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Sage a growing presence in Ashland theater community

Jessica Sage is an actor, director, playwright, theater instructor, and producer. She has numerous theater, movie, and television roles to her credit — notably a lengthy stints on daytime soap opera “General Hospital” — and has directed over 35 theatrical productions.

Since moving to Ashland nearly three years ago, Jessica has acted in “Annapurna” and was co-producing artistic director of Oregon Stage Works. She also directed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Ashland High School. Now as the founder and artistic director of the Rogue Theatre Company, she is a tenacious new presence in the regional theater community.

A passionate political activist in addition to her work in the theater, Sage leans toward works that are compelling and address contemporary issues. I caught up with her to talk about her life and work.

JG: A lot has changed since we last spoke. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Rogue Theater Company?

JS: Talk about an understatement! Rogue Theater Company was riding a wave after the successes of “Fragments” and “’night, Mother.”

Back in March, which seems like a lifetime ago, we were days away from going into rehearsal for “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” The director, actors, designers, stage crew, and musicians were primed. We had our promo shots and video released, costumes fitted, venue at the Ashland Springs Hotel booked — we were set to go.

Then the pandemic hit and everything changed on a dime. I’ve checked in with the director (Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Caroline Shaffer) and cast (Cate Davis, Eileen DeSandre, Peter Alzado, and Hazel James). When the time is right, everyone is eager to go back into production.

JG: Tell us about your upcoming benefit on Sept. 20.

JS: Renowned actor and director Doug Rowe approached me and my husband Barry Kraft about the two of them performing a benefit reading of “A Walk in Woods” for Rogue Theater Company. Doug directed Barry as Romeo at the Laguna Playhouse decades ago, where Doug was artistic director.

We asked Shirley Patton to read stage directions, and she graciously said yes. It’s incredible to watch these three legendary actors work their magic on stage!

I think “A Walk in the Woods” was such a successful, long-running hit on Broadway because besides being absorbing, funny, and well-written, it is deeply pertinent today. The play is ultimately about war and peace — the survivability of life on Earth in the age of nuclear weapons.

What if our leaders took a walk in the woods and talked out their differences instead of being enemies? Imagine the kind of world this would be!

The outdoor Oak Grove at Grizzly Peak Winery is the perfect setting for this play. It’s bucolic and spacious. We’ll have limited, socially distant seating. The benefit is 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, at Grizzly Peak Winery. The actors will hold a talkback after the reading. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served. Tickets can be purchased at roguetheatercompany.com.

JG: What do you feel is the best thing the public at large can do to help sustain the arts at this time?

JS: Money and advocacy. There are countless people whose lives have been enriched by the arts. This is a difficult financial time for many, but for those who have the means, a donation may be a lifeline for their favorite arts organizations. Or they can purchase a pay-per-view streaming of a play or an online reading.

If arts aficionados don’t step up, I fear there is going to be a catastrophic number of theater companies and other arts organizations that will not survive. As far as advocacy, we continue to see government support for the arts shrivel. If we raise our voices loud enough demanding to have a portion of our tax dollars help fund the arts, perhaps we will be heard.

Jessica Sage