Before the pandemic, the annual JAGfest took place in February, when people were starved of connection and eager to hang out and discuss African American theater.
Tuesday evening saw the opening round table of JAGfest 6.0 compete with an impeccably sunny afternoon. Outside the five arched windows of Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center, students threw Frisbees onto the green. Inside, Jarvis Green told playwrights Elizabeth Addison and Trevor Tate that he wasn’t going to ask how they were doing, but “can you tell us what color your heart is?”
Violet, Addison said. In the recovery movement, “purple is our color” – it is also the color of a bruise, the color of healing. “My heart is all about healing these days.”
“I think mine is green,” Tate said, like the season. “It’s just very spring-like and lively.”
Public conversations about the creative process are rare, even with the growth of the arts in the Upper Valley over the past two decades. Such conversations between black and gay writers are almost exceedingly rare. For an hour on Top of the Hop as the day waned, Green and his guests talked about, well, the color of their hearts.
“I’m very curious where you started telling stories,” said Green, the founder and name of JAG Productions.
“I remember specifically,” said the tall, soft-spoken, turtleneck and bespectacled Tate, “maybe at 9, 8, or 9, we did a book in our class. Our teacher tied it.
“The reality I discovered,” said Addison, also tall and wearing a black knit beanie over dreadlocks, “is that we are all storytellers.” Every day people tell a story about what they do and why. “I’ve been a storyteller all my life. I didn’t realize it.
Addison’s room, chasing grace, is the first full musical that JAG Productions has created in the studio. It’s kind of a sequel to It’s a treatmenta musical about the experiences of black and brown people in residential addiction treatment. chasing grace continues the story of recovery in the struggle to build a life and a career.
When asked to introduce around 15 people to her work, Addison, who is based in Boston, said she saw Lease for the first time at age 13, but did not begin work as a composer, lyricist and writer until age 29. “I haven’t seen anyone like me write,” she says.
She started writing songs while praying and then sitting at the piano. “YouTube is my education,” she said. “YouTube and invite people over for coffee.”
Despite being a “voracious reader,” Tate, originally from Austin, Texas, went to college to become an actor and realized he had made a mistake when he took a class. writing and felt comfortable doing it. He went to graduate school, wrote a “one-man drag show” and a few plays, and now writes fiction.
His most recent piece, queen of the night, about a man in his 60s taking his gay adult son on a camping trip, was at the Dorset Theater Festival last summer, Green noted. The play was performed outdoors in Vermont, then indoors in Chicago.
“I feel like the piece is really heartfelt and sentimental, in a way that really warms the hearts of the audience,” Tate said. “I want people to feel some hope.”
Asked what their work brings to American theater, the two playwrights gave contrasting answers.
“I think when you write from experience…you have to know by knowing,” Tate said. “So people on the outside can say, ‘Oh, we’re interested in this black, queer aesthetic. …I think it comes from outside the room.
Addison was more blunt, “I’m just saying, hey, I don’t see enough with people who look like me.”
Addison and Tate, along with playwright Kevin Renn, are in the Upper Valley this week, workshopping with JAG. Renn was unable to attend Tuesday’s conference. The week is “focused on work and process and the upliftment of the artist,” Green said.
“How do you define success for yourself and how do you define excellence? ” He asked.
The idea of success is changing day by day, Addison said.
“In terms of excellence, I can’t stand that idea,” she said. “Especially black excellence. Can we just be human? … For me, I’m just like, let me do the things that God told me to do.
“I think I measure success by how much money I have and how many people know my name,” Tate said to general laughter. His “hit from the heart” is having someone in the audience feel the same as him while he was writing.
“Excellence,” he said, “I’m not entirely sure of that word either, but I’m thinking in a pinch.” It is a practice, not a state of being. “One thing I try to do is write every day.”
Their current work is moving forward, with staged readings scheduled Friday through Sunday at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.
Addison had been working on treatments for chasing grace for years, but didn’t start creating it in earnest until April 2021, when she sat down to work on it and started crying. She realized she was ready, but then had to deal with the voice that said, “No, you’re not.”
“Fear is always the first thing that comes, then acceptance,” she said.
She sought help from playwrights and producers.
“It just came out of me,” she said. “It was like he was waiting in the wings until I was ready to receive him and let him go.”
Your maximum potentialthe piece Tate and JAG are working on this week is about the influence of social media, especially on young people, and how we allow the internet to influence our lives.
“I think I’m interested in having queer communities see it,” Tate said. All but one of the characters in the play are people of color.
What do playwrights want from this experiment in Vermont and New Hampshire, Green asked.
“I feel like I already figured it out,” Addison said. “The love, the care”, the attention paid to his work and his listening. “I actually wanted that sense of community that I already have.”
“The last two days,” Tate said, “is like an artist’s vacation.”
People generally don’t know how theater is made, Green said after the discussion. It is important that people see it and understand it.
“I think it’s also an opportunity to learn who exists in our community,” he said, “and how we can break down that fourth wall and find ways to learn more about each other. .”
JAGfest 6.0 features staged readings of Your Maximum Potential by travis tate, at 7:30 p.m. Friday; Chasing Grace by Elizabeth Addison at 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and Padiddle by Kevin Renn at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. Tickets are $25 and a weekend pass is $50. Visit jagproductionsvt.com for more information.