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Versatile Artist Jarvis Antonio Green Has Found an Audience in the Upper Valley (Video)

  • Photographed in West Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 1, 2018, Jarvis Antonio Green is the founding producing artistic director for JAG Productions and BarnArts Center for the Arts. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bill Carmichael, as Mr. Pendleton, plays a classroom scene with Will T. Travis, as Pharus Young, middle, and Claxton Rabb, as David Heard, right, as director Jarvis Green observes at left, during rehearsal in the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, November 2, 2016. Choir Boy was written by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, known for his Brother / Sister Trilogy, and the new film Moonlight based on his play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. (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
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

In the run-up to this weekend’s second annual JAGfest of new plays by African-American dramatists, Jarvis Antonio Green is reveling in the multi-tasking.

The 36-year-old artistic director of JAG Productions has been caught up in leading some 30 actors, playwrights and production crew through rehearsals for staged readings of four new plays by African-American dramatists, and in diverting his colleagues through a variety of outreach and leisure activities. Sledding, anyone?

At the same time, he has another community on his mind: the group of children he began mentoring at the Upper Valley Haven last fall.

“I actually miss them, because I’ve been so involved with JAGfest,” Green said during an interview at the Valley News last week. “I haven’t had a chance to be there.”

So the more than 30 youngsters from kindergarten through grade 8, a mix of current and former homeless guests of the Haven’s family shelter, have noticed.

“They sort of understand that he has something going right now,” Sara Kobylenski, the Haven’s executive director said on Tuesday. “We’ve been able to show the kids what he’s doing, why he’s not here, but they still miss him. … He has a lot of life experience and a lot of good, intuitive appreciation for people, and has a boundless amount of energy.

“He has brought a special electricity for the kids, for whom he is truly magical.”

When he arrived in the Upper Valley in 2011, he wasn’t envisioning himself as a pioneer introducing African-American theater to local audiences, never mind lighting up a fan base at the Haven. The South Carolina native came to Barnard to direct a youth production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella for the BarnArts Center for the Arts.

And yet he stayed, and found an audience, a community and an uncommon role in American theater.

“The summer: That was going to be it,” Green recalls. “But it gave me … a focus, a purpose. I sort of held onto that, and wanted to continue on that path. At the same time, I was completely open to other experiences. I was always open.”

Soon enough, Green was leading BarnArts through productions of the musicals The 39 Steps, Master Class, Porgy and Bess in Concert, Oliver!, Grease and Little Shop of Horrors.

By late 2014, he was overseeing the South Pomfret-based ArtisTree Community Arts Center’s productions of Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Fiddler on the Roof.

His performance and directing credits suggest he’s been one of the busiest and most versatile talents in the area. A partial list shows that Green found time to:

Recruit and sing baritone with Cantare con Spirito, a touring group of classical vocalists from around the Northeast;

Co-star in Northern Stage’s productions of Clybourne Park, the Bruce Norris satire about the flight of white families to the suburbs in response to the arrival of black families, in Our Town and in the courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men;

Sing and dance in Pentangle Arts’ stagings of The Wizard of Oz and Pirates of Penzance;

Direct North Country Community Theatre’s production of Seussical the Musical.

As the years went by, he realized he’d arrived home.

“It’s really been about finding a place where there was community,” Green said, “where people who appreciated my voice and my work and my passion and my drive.”

Little in Green’s early life and artistic training pointed him toward one of the whitest states in the Union. He grew up in Anderson, S.C., one of four children of a single mother who worked multiple jobs to keep them housed and fed.

“I never felt, even at home, that I really belonged there,” Green recalled. “I was kind of an artsy kid. I felt a little out of place.”

Green still wonders whether he would have stayed there, and languished, if a woman at his family’s church hadn’t urged the then-10-year-old to audition for a boys’ choir.

“I got into this world of artistic expression,” he said. “I realized, ‘There’s, like, form and shape and structure to artistic ability,’ which literally changed the course of my life. … If that mentor had never said, ‘You have something,’ I don’t know where I would be.”

Green’s experience in the choir led him first to the South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts in Greenville, then to his hometown Anderson University, where he majored in voice performance and minored in theater arts.

After graduating from Anderson in 2002, he recalls, he learned fairly quickly that there weren’t a lot of openings for black baritones in musical theater “unless you were someone like (Broadway star) Brian Stokes Mitchell” or in opera where “it’s pretty much the Met or nothing.”

Thus began an odyssey of a decade that included an acting workshop at Juilliard and stage roles in Seattle and in New York.

“When I was working regionally as a performer, I paid really close attention to the stage managers, the artistic directors, all of the production side of things,” Green said. “I saw how they made these experiences great for everybody. I built a kind of sense memory, that I channel back now to help guide and steer the work I’m doing here.”

