CTC’s Savage finds voice in theater

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Photos by Eric Shea.


Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

Growing up with three older brothers, she never had a place. Jessica Savage, a Chautauqua Theater Company conservatory actor, discovered her voice through theater.

“I had never taken up more space than I thought I was allowed to. … Theater was the first time I stood somewhere and I had to claim space,” Savage said. “I got to release into this character’s voice, and I realized how much power I had … through the permission of someone else’s voice.”

Savage is entering her third year at The Juilliard School, and she stars in the two-person New Play Workshop’s Signature Staged Reading of Muckrakers, which shows at 4 p.m. today and runs through Saturday in Bratton Theater. She will also play Jaques in CTC’s final main stage production of the season, Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Muckrakers follows Stephen, who leaked documents revealing government secrets, and Mira, an American political activist who believes in leaking all private details of people’s lives, during a night in her apartment.

Though the play contains mature themes, the primary plot surrounds the theme of what is and should remain private in the digital age, fitting with the Week Six theme, “Digital Identity.”

Mira, 25, is a strong, opinionated woman, and Savage looks forward to playing a force to be reckoned with.

“I really enjoy getting to bring the big guns out and getting to be loud, and aggressive and crafty,” she said.

Savage disagrees with Mira on many levels, however, so it will be interesting for her to fight for a philosophy to which she does not ascribe.

Another challenge for the actors is it is rehearsed for only three days before it opens. Though the actors have scripts in hand, they have little time to cultivate character.

“My whole purpose is to serve the playwright, because it’s about him … it’s not about me,” Savage said.

Muckrakers playwright Zayd Dohrn has been through all the rehearsals and will sit in and make changes after each production. He learns from the staged reading how to evolve the play.

The other character Savage plays this season is much less severe: Jaques. Typically played by a man, he is an outgoing goof and perpetual outsider.

“It’s been incredibly challenging, because Jaques is very much an outsider,” she said. “How do you (as an actor) stay present and stay connected without being connected?”

At table reads for As You Like It, Savage struggled, because she acts with her whole body and finds it hard to sit idle at a table. She discovered her technique after leaving her acting conservatory in New York City and finding the Michael Chekhov Acting Studio, which bases its work on physical acting.

She also created and acted in a burlesque troupe called the Peach Tartes. Burlesque is a form of exaggerated dance theater that typically involves removing some layers of clothing.

Burlesque taught Savage how to be confident and a performer, because no walls existed between her and her audience.

“That’s where I learned the properties of showmanship and got to dabble with other eccentricities in much more of a vaudeville-style theater,” she said.

After her two-year stint doing burlesque and working at the Chekhov Acting Studio, she now attends Juilliard, where she met CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch. Benesch subbed for one of Savage’s teachers, and she admired Benesch for her physical technique.

From there, she auditioned for CTC and was asked to play Jaques, with the part of Mira coming later as a surprise.

CTC is one step on Savage’s journey of acting and learning to claim her own space both onstage and off.

“Now where do I find that same power with my own personal voice, as well as continuing to use the tools of someone else’s voice,” she said. “That’s an ongoing process.”