JAG Productions announces closure, citing ‘crisis facing the arts’

Jarvis Green, founder and artistic director of JAG Productions, in his dressing room at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jarvis Green, founder and artistic director of JAG Productions, in his dressing room at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

By NICOLA SMITH

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-24-2024 5:31 PM

Modified: 04-29-2024 6:31 PM


JAG Productions, the White River Junction theater company that has championed the work of Black, queer and trans artists, announced last week that it is closing in June after eight years of bringing groundbreaking work to the Upper Valley.

Jarvis Antonio Green, JAG Productions’ founder and artistic director, wrote in a public statement that “the broader crisis facing the arts has not spared us. Last year alone, hundreds of not-for-profit theaters across the country were forced to close their doors, victims of a model that increasingly proves unsustainable amid shifting societal support and financial pressures.”

The company will end its run on June 14 and 15 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction with the solo, 75-minute show Sondheimia, starring Lucille Lortel Award and Drama Desk Award-winner Larry Owens, who performs the songs of Stephen Sondheim.

Until 2023, JAG Productions had rented the Briggs Opera House for its productions, and during 2021 and 2022 had shifted its performances to Theatre on the Hill, an outdoor venue provided by King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich.

Both Green and JAG Productions’ board of directors declined to comment on the company’s closure. In its own public statement the board of directors wrote that “the decision to close JAG has been a difficult one, reflecting how the (COVID-19) pandemic revealed the precarity of the arts in the wider world. Nonetheless, we take solace and pride in the transformative impact of nearly a decade of work from JAG Productions.”

JAG Productions’ residency at Theatre on the Hill at King Arthur Baking Company ended in 2023 because of staffing and infrastructure constraints, Carey Underwood, the director of mission partnerships and programs at King Arthur, has previously told the Valley News.

Nevertheless, Underwood wrote in an email this week that “the profound impact of JAG Productions on the Upper Valley community leaves an indelible mark, and they will be deeply missed.”

Since its inception in 2016, JAG Productions has brought to Upper Valley theatergoers both an unswerving commitment to Black and queer theater and an audacious range of work by playwrights of color. In doing so it brought in new and loyal audiences.

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JAG has staged productions of “Choir Boy” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Fences” by August Wilson, “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” by Lanie Robertson, among others. JAG also developed JAGfest, a festival of new work by up-and-coming Black playwrights.

Green, who is in his 40s and grew up in South Carolina, has been recognized for his innovation. In 2022 he received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the highest honor presented to an artist by the state of Vermont. In 2017 he was the recipient of the New England Theatre Conference’s Regional Award for Outstanding Achievement in the American Theatre.

The company has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Couch Family Foundation, which donates to organizations serving the Upper Valley. Green also designed a Black theater curriculum for Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and Northern Vermont University.

Green wrote that he will now pursue an MFA in directing.

“JAG has been an incredible gift to our region,” said Carol Dunne, the producing artistic director for Northern Stage in White River Junction. Dunne worked with Green as an actor at both New London Barn Playhouse and at Northern Stage, where he played the role of the choir director in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which in 2015 was the inaugural production of the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction.

The closure of JAG Productions will leave a void, Dunne said. “That missing voice leaves a hole that I hope can and will be filled with more diverse voices. Theater begets theater, and as theater companies grow in our region, the region becomes stronger. We need as a community to support diverse voices in the arts even more.”

The calamitous effect of the pandemic on theater and other live performance can’t be underestimated, said Perry Allison, the producing artistic director of We The People Theatre in White River Junction. Audiences have been slower to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Revels North has canceled its annual December holiday concert for 2024 because of financial difficulties, its creative director wrote in a letter in early April to supporters, according to reporting in the Valley News.

“I think Jarvis had done great work, and the community was very supportive. It’s a tough business, a really hard business,” Allison said.

Dunne said that she has seen at Northern Stage a “slow, slow building back. It’s a national challenge. But people are coming back and we are feeling more and more hunger now for great work in the theater. It’s been a very hard journey.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@ nicola smith.org.

CORRECTION: JAG Productions’ Theatre on the Hill performances were held at King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich. JAG staged a production of Lanie Robertson’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” The name of the Norwich company and the playwright’s name were incorrect in an earlier version of this story.