Bringing the New at JAG Productions
It’s a new year. Just about every arts organization in the Upper Valley and beyond has seized upon the moment to share its plans for 2022. It gives me hope, this deluge of emails that assures us that even as this pandemic causes the arts community to bob and weave, no one is yet down for the count. If artists are busy delving into new projects, there must be not just a future, but one filled with creativity and light.
Something new is afoot at JAG Productions after last year’s pivot that Seven Days recently termed “particularly elegant,” flagging JAG’s production of last summer’s Theater on the Hill as one of “Six Stories That Shaped Vermont Arts and Culture in 2021.” Collaborating with King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich VT, JAG staged four different productions outdoors on the King Arthur campus. One was a concert version of Next to Normal, with a first-time all-Black cast.
Which brings us to 2022. JAG has announced the return of JAGFest, its workshop for new play development, and another summer of Theater on the Hill. What’s new to the lineup is a grant-funded JAG Musical Lab, which aims to reimagine American musical theater through the experiences of the Black community. This multi-year project will begin in 2022 with a target date of 2023 for the staging of its first production.
Founder and Producing Artistic Director Jarvis Green found inspiration for the new Musical Lab not only in the company’s production of Next to Normal, but also in the recent Broadway revival and reinterpretation of that stalwart of American musicals, Oklahoma! Green found himself pondering what the process of that kind of revamp might look like, and envisioned choosing an existing American musical, then carving out a space and time to gather theater creatives to work through concepts and details, birthing something new from something old. It’s an opportunity that is rare for small theater companies like JAG.
That we don’t know exactly what the reimagining will produce is the thrill, and all the more reason for doing it. A short film by Nick Keating about last summer’s Next to Normal (top, and turn up the sound) might provide a glimpse. From Green’s pensive face to the energy among the performers, the audience hiking to the perfectly aligned folding chairs, the electricity of opening night, this film may stir your imagination about what more, and what else, is to come from JAG Productions.
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.