- Courtesy of ArtisTree
The Upper Valley will soon be home to a brand-new theater company, JAG Productions, with the tagline "Bold theatre that reflects the times." Founder and producing artistic director Jarvis Antonio Green, who formerly headed a theater company at ArtisTree Community Arts Center & Gallery, is partnering with that local arts center on his latest venture.
ArtisTree, an arts hub in South Pomfret, offers classes in everything from ceramics to movement, and maintains an art gallery and performance space in its renovated barn. In 2015, Green directed its inaugural production, Fiddler on the Roof.
Since then, the South Carolina-born, New York-trained theater artist has had the opportunity to travel for his own acting career. This past spring, Green went to Seattle to join the original cast of a new musical, My Heart Is the Drum. But ArtisTree founder and executive director Kathleen Dolan encouraged Green to stay involved with the Vermont nonprofit's programming despite his frequent out-of-state gigs. And so JAG Productions was born.
In a phone interview from his home in South Pomfret, Green recalls that "I originally came up to Vermont to work with [Barnard's] Fable Farm and grow vegetables. I was just trying to recharge and get away from New York for a bit. I stayed." That was almost five years ago.
Green describes himself as, "like a lot of people, amazed by the natural beauty and the strong sense of community that Vermont has to offer." He soon became an integral part of the local arts scene, helping to create BarnArts Center for the Arts in Barnard. Then he was recruited to work for ArtisTree.
Marketing director Tayo Skarrow explains, "The theater program is still new, and we want to be able to grow it. Our main mission is to bring high-quality theater to communities that would not otherwise experience it."
Green will help ArtisTree do just that in November, when JAG presents the Vermont premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney's play Choir Boy. McCraney is a new American playwright who has already garnered high acclaim. Best known for his trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, he was a Royal Shakespeare Company international playwright-in-residence and the recipient of the Whiting and Steinberg Playwright awards, as well as the inaugural recipient of the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award in 2009.
Choir Boy tells the coming-of-age story of a student who sings in the choir of an elite prep school for young black men. The play incorporates soulful gospel music, deals with themes of masculinity and homosexuality in the black community, challenges history and tradition, and, at its core, explores what it takes to harbor forbidden love. It is exactly the type of show that Green hopes to keep producing with JAG Productions.
"Let's face it, Vermont is mostly white," he says. "I'm not trying to say that people here are trying to be exclusionary; it just is that way. But Vermont needs Choir Boy, because I'm here and I'm black.
"If you value me, and you value the work that I do, then I need to speak my truth and tell my story, and that means telling the stories of black people," Green continues. "That's not to say that it's the only kind of story we will tell. But I think that Vermont is really welcoming of diversity and of diverse voices. We want to tell stories that are outside of what Vermonters normally experience and reflect the greater world around us."
Indeed, Green's mission statement for JAG Productions declares: "We want our communities to come to the theatre and hear new stories. After hearing new stories, we want them to be shifted."
What does he mean by "shifted"? Green explains, "The play should leave you different than before. It means that you reflect the world around you a little differently. When I first read Choir Boy ... I was so taken by it, just so excited by it, that I knew it had to be the first show that [JAG] produced. I was shifted, and I had to tell this story."