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Sage decisions for new theater company

Jessica Sage founded Rogue Theater Company with an inaugural production of one of her own scripts and a staged reading in March of this year. Now, a fully produced and well-received production of Marsha Norman’s “’night, Mother” has crept its way onto the boards at Ashland’s august Black Swan Theatre. Upon returning to Ashland, I sat down with Sage to discuss the past, present and future of the freshly minted Company.

JG: What led you to found the Rogue Theater Company?

JS: Last year, after a play reading of my script, “Fragments,” many people asked for a full-scale theatrical production. I explored options where to produce the play, and then decided it was time to start my own theater company. I was co-producing Artistic Director of Oregon Stage Works when local actor and producer Peter Alzado and I were in Sharr White’s Annapurna together and really enjoyed it. My vision was a professional theater where I could hire OSF actors to work in small productions that can’t be done on OSF stages. I wanted to focus more on female playwrights and give women directors and actors center stage. I also wanted opening nights to benefit local nonprofit organizations. Planned Parenthood was the recipient for “Fragments,” and Maslow Project and Community Works for our current production of “’night, Mother.” I strongly value community contribution, and it’s meaningful for me to give back in this way.

JG: What drew you to the work of Marsha Norman and to “’night, Mother” in particular?

JS: As Rogue Theater Company’s mission states, we are dedicated to presenting thought-provoking plays that inspire, entertain, and illuminate our common humanity. “’night, Mother” fulfills that criteria in profound ways. I saw “’night, Mother” live on Broadway in 1983 when it starred Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak, and the story has lived powerfully with me ever since. This penetrating and uncompromising Pulitzer Prize winning play is magnificently written, and the relationship between mother and daughter is intense, vulnerable, heartbreaking, and honest. It’s a privilege to produce this play and act in this modern masterpiece.

JG: Tell us a little bit about your collaborators and the creative process on this production.

JS: Dreams really do come true. It was important for me to have a play written, directed, acted, and stage managed by women. It was an extraordinary experience collaborating with director and OSF actor Caroline Shaffer. She has excavated this play masterfully, and has given me and Andrea Hochkeppel — who plays my daughter — a great deal to work with. We had the extraordinary good fortune of a set design by OSF’s legendary Richard Hay, Chris Sackett’s lighting design, and Barry Kraft’s textual expertise. I am a firm believer in collaboration, and the power of this production is a result of the process.

JG: What do you have in store in the future as you grow your company?

JS: I am excited about the future. We already have the next two plays chosen. Stay tuned! The greatest challenge is finding theater space. Performing at the Black Swan is idyllic, but it’s not available year-round. We are lucky to have an abundance of talented artists in the Rogue Valley, and I am thrilled to be working with many of them. I have been so grateful for the enthusiastic feedback I’ve been receiving from audience members. This motivates me to continue to produce exceptional theater that will fulfill Rogue Theater Company’s mission.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com

“’night Mother” runs in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Black Swan Theater the next two weekends, Friday and Saturday, with a Sunday matinee and talkback after the Nov. 10 show.