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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Black Theater in N.H.'s (Very White) Upper Valley? Why Not?

Zhailon Levingston, one of four visiting playwrights with the second annual JAGfest, speaks on a panel at Dartmouth College Tuesday.
James Napoli
Zhailon Levingston, one of four visiting playwrights with the second annual JAGfest, speaks on a panel at Dartmouth College Tuesday.

New works in progress by black playwrights will be performed this weekend in the Upper Valley. The festival is sponsored byJAG productions, a relatively new black theater company that’s been drawing audiences across western New Hampshire and eastern Vermont.Listen to the broadcast version of this story

Jarvis Green, JAG’s founder, said the idea to start his company came in part back in 2016, when Philando Castile, a young black man, was shot and killed by a cop in a traffic stop outside of Minneapolis. “What is this fear?" he wondered. "What is this fear of black lives and blackness?”  

Jarvis Green, founder of JAG Productions
Credit James Napoli
Jarvis Green, founder of JAG Productions

His answer? To a certain extent, it comes from popular depictions of black characters – characters presented as one-dimensional, and often threatening.

JAG is an attempt to use the power of theater, of art, to change that narrative. Green’s goal is to present characters of color as fundamentally human, with the same diversity and depth as in any white-centric production.  He’s also hoping to champion black artists, working to counter a disparity in financial support and visibility for their work.

Still, Vermont and New Hampshire are two of the whitest states in the country, and Green is questioned often about why he chooses to work in such a racially homogenous area.

“I’m still formulating a response to that,” he said. “But I think my response right now is coming from the people of color that live here, that have told me how much it means to them to have me here doing this work.”

Beyond that, he asks, "Why not here?"

Why not have black theater here in the Upper Valley? Why not have it everywhere, for that matter? Why do audiences for black theater need to be black?

JAGfest, one of JAG Productions' big events of the year, will feature staged readings and post-show conversation with artists. Performances run Friday through Saturday in White River Junction, VT.

Listen to the audio for more on JAGfest, including reflections from one of this year’s featured playwrights.

Copyright 2021 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Britta is NHPR's reporter in the Monadnock Region and Upper Valley.
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