In June of 2020, 16 Black theatre artists from all over the country gathered on a New England farm to focus on Black joy.
It was an inspired act of resistance.
JAG Productions, a tiny theatre company based in White River Junction, Vt., had been mounting its first off-Broadway play in addition to its regular programming when COVID hit and then George Floyd was murdered.
“We were in desperate need of an opportunity to focus on storytelling that was healing and not centered on our pain and struggle, but our joy,” said Jarvis Green, JAG Productions founder and artistic director.
For a month, the group explored the question, “Can we make theatre that isn’t in response to racism or white supremacy or whiteness?” The resulting film, “Homecoming, a Return to Black Joy,” is in production. As the world roiled, this organization adapted — and gave. A Foundation grant helped JAG continue its work.
Jarvis hosted “Come as You Are,” a weekly virtual gathering for Black, indigenous and other people of color — particularly those in rural areas. As a wave of violence against transgender people continued to rise, JAG co-hosted “Out Here,” a virtual open mic to benefit a nonprofit supporting trans people.
And Jarvis decided the fifth JAG-fest, an annual festival of dozens of new plays by Black artists, would be staged as radio plays — with love as the central theme.
Anyone who has ever struggled to explain the importance of the arts might try this, from JAG’s mission:
“…to catalyze compassion, empathy, love, and community through shared understandings of humankind through the lens of the African American experience…”
“For me, theatre is the only art form where humanity confronts itself,” Jarvis said, “and that is where that empathy, that shared humankind, happens.”