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Art Notes: JAG Productions heads for the hills with theater series

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    A scene from the Feb. 7, 2020, performance of Jeremy O'Brian's "a curious thing; or superheroes k’aint fly" during JAGfest 4.0. The play returns for a workshop production on August 13-15, 2021, at JAG Production's Theatre on the Hill outdoor summer series at the King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich, Vt. (Rob Strong photograph) Rob Strong—Copyright 2020 Rob Strong

  • Jarvis Green, JAG Production’s Founder and Producing Artistic Director, in a April 14, 2017, photograph. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jovelle Tamayo—Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo

  • JAG Productions' Theatre on the Hill series is to be performed on a grassy hill at King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich, Vt., from Aug. 13 until Sept. 12, 2021. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2021 9:39:23 PM
Modified: 7/21/2021 9:39:29 PM

Walking up onto a rise next to King Arthur Baking’s café, Jarvis Green laid out a vision for what’s going to happen there next month.

Turning toward the café and baking store during Tuesday’s noon-hour swelter, he held up his arms and said, “We’ll have, like, food and beverage, where people can kind of congregate and hang.”

Then, turning back toward the rolling green space circumscribed by King Arthur’s driveway off Route 5, he outlined a kind of oasis, delineated by flags hanging from bamboo poles. He ran down the hill and up a second rise that will be surmounted by a 40-foot-by-40-foot stage with a cloth scrim that extends out over the audience.

There, Green’s company, JAG Productions, plans to present Theatre on the Hill, a slate of four outdoor productions in partnership with the Norwich-based baking company. The outdoor setting is designed both to end the 17-month, pandemic-imposed gap in JAG’s live performances and to renew public acquaintance with Green’s mission — exposing Upper Valley audiences to theater that examines the Black experience — at a time when people might be particularly receptive.

“If you don’t go to the theater, I think it’s a great opportunity to investigate it,” Green said. “I think it’s a great time to remind people that art-making and theater-making are for them. It’s for the people.”

Theater looks in two directions, as a diversion and as engagement, and Theatre on the Hill, Green said, is meant to welcome audiences, but also to address the issues that the past year brought up: pandemic illness, political upheaval and racial reckoning.

“I think that’s where healing begins,” he added. “To come back, on this space and in this partnership, it had to happen, really.”

The Theatre on the Hill shows start with one that JAG helped develop: a curious thing; or superheroes k’aint fly, in production Aug. 13-15, was performed as a staged reading as part of JAGFest 4.0, the annual festival for the development of new plays that JAG produces. This time around, it will be a workshop production, at a more advanced stage than it was in February 2020.

The series continues with Green’s adaptation of Next to Normal, a 2008 musical that won three Tony Awards. It observes a suburban family struggling with the effects of mental illness. Performances are scheduled for Aug. 20-22 and 27-29. Green directs.

Burlesque, a mix of comedy, theater and striptease, is a rarity in the Upper Valley, and Black burlesque is vanishingly rare, so Life in Sepia: Vermont’s Black Burlesque Revue, planned for Sept. 3-5, promises the seldom-seen. It’s also a bit of a historical corrective, as Black performers were central to burlesque but have been “erased or hidden by society,” JAG said in a statement.

Burlesque is “out of my comfort zone,” Green said, not because it’s risqué, but because it’s a new art form to him and it’s a challenge to figure out how it works as theater.

And the season closes with performances Sept. 10-12 of For the Love of Jazz, by Raven Cassell, a regular participant in JAGFest. The show focuses on a woman living in the 1920s and ’30s who puts her career and sexuality first.

As is usually the case with JAG Productions, the Theatre on the Hill shows wouldn’t otherwise take place in the Upper Valley. The partnership with King Arthur also is an essential element.

Ben Rapson, King Arthur’s social media manager, has a background in theater and film and had volunteered with JAG. He joined Green on Tuesday’s walk around the future stage.

And the baking company is among the local firms that became JAG Ambassadors, which make their businesses both financial supporters and allies of JAG’s mission “to catalyze compassion, empathy, love, and community through shared understandings of the humankind through the lens of the African-American experience.”

King Arthur raised more than $8,000 for JAG through its “Baking a Stand” program, in which it sells an item made from a recipe provided by a baker from the Black, Indigenous or people of color or LGBTQ communities in the King Arthur café. Proceeds go to nonprofits that advance those causes.

Partnering with JAG “ties into the diversity, equity and inclusion work that King Arthur has been trying to do,” Rapson said.

“What a way,” he added, “for us to put our money where our mouth is.”

General admission tickets for Theatre on the Hill cost $25 for all shows and are on sale now at jagproductionsvt.com/theatre-on-a-hill. The house will open at 6:30 p.m., with food trucks on-site, and performances start at 8 p.m.

‘All the world’s a stage’

It certainly seems as if Shakespeare’s fabled dictum (from As You Like It) has come true. Theater is everywhere, and the Bard is, too.

On Wednesday, Northern Stage’s Summer Shakespeare Intensive, a program for high school students, opened a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Summer puts us in a liminal state. It’s all about movement and romance, and no play better dramatizes that phenomenon than this one.

The production runs through Aug. 1 in Northern Stage’s new Courtyard Theater, and general admission tickets cost $19 for students and $25 for adults.

On Monday, one of the Upper Valley’s great summer programs, The Chelsea Funnery, screens its annual Shakespeare production at the Fairlee Drive-In. This year’s show is Twelfth Night, another of Shakespeare’s comedies.

The Funnery typically performs the show that ends the two-week program at small venues, but is filming this year’s out of deference to the pandemic. The production is usually raffish and fun, with multiple actors playing different characters. A memorable 2010 production of Hamlet featured several princes of Denmark, ranging in age from 12 to 17 and of both sexes.

The house opens at 8 p.m., the screening starts at 8:40 and admission is by donation. For more information, go to thechelseafunnery.com.

A word about masks

At Saturday night’s opening performance of Opera North’s Summerfest, I was surprised to see that virtually the entire audience wore masks under the circus tent at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish. I had brought one with me, but now that I’m vaccinated, and that I know vaccination rates in the Twin States are high, I haven’t been wearing one much.

So this is a reminder to check the website of any entertainment venue you plan to attend. Many will still require masks for audiences. By all means, go see a show, but look out for your neighbors while you’re at it.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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