When two local companies partner to better our community, magical things can happen. JAG Productions, based in White River Junction is partnering with King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich. While a theater company and baking company seem an unlikely pair, together they are co-producing a beautiful series of performances, “Theatre on the Hill.”
“Theatre on the Hill” takes place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings between August 13 and September 12 on the grassy hill behind King Arthur Baking Company. Proceeded with food and drinks provided by Upper Valley favorites such as Munchie Rollz, Griddle and Groovy, and Wolf Tree, “Theatre on the Hill” is an outdoor theater series featuring an array of performances including workshop productions, concert musicals and staged readings.
Jarvis Green, the producing Artistic Director of JAG spoke of his desire to give audiences “a hybrid of all the many ways in which we are thinking about producing theater.”
JAG and King Arthur Baking Company first came together through JAG’s ambassador partnership program in which organizations or businesses interested in promoting marginalized voices and adopting anti-racist policies can find creative ways to partner with JAG and support their work. This particular program came about after about a year of building a relationship between the two companies and through Green’s desire to create in-person programming for the community before heading back into the theater in the fall. Luckily for all of us, this manifested in an outdoor theater experience not to be missed.
So, what can we expect to see at this event? A little bit of everything. Starting off the series will be a workshop production of a play that was first featured as a staged reading at JAGFest 4.0. JAGFest is a yearly new works festival that invites up-and-coming Black playwrights from all over the country to stage their new pieces here in the Upper Valley. The play a curious thing; or superheroes k’aint fly by Jeremy O’Brian, a “90-minute queer romance exploring the universal question of parenthood in a world laden with danger,” was the hit of the 2019 festival.
For the following two weekends, Green himself is directing a concert version of Next to Normal (Yorkey & Kitt), a Pulitzer-Prize and Tony-Award-winning musical that explores mental health and a family dealing with crises. “You’re going to get that sensation of artists connecting to a score and singing beautifully… but you’re also going to be rooted in truth and in reality.” Green speaks of the stigma surrounding mental health and how presenting these stories in a fashion that evokes empathy, such as musical theater, can help normalize dialogues around difficult subjects. “As someone who has family members and friends that have struggled with mental health, I think that’s the crux or foundation or root of why I wanted to do this piece.”
Next up, Life in Sepia: Vermont’s Black Burlesque Revue, will take the stage. This piece builds a narrative around the history of Black burlesque in America through a variety of performers including our own local Golden Mystique. The revue will be “femmeceed” by duo Kia Warren and Liza Colby who will weave the story of American Black burlesque through eight performers, each taking on a decade in this historical burlesque journey.
Closing the series will be a staged reading of For the Love of Jazz by playwright Raven Cassell, another JAGFest alumni. First performed as a radio play during JAG’s 2020 COVID-restricted festival, this “jazzical” follows the story of a young woman navigating life and love during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. Green lauds Cassell’s work, “She’s written this really beautiful contemporary play that’s also rooted in classic American theater.”
With this partnership in mind, where do the intersection of baking and the performing arts lie? “Baking, it’s a collective experience,” said Green. “Baking allows for conversation and storytelling. When I grew up, I was always in the kitchen with my mom and my grandmother. I remember so vividly the stories they used to tell as they would bake. Baking just allows for folks to connect in a way that removes boundaries because of this shared experience. I hope that during the “Theatre on the Hill” series, people will shop at King Arthur and then while they’re making that meal, have an experience about the work and what they saw and have conversations with their families about some of the themes we engaged with them on during the series.”
Green is incredibly enthusiastic about this work and speaks of theater as he speaks of baking, focusing on its ability to connect people. “I want to lead with storytelling because that’s where we connect as human beings,” said Green. “How do we tap into your heart because that helps us be the change that we want to see? And I think that’s the power of theater.”
Also evident is his deep love of Vermont and of our community. “I love Vermont. I love the beauty of Vermont. I feel like [the Upper Valley] is a community full of vibrant, community-driven folks.” Green is looking forward to this series continuing JAG’s relationship with the community and bringing new faces into the mix who will want to become a part of making this theater happen and join in helping ensure this work becomes a part of our community for years to come.
Green is also hoping that this is the first of much community-based collaboration. King Arthur Baking Company is not the only local group that has helped bring this project to life.
This is truly a community project that has involved collaboration from a number of well-known local businesses such as Northern Stage, the Center for Cartoon Studies, and an army of local volunteers.
“I think this series is going to speak to the power of partnerships,” said Green. “We don’t have to live in isolation about how we’re supporting each other’s work. It doesn’t just have to be JAG doing this. It takes all of us. I think it will be kind of an entry point for people to lean in and say ‘yes, I like what you’re doing, how can I support?’ I feel like there can be some really cool partnerships and I hope that a big institution like King Arthur gives people more permission to lean in. I want to diversify what partnership looks like.”
Overall, Green hopes that this series is “a reminder that you can have the beauty of gathering again and enjoying glorious theater that’s rooted in reminding us of what happened and where we need to go. This is an opportunity for hearts to mend and to come together.”
What’s next from JAG? Green is optimistic to see an outdoor summer series return in the future, and this fall and winter, readers can catch more of JAG at Juke Joint, JAG’s annual fundraising dinner-theater cabaret in November and at JAGFest 6.0 in February 2022.
In the meantime, pull up a picnic blanket, cushion, or any of the provided seating and come take in one or more of the wonderful performances this August and September at JAG and King Arthur Baking Company’s “Theatre on the Hill.” See you there!
Tickets are $25 and are available online at www.jagproductionsvt.com/theatre-on-a-hill. Local food and beverage will be offered beginning at 6:30pm and performances will begin at 8pm.