From the start, Green impressed the performers he worked with, among them singer-actress Margaret Hunton, who now lives in Norwich. They met during the BarnArts production of Porgy and Bess, and she returned for more of his guidance in ArtisTree’s Fiddler on the Roof.

“He’s a lovely spirit,” Hunton said. “He understands the emotions behind the characters in the play.”

He also can bring emotions to bear in concert, as Hunton learned while joining Cantare con Spirito in 2015.

“He has a really beautiful singing voice,” Hunton recalled. “We did a duet that was such a joy.”

After his tenure with ArtisTree, Green decided he needed to extend his theatrical work beyond the mostly-Caucasian theatrical canon. One of the triggers, early in the summer of 2016, was the shooting by police in a Minneapolis suburb of African-American Philando Castile, while Castile’s wife documented the incident on video. So before taking a leave of absence to drive across the country and act in My Heart Is the Drum at the Village Theatre in Seattle, he started doing the paperwork for the formation of JAG Productions.

“I wanted to be mindful of exactly what stories I wanted to tell,” Green said. “I decided the first one we would do was Choir Boy.”

JAG’s production of acclaimed dramatist Tarell Alvin McCraney’s coming-of-age story, set in a Southern prep school for young African-American men, ran at the Briggs Opera House in the fall of 2016.

The following February, Green hosted his first JAGfest, with a staged reading of Harrison David Rivers’ play Sweet and a performance of Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical.

During this weekend’s JAGfest 2.0 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, the readings start Friday night at 7:30 with Nathan Yungerberg’s Esai’s Table, a fable following three young black men on a journey at sea.

On Saturday afternoon at 4 comes Zhailon Levingston’s The Hole, what Green describes as “a riff on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof involving two prisoners in solitary confinement.

The Saturday night offering, at 7:30, is an untitled play by Korde Arrington Tuttle that “investigates the relationship between space exploration and the Middle Passage of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

The readings conclude on Sunday afternoon at 4 with NSangou Njikam’s Re: Definition, in which the playwright uses hip-hop theater and West African performance conventions to follow a young man tracing his African roots.

After each show, Dartmouth College-based scholars of theater, literature, history and African-American culture will moderate conversations with the performers and the writers.

The series continues Green’s effort to introduce voices that white America in general and the Upper Valley’s overwhelmingly-Caucasian majority in particular would not otherwise hear.

“None of these plays has been published,” Green said. “They are being developed here, for our audiences.”

Since last year’s JAGfest, Green has been deliberately expanding those audiences by cultivating relationships with Dartmouth’s theater and social-studies departments, and with the college’s micro-communities of students of color and of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We’re in a bit of a bubble here,” Green said. “This is a way to let students know what’s going on in the community around them.”

Northern Stage artistic director Carol Dunne, for whom Green portrayed the character Simon Simpson in Our Town, welcomes the perspective Green has brought to the Upper Valley.

“Jarvis has a compelling mission to bring diversity to the theater scene,” Dunne wrote in an email on Tuesday. “We live in a predominantly white area, yet our audiences are hungry for work that reflects our beautifully diverse country. Making theater is always challenging, and taking artistic risks is the hallmark of a great artistic director. In financially difficult times, it is easier to take the easy road. Jarvis is following his passion and making theater that is making a difference.”

Toward that end, Green will, after JAGfest 2.0, audition three finalists to play jazz/blues singer Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The play, set in 1959, will run in May at multiple Upper Valley venues.

Green also will stage, this fall, Radio Golf, the second of 10 plays in August Wilson’s Century Series exploring the lives of working-class African-Americans in Pittsburgh, that Green hopes to direct over a decade.

“I’m still learning how many people of color are here,” Green said. “It’s not huge, but we’re here. … The fact that I’ve been able to find a place as far up north as the Upper Valley … and do the work I’m doing, and having an impact on lives and people, that’s what we all hope and wish for, I think. I’m grateful that I was able to come to a community with people who were open to my artistic expression, my voice.”

Between Lady Day and Radio Golf, Green will return to his audience at the Haven.

“It’s just me being in the space and engaging them,” he said. “There’s no agenda. We’re not there to discipline them. We’re providing space for kids to just be who they are.

“So much of my work is cerebral, and grunt work, computer work. This is just, like, in my body. You can’t be anywhere but present with those kids. Every time I’m there, I feel like I’m more rooted into the earth. I’m rock solid.

“It’s just a great balance for me.”

Jarvis Antonio Green hosts his second annual JAGfest showcase of staged readings of new works by African-American dramatists over the weekend, starting Friday night at 7:30, at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. For tickets ($15 for each individual performance or $50 for admission to all four), visit jagproductionsvt.com/jagfest2. JAGfest also will host a dance party at Piecemeal Pies in downtown White River Junction on Friday night at 10; admission at the door is $10.

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