Choir Boy: Play by MacArthur "Genius" At The Briggs

Some of the cast of Choir Boy

There are as yet many untold stories about African-American life that present narratives different from those that saturate the current media. Jarvis Antonio Green is about to tell one.

Green is the producing artistic director of JAG Productions of Woodstock VT. His cast and crew are in rehearsal for the Vermont premiere of Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney, a young playwright and a 2013 recipient of the rare and prestigious MacArthur "Genius" Award. The play will open at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction VT on November 3.

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Green describes the play as a coming of age story set in an elite boarding school for young African-American men. It raises issues of faith, masculinity, and honor. 7 actors--6 from New York City and the close-enough-to-be-local actor Bill Carmichael of Vergennes VT. 90 minutes, no intermission. It is not a musical, but a play with music; the boarding school features a gospel choir that infuses the play with a cappella spirituals. Its premier in London in 2012 was followed by productions in the United States. Drama critic Charles Isherwood of The New York Times called the work an "ambitious new play," in which "the sweet harmonies of classic spirituals unite the sometimes fractious voices" of the young male characters. Others have said that this play's rendition of Motherless Child will give you the proverbial lump in the throat, tear in the eye.

First day of rehearsal at the Briggs

This is the first production that Green--with his newly formed JAG Productions--is undertaking as part of an arrangement with ArtisTree of Pomfret VT, but he is no stranger to live theater in the Upper Valley. He has appeared as an actor in past works at Northern Stage. He was also the founder of the BarnArts Center for the Arts in Barnard VT; during his five years there he brought theater, music, and the visual arts to the Upper Valley. Later, working with ArtisTree, he produced three shows at the Woodstock Town Hall: Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Laughter on the 23rd Floor.

McCraney's awards--in addition to the MacArthur--shower him like a heavy dose of confetti. He was the Royal Shakespeare Company's International Playwright in Residence in 2009-2011. He has received the Whiting and the Steinberg Playwright Awards, as well as being named Most Promising Playwright by the London Evening Standard. He is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and lives and writes plays in Miami. His MacArthur profile describes him as "exploring the rich diversity of the African-American experience in works that imbue the lives of ordinary people with epic significance."

The playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney

Green's is one of a few new professional theater groups looking to gain a foothold in the Upper Valley. He believes Choir Boy will add to the existing and rich trove of local theater, and that Upper Valley audiences will welcome new stories. Matinee showings for area students have already sold out.

Choir Boy will run at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction VT from November 3 through November 20, Thursday through Sunday evenings and with 5:00 p.m. Saturday matinees.  For more information and for tickets, contact JAG Productions, or ArtisTree. Green and the cast are hosting a preview performance on Thursday, October 20 at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock VT at 5 p.m, free and open to the public.

Jarvis Antonio Green at work

(Photographs used by permission of JAG Productions and the MacArthur Foundation under a Creative Commons license.)


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