- Courtesy Of Artistree
It's been a big inaugural year for Upper Valley theater company JAG Productions. Since its inception in 2016, the company has produced August Wilson's Fences, a classic American play, and the Vermont premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy, a contemporary play. The company has also mounted a play festival, featuring lectures, discussions and readings of new works by emerging playwrights. All of these productions had a common theme, which is the heart of JAG Production's mission: to celebrate and elevate black theater artists.
It seems this ambition has paid off: JAG Productions is a recipient of the 2017 New England Theatre Conference Regional Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theater. Other recipients this year include Connecticut Repertory Theatre, Arts for Teens in Massachusetts and Warner Stage Company in Connecticut.
The awards have been granted since the 1950s for regional companies that, in the view of the NETC board, show exemplary work. Though the awards are annual, they have been inconsistently bestowed: Between two and six recipients have received it each year. But one thing is certain: It flatters those who receive it.
"We're just babies; I don't know if we deserve this!" founder and producing artistic director of JAG Productions Jarvis Antonio Green told Seven Days by phone. "But I'll take it," he quickly added.
It's true, the award is generally given to more established companies. As an example, Vermont Young Playwrights received the award in 2004, when it was 11 years old. But sometimes innovative, immediate work cannot be ignored. In a statement describing each of the award winners, NETC said of JAG Productions: "They are the ONLY company trying to bring African American theater to Vermont, and they have used lots of means of outreach ... to bring understanding to a state mostly lacking in diversity."
As Green put it in an August 2016 interview with Seven Days, "Let's face it, Vermont is mostly white."
That has not stopped him from galvanizing local black artists or attracting others from across the country to establish an incubator for African American-centric theater.
Winning the award had Green honored, humbled, giddy and overwhelmed — at times he could hardly finish a sentence. His delight in the company's achievements this year was palpable, as was his anticipation of next year's programming.
"I'm really excited about JAGFest this year," Green said of JAG Productions' new-play festival. "Last year, it was an idea that we had to execute really quickly. This year, we're going to be putting on work that no one has ever seen before, and all the playwrights will be here developing their pieces."
JAG Productions, which is based in Woodstock, will also mount a play about Billie Holiday, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, by Lanie Robertson.
The NETC award represents favorable recognition from the larger theater community that an unlikely pairing — African American theater in rural Vermont — is having a notable impact. Green holds on to that idea. "The world is crazy," he laments, "but doing this work is the one thing that anchors me. With everything going on out there, I'm just going to focus on my community. That's all we can really do right now."