helping him emerge from depression, Green said. He also sought medical treatment.

"I've been able to tap into some things that really matter: community collaboration and doing things that you love," he said. "Theater-making is a beautiful way to show us all our humanity. To tap into the story of this one particular person, I get to sit with what it means to be human and to be thoughtful and to think about mental health."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Center Stage | JAG Productions founder Jarvis Antonio Green steps into the spotlight in Every Brilliant Thing"

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