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

'Esai's Table': Play Moves From Vermont To Off-Broadway

A box with "Esai's Table New York" written on it in Sharpie marker.
Betty Smith
After making its debut in Vermont, the play "Esai's Table" will open Off-Broadway in March.

Esai’s Table is a new play about the lives of three young, black men that’s just had its world premiere in Vermont. JAG Productions of White River Junction undertook this debut, in partnership with the historic Cherry Lane Theatre in New York, where the production’s next stop will be this coming March.

Before that, though, the production has to make the trip from Vermont to Off-Broadway.

On a recent Monday — the day after the final sold-out performance of Esai's Tablein Vermont —  a crew broke down the set  at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. A half dozen stage hands pushed big, wheeled carts full of lights and sound equipment through the lobby, down the hall to the elevator and eventually to the street.

A ladder.
Credit Betty Smith / VPR
The set for the new play "Esai's Table," which was put on in White River Junction through a partnership between JAG Productions and the Cherry Lane Theatre, was recently broken down and put into storage.

Esai’s Table, which was written by Nathan Yungerberg, takes place in just one room, but it’s a room that’s transformed through various special effects. So taking apart the set was a fairly quiet affair, as it mostly involved the careful deconstruction of electronic systems. 

Supervising everything was Arianna Knapp,  a member of SenovvA’s theatrical team, a partner in the Esai’s Table production. 

“I live up here, but I also have an office in New York, which allows me to work on shows like Esai’s Table with JAG,” Knapp said.  “We had a great run, 15 performances, and now we have to take it all apart, sort it, label it, box it and put it away for the winter; and pull it back out in March so we can load it into New York.”

A woman stands between two red doors.
Credit Betty Smith / VPR
Arianna Knapp of SenovvA supervised the break down of the "Esai's Table" set.

The stage in Cherry Lane Theatre doesn’t have quite the same shape as the one at the Briggs Opera House. The audience will see the set from a slightly different angle, but Knapp said the Esai’s world will be essentially the same.

“It will just be a little taller and a little skinnier,” she said.

The New York premiere of Esai’s Table is scheduled to run from this coming March 19 to April 25, with the same cast. Some of the electronic systems were rented, so they’ll go back to the rental companies.

Most everything else, though, from costumes to props to set pieces, traveled in three trucks to storage just north of Brattleboro, since it’s more affordable to find winter storage in Vermont according to Knapp.

“When it comes time to strike a show, when you’ve had the final performance and you’re going to take it all down and put it away, it goes so much faster than it does when you’re building it and when you’re creating it,” Knapp said. “It’s almost instantaneous. It’s there and then it’s not.”

Well, that’s show biz: here and gone.

People load equipment into a truck.
Credit Betty Smith / VPR
A crew supervised by SenovvA's theatrical team packed away the "Esai's Table" set to be stored before it will be rebuilt Off-Broadway in March.

But the Briggs Opera House, former home of Northern Stage and now a busy community performing arts center, is already booked for several events during the holiday season, including Opera North’s "All Is Calm," an a cappella choral work based on the Christmas Truce of 1914.

And in February, JAG productions will return to Briggs Opera House for a new round of their annual "Festival of New Works in African-American Theater."  This is the same residency workshop where early treatments of Esai’s Table received their first public reading and discussion a year and a half ago.

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