WHITE RIVER JUNCTION— At the start of September, JAG Productions, write-director Stevie Walker-Webb, 11 actors, two documentarians, a producer, and a chef set out on a month-long retreat to explore the question, “Can a play be created outside the power structures and without reference to whiteness, in a pure expression of Black Joy?” Or as JAG Producing Artistic Director Jarvis Green asks, “Is racism what’s distracting us from being our fullest creative selves? What does it mean to create a theatrical piece where we’re not distracted by racism? Where racism isn’t in the room? Where we are solely focused on our joy and all aspects of our Blackness?” The group of 17 Black creatives will spend four undisturbed weeks at Knoll Farm in Waitsfield to attempt to answer these questions, resulting in a new play, a methodology, and a documentary.
The 11 artists will tell interweaving stories that produce and revel in a spiritual cleansing of authentic, joyful Blackness. Walker-Webb says of the script, “It’s really a baptism because you are watching these characters try to figure out how to be joyful in their own skin, and if you watch it, you’re going on that journey too and you’re also being invited to see how truly complete that colonization has been and how rigorous Black creatives have to be about carving out new ways of being and creating. If we don’t, we fall into colonization.”
In order to create the Black Joy play, artists have to get to a place where they can look at themselves in context of their own identity. The exercises, contextual stories, and essays that Walker-Webb and others use to get them to that point will become a methodological handbook that will serve generations to come, as a platform or foundation for Black creatives. Walker-Webb says, “This methodology says to center our identities, our dialects, our cultures, where we come from in our creative process. And it’s only in centering that are we able to create things that are radical and liberatory.”
Directors of photography and cinematography Anthony Marques and Claudel Chery will document the four-week long process and out of it will create a documentary called “Homecoming: A Return to Black Joy.”