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Director Finds an Audience for a Dialogue About Race

  • The JAG Productions Producing Artistic Director Jarvis Green watches a scene of Choir Boy during technical rehearsal at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt. Wednesday, November 2, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, February 18, 2017

Jarvis Antonio Green is working toward a day when seeing a cast of all or mostly African-American actors on an Upper Valley stage is a common occurrence.

For his next step toward that end, the 35-year-old actor, director and producer is hosting a festival next weekend that includes staged readings of two plays by emerging African-American writers, lectures by one of the directors and by an entrepreneur in black theater, and a performance of a children’s musical inspired by the integration of black children into the public schools of Little Rock, Ark., in the late 1950s.

“When I started JAG Productions, about a dozen plays were submitted to me that sat for quite some time in my desk,” Green recalled this week. “I read a few of them, talked with some of the playwrights and figured out whose schedules would fit with ours.

“In the end, the enthusiasm of the playwrights made it really easy.”

Green started daydreaming about introducing his friends, fellow artists and neighbors to a steadier diet of works from emerging playwrights of color last October and November, while directing Choir Boy at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

Then he started receiving notes about his JAG Productions’ adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play about young African-American men coming of age at a Southern prep school.

“There was a guttural response to so much that’s happening in the country right now,” Green said. “The biggest responses were from schools: lovely letters from students who came to see the show at our free matinees. We had something like 300 kids see it, and a lot of them talked about the impact it had on the way they look at the world. It helped me realize they are in a community that’s open, that has a gratefulness for being let in on this culture.”

The response emboldened Green, a South Carolina native who has been active in Upper Valley theater as an actor, singer, director and producer since moving to the Woodstock area in 2011, to start organizing JAGFest for the final weekend of February.

It opens on Friday night at 7:30 at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, with a staged reading of Sweet, Harrison David Rivers’ drama about sisters in an all-black town in Kansas whose relationship comes undone after their mother dies. The director for the reading, Taylor Reynolds, will talk about her work as producing artistic director of the New York-based Movement Theatre Company, during a presentation next Saturday morning at 11 at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library.

On Saturday night at the library, JAG will stage a reading of Smart People. Lydia Diamond’s play listens in on four accomplished residents of Cambridge, Mass., as they discuss race on the eve of Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008.

“We decided to do both plays as readings because in many ways they do better in that setting,” Green said. “The dialogue is so poignant and brilliant, you don’t want to be distracted by other production elements. Especially with Sweet, you can close your eyes and just listen.”

Between the readings next Saturday, audiences can choose to listen to a range of discussions on the state of black theater at the Williams library. At 10 in the morning, Andrew Shade, the editor and co-founder of the trade website broadwayblack.com, will highlight achievements of African-American artists on and off-Broadway. And after Reynolds’ lecture, the casts of the two plays will gather at the library at 2 p.m. to talk about issues of diversity in American theater.

“I met (Shade) through social media, invited him through Facebook,” Green said. “I thought it was important to bring in someone from the entrepreneurial side. There’s something there. There’s this element of theater artists in general sticking together in this political climate.”

The festival’s pendulum will swing from discussion back to performance on Sunday night, with Broadway actress Lillias White sharing her one-woman show The Lillias White Effect, in which she recounts her upbringing in Brooklyn and her career, which includes an Emmy-winning series of appearances on Sesame Street.

For the festival’s final act, actors Green knows will perform Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical on Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. in Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre. The play follows the struggles of Lily Polkadot, an 8-year-old girl who moves to a small town where she’s the only person of her colors (everyone is polka-dotted, but hers are a different color), and finds obstacles ranging from bullying to a segregated water fountain.

Green won’t be resting for long after the festival. In April, JAG will stage August Wilson’s Fences, kicking off a 10-year run through the late playwright’s Century Cycle of dramas about black families’ struggles in each decade of the 1900s in Pittsburgh. He hopes to collaborate with various theater companies as it evolves.

“It is ambitious,” Green acknowledged. “But that’s the plan.”

For this long march, Green is counting on his track record starting the BarnArts arts program in Barnard and directing the theater program at ArtisTree, as well as on the audiences inspired by Choir Boy, to bring inquiring minds to the shows to come.

“There’s a network and a community of young artists in the Upper Valley,” Green said. “There’s a lot happening culturally and artistically, for an area where the population’s not that big. I feel like I’m adding to what’s already here.”

JAGFest begins Friday night at 7:30, with a staged reading of Harrison David Rivers’ playSweetat ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. The festival concludes on Monday morning at 10 at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre, with a performance ofPolkadots: The Cool Kids Musical. For more information about these events and the festival offerings between them, visit jagproductionsvt.org. While admission to all events is free, reservations are required by calling 802-332-3270 or emailing info@jagproductionsvt.org.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Correction

After directing a staged reading of Harrison David Rivers' play Sweet on Friday night at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, Taylor Reynolds will appear at Woodstock's Norman Williams Public Library on Saturday morning to talk about her work as producing artistic director of the New York-based Movement Theatre Company. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Reynolds' line of work and her gender.