Workshop method

INTERVIEW: JAG Productions partners with New York Theater Workshop

Image courtesy of JAG Productions / Provided by NYTW with permission.

Over the years, the acclaimed New York Theater Workshop has traveled to New Hampshire in the summer for a theater residency at Dartmouth College. Directly across from the Ivy League institution is the border with Vermont, home to JAG Productions, a successful theater company that stages the works of African-American writers. Eventually, the two companies — led by Jim C. Nicola, who serves as art director of NYTW, and Jarvis A. Green, founder and producer art director of JAG — began having conversations about future collaborations.

Recently, NYTW and JAG cemented their relationship, and Green couldn’t be happier. News broke earlier this year: JAG Productions is one of the newest companies in residence for NYTW, and it’s unclear what this partnership will yield in the years to come. In fact, JAG is the first non-New York company to partner with NYTW.

“It’s very exciting,” Green said in a recent phone interview. “I love the New York Theater Workshop. I love Jim. This is a great moment for our company.

Green and Nicola first met a few years ago. They met at one of the residencies in Dartmouth and immediately hit it off. Here’s a fun fact: they both share the same birthday.

“He was very impressed with what I was doing in the community,” Green said. “He basically took on that mentorship. It was a bit informal. I contacted him for various things. We would go to the theater together. He came to see our work. I’ve always been a fan of the New York Theater Workshop. …And then I got a text from Jim as he started thinking about expanding the company-in-residence program, asking me about what a company like JAG needs, and doing what he does as a as art director, checking to meet artists, checking with companies to see what is needed. And he listened, and he reported that to his team. They reached out and said, “We’d love to partner with JAG.” Since then, we’ve taken it that way. The program is definitely tailored to all of said company’s needs, and so we are currently in the early stages of the development and strategizing processes around what this partnership can look like.

New York Theater Workshop is also in partnership with Safe Harbors NYC, the Dominican Artists Collective (DAC) and Noor Theatre. Green said he hopes that at some point New York audiences will catch a JAG Productions show (the partnership officially begins in the 2022-23 season). His company started in 2016 and served as an incubator for new work by black playwrights. Recent productions include the first all-black production of the musical next to normal and Nathan Youngerberg Table of Esaiwhich eventually performed off-Broadway.

“I’ve always wanted to expand JAG’s work in New York,” Green said. “New York is a second home for me. I moved to Vermont from New York, and a lot of my peers are there. A lot of my family, friends are there, so I came to this area because I was looking for a place where I could do not distract me and heal a little. I know that for me as a creative and artistic director, I need to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities to recharge my batteries and have space to imagine and create. I’ve been here since 2016, so six or seven years, and I’ve been going back to New York quite a bit. … The fact that we’re in a place right now where we can dream and talk about bringing this work to the city is exciting. Ninety-nine percent of our artists are from New York, so we always have a very close relationship with the artists there because that’s where I go to pitch shows and hire all of our artists.

Green said Vermont audiences are mostly people who love theater, reflect on humanity, and ask intelligent questions. They are creative and intellectual, he said, and many of them also have ties to New York. Over the years, the company has used many spaces, including the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vermont, as well as the Woodstock Town Hall Theater and Main Street Landing in Burlington, Vermont, among others.

“It’s a really unique community that’s been waiting for something like this to happen,” Green said. “It’s kind of a win-win. We get to create this work with black artists, queer artists at the center and create this community of support for these artists, and then we have these audiences who recognize that they live in a community that is mostly homogeneous and who are excited to grow, learn, support. And so it’s really interesting to see how these two worlds come together and the sheer joy of our community wanting to help in different ways, and helping not in terms of helping with guilt, but knowing that they have resources to help reinforce the importance of this work, especially at this time, is truly exciting. It’s such an unlikely place to do this type of work, but it seems perfect in a way because of how this work should go in this area. It’s basically flourishing.

By John Soltes / Editor / [email protected]

JAG Productions has become a new company in residence of the New York Theater Workshop. Click on here for more information.