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

'My Humanity Reflected': Actor And Artistic Director Jarvis Green

A black man wearing a shirt reading "silence=death" sits inside a theater.
Elodie Reed
Actor and artistic director Jarvis Green founded JAG Productions, an African American theater company that operates out of the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

Jarvis Green is a 38-year-old actor, artistic director, and founder of JAG Productions, an African American theater company based in the Upper Valley.

This is the story, in Green's own words, about his journey from Brooklyn to Barnard, Vt., where he founded BarnArts Center For The Arts, and finally to his current creative home at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, where he brings the work of black theater artists to life.

(The following has been condensed and edited for clarity).

Check out our other Young At Art stories, about Vermont artists under 40, here.

I was living in Brooklyn, working as a theater artist and cultural worker, which basically meant that I was showing up to auditions and getting shopped outside of the city to regional theaters across the country, let's say 10 to 15 years ago, as a black queer musical theater artist.

Red doors.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
The doors to the theater inside Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

The opportunities were very slim. There was the token musicals that were always getting produced. But there was just something that I was still, like, yearning for, and wanting from the American theater, from theater in general, that just reflected a little bit more closely to my own life.

Because that's what's so amazing about theater: you go and you get to experience with other people. It's like church. It's a community. And with that, your own humanity is being reflected back to you. And oftentimes, I didn't feel like my own humanity was reflected back to me, on the stage.

A lighted mirror and red curtain.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
A dressing room inside the Briggs Opera House, where JAG Productions has invited African American artists to spend a week in February for the past several years.

And so I have a friend. His name is Jonah Hankin-Rappaport. I call him, and I'm like, “Look, Jonah, I'm really struggling.”

And so he was like, “Hey, I'm going to go up to Vermont. My girlfriend is finishing up school, and we're gonna be working on this farm in Barnard, called Fable Farm. Just come hang out for a summer.”

A styrofoam bust, painted brown.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
A bust used for holding wigs for the JAG production, 'Lady Day At Emerson's Bar and Grill,' sits in the office of Jarvis Green at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

I grew up in the South. I love nature, I love being outside, I love getting my hands dirty. And so he picked me up, me and my pitbull rescue dog.

And so I get here, and I'm just immediately drawn to the way of living. Geographically, how beautiful it is, the stillness. And so, what's so fascinating and brilliant about this farm was that they were using the arts, music, dance, theater — bridging agriculture and the arts.

And I was just fascinated. I was like, "Oh God, this is just incredible." Hundreds and hundreds of people were coming to pick up their produce while there was bands from all over the world, sometimes theater. I was like, "Wow, this is what it really means to build community."

And that sparked something in me.

Growing up in Anderson, South Carolina, a little queer boy that was a singer in the church, cultural institutions was like my second home. And although there was like, love within my family, there was this other component, and this other side of me that my family couldn't quite connect to. And so, I found a second home within the theater that was a safe place.

A man holds up framed images of black women.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Jarvis Green holds up the images of Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Turner, and Angela Davis, a few of the black icons he framed in order to create an immersive experience during JAG's production of 'Lady Day At Emerson's Bar and Grill,' a jazz musical about one of Billie Holiday's last performances.

So here I am in Barnard, and that community was missing a focal point to gather regularly. Like when you're in rural spaces, it's so important that we find places where we can connect regularly.

And so what ended up happening was, we started a summer youth theater program. We started a chorale, which now is their annual winter solstice concert. There are community theater pieces throughout the year. I think they're doing three shows right now.

But things that you don't address and get to the root of, just keep coming back.

A theater counter with playbills.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
As a black, queer actor, Jarvis Green didn't always see himself reflected in American theater offerings. But since he's started JAG Productions, an African American theater company, that's begun to change.

I felt like people were seeing their humanity reflected back to them with the work that was happening, and that’s what I wanted, because it was for this community. But there was still that question, when is it our turn, when is it my turn to see my humanity reflected within my creativity and my art.

Today, I'm now the founder and producing artistic director of JAG productions, which is an African American theater company based in White River Junction. The thing that I had been struggling with for so long is now happening.

A man stands outside an awning.
Credit Emily Corwin / VPR
Jarvis Green has found a creative home in White River Junction, where he founded JAG Productions, an African American theater company that operates of the of Briggs Opera House.

And I’m seeing the impact within my own personal life. And then there is this gorgeous exchange. White people get to experience the work, and learn, while there is this safe space for our black community, POC community that live here.

But also, with our artists who come from all over, there’s another hub, and people are itching and dying to tell those stories, so when there’s an opportunity, people are latching onto them.

Correction 1:45 p.m.: A caption in an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of the women pictured as Whitney Houston. It is Tina Turner.

This story is part of our series, Young At Art. Every Monday this summer we'll hear from artists under 40 about what inspires their work and how they view the future for artists in the state. Support for Young At Art comes fromQuantum Leap Capital.

Emily Corwin reported investigative stories for VPR until August 2020. In 2019, Emily was part of a two-newsroom team which revealed that patterns of inadequate care at Vermont's eldercare facilities had led to indignities, injuries, and deaths. The consequent series, "Worse for Care," won a national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting, and placed second for a 2019 IRE Award. Her work editing VPR's podcast JOLTED, about an averted school shooting, and reporting NHPR's podcast Supervision, about one man's transition home from prison, made her a finalist for a Livingston Award in 2019 and 2020. Emily was also a regular reporter and producer on Brave Little State, helping the podcast earn a National Edward R. Murrow Award for its work in 2020. When she's not working, she enjoys cross country skiing and biking.
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