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JAG Underground was born out of a thirst for community gathering

Tyrone Davis Jr. in his one-man play The Lesson.
JAG Production
Tyrone Davis Jr. performs his one-man play The Lesson.

Starting in 2016, JAG Productions, a Black theater company based in the Upper Valley, hosted Theater on the Hill. It was a series of outdoor performances in Norwich.

The goal was to provide a space where Black and queer artists could share work that reflects and deconstructs racial, gender, sexuality and class hierarchies.

With JAG founder Jarvis Green at its helm, the theater company's outdoor performances attracted large crowds and brought new donors to the company.

"Some of those kind of original visions of how this work can sort of be on this scale and in a very unlikely place — it confirmed the possibility," Green said.

But, like many not-for-profit theater companies in the U.S., support systems and financial scaffolding can change. In the past year, JAG lost its summer outdoor performance space and is back to raising money and partnering with smaller venues in the Upper Valley to put on its shows.

Now, after months of fundraising and planning, JAG has a new artist showcase series called JAG Underground, which debuts Saturday.

JAG Productions founder Jarvis Green spoke with Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch about the series. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mary Williams Engisch: When the former Theater on the Hill space was no longer available, did you know that you wanted to regroup in some way?

JAG Productions founder Jarvis Green
JAG Productions
JAG Productions founder Jarvis Green

Jarvis Green: No, I didn't. We were on the mountaintop, essentially. There was still like room to grow, but I was able to really see the appetite and also our potential. I'm a maximalist. So being able to be in that space with this grand stage, and having all of the space to gather people and food — it was definitely a fantasy that became a reality. When we got the news that they couldn't host us anymore, and we don't have any more information other than that, it was difficult. It was difficult.

Mary Williams Engisch: Well talk about this new program JAG Underground. Tell us what it is and what theatergoers can expect?

Jarvis Green: Yes, the not-for-profit theater is in serious trouble. There is so much strain on not-for-profit theaters, right now. The artistic director of the Long Wharf Theater, Jacob G. Padrón, they recently left their building after so many years. I think that there was like financial X,Y and Z's, or whatever. Jacob's idea was taking their work in the community, and partnering with spaces and stages.

That was kind of the inspiration for JAG Underground. JAG Underground was born out of this need for us to gather again. Also, to partner with venues across the Upper Valley to present our work. It doesn't feel like it was created out of limitation. Although it was, there's still a grandness.

Mary Williams Engisch: Jarvis, you created JAG Underground with this kind of different model —bringing in a new intimate style of theater into local Upper Valley venues. Tell us more about this season. What can we expect?

Jarvis Green: There's still a grandness about the artists that are coming to perform. They are very well versed, trained and have had extensive careers in commercial theaters. They have written and developed these personal stories and new work. I'm excited that I can give these artists a platfor while they're still kind of balancing their artistic careers in the commercial theater, and have these kind of side projects that are in development in New York and other places. Now, they're in a stage where they can say, "Hey, I'm ready to put this on its feet."

We're starting with The Lesson, which is by Tyrone Davis, Jr. — a really incredible artist. He was in Waitress on Broadway, and he is actually in grad school right now to be sex educator.

Which is prompting us all to kind of ask these questions: What do you wish you were taught about sex? Or what do you wish you were taught in sex ed? He wrote this beautiful 60 minute play. It will be at the AVA Gallery for two nights.

Mary Williams Engisch: What do you hope JAG Underground grows into?

Jarvis Green: I think about Joe Papp a lot, the founder of the Public Theater in New York City. The city of New York gave the Public Theater and Joe Papp the current building that they're in, on Astor Place — it's a huge building — for $1 a year for 100 years. I think about what he did with that, and what is necessary to sustain.

I have this fantasy and dream that JAG will get a bone like Joe Papp did. The things that we could do if we had someone else, or something else to support our work. There's already so many ideas and dreams, and I've laid them out and I look at them all the time. We need our community, our state to say, "No, let's not just put it all on the company to do the work," but seeing this work as something that the state, our community, really values and needs.

The Lesson, written and performed by Tyrone Davis Jr. and directed by Henry Gottfried, will be performed April 20 at 7 p.m. and April 21 at 5 p.m. at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, NH.

JAG Productions is an underwriter of Vermont Public.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Corrected: April 22, 2024 at 11:39 AM EDT
Correction: JAG Productions founder Jarvis Green misspoke about the origin of the play The Lesson. We have removed the incorrect information from the interview.
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