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Thinking Big

From producing TED X Ashland to the upcoming Rogue Lives Production, Jane Ballback is bringing the art of storytelling back to the Rogue Valley.

Jane Ballbeck, sitting in the Camelot Theater, home of her newest production, Rogue Lives.

When it comes to getting involved in the community, Jane Ballback thinks big. After a successful career in Human Resources and magazine publishing, she moved to southern Oregon with her husband to retire. But, those who know Jane also know that, to her, retirement is not about slowing down. Jane quickly settled into the region, making friends and connections from all walks of life.

“Living here, I have met so many people that have had many incredible life experiences. There is so much talent: musical talent, artistic talent, acting talent,” said Jane in a recent interview. “After being here for a few years, I said to my best friend one day, ‘I feel like the most talentless person in this valley.’ Everyone can DO something. Everyone has been somewhere. Everyone has been something, no matter what it was.”

But instead of being intimidated by the talent she was surrounded by, true to form, Jane decided to put her own skills and experience to work. Her first big act her was bringing the internationally renowned speaker series, TEDx, here to southern Oregon. TEDxAshland featured 12 speakers with a wide range of experiences and knowledge. Authors, professors, musicians, executives and activists all got on stage and told their stories at the forum.

Jane on-stage during her event, TedxAshland.

The event was wildly successful, but Jane wasn’t satisfied.

“When I got done with the TED X event – I knew I could produce things because I had before—but I didn’t know how much I would enjoy the whole production of it all,” said Jane. “What I didn’t enjoy was being so strongly guided by a national organization who, rightfully so, has more rules and regulations than you could ever count. And because all but one of my twelve speakers was local, I thought, what I really want to do is focus on the local issues, the local people, and the local stories.”

And thus, Rogue Lives was born. Rogue Lives is a storytelling series that is scheduled to occur as a live event two times a year. Held at the Camelot Theater in Talent, each event will have a different focus, and all will include local speakers.

“I began to think about what is exactly in this valley that would really excite people. I want this to be both really entertaining and exciting,” Jane continued. “And may I stop and say that is the very definition of PBS in general. As an educator for the last fifty years of my life in every setting you can imagine, I know that if you are in front of an audience and you want to educate them, you have got to entertain them in some way. What PBS does is allows the entire world to educate and re-educate themselves and involve themselves in things they didn’t know they were interested in.”

“To me, PBS is the great equalizer in this country. Everyone can be equally educated and equally informed. It’s all right there. I also think it shows a sense of community. I am sick of hearing how we all don’t like each other, because I think we do like each other. I think PBS gives us things to find common ground to talk about, which is very important. I refuse to discuss things that divide us.”

To Jane, bringing storytelling to the region is her way of bridging gaps that have increasingly divided our population.

“Storytelling provides a tremendous empathy and an understanding of the other point of view. It develops the ability to take something very serious and engage you with it in a way that you find it serious but you are so engaged that you can’t wait to see how it’s all going to turn out,” said Jane. “Even if you know how it is all going to turn out.”

After some collaboration with Julie Gillis, director of Development of Southern Oregon PBS, and Dann Hauser, executive director of the Camelot Theater, the idea of Rogue Lives began to take form. Jane knew the topic of the first event almost immediately.

“I was thinking, what is the most exciting thing going on in the Rogue Valley, and I realized, it had to be actors. We have got a whole slew full of actors on our hands,” said Jane. “I chose them based on experience. I wanted mature actors who had been on Broadway a long time ago. Who had been on and off Broadway, who had been in movies, who had been in commercials, who had been in television, and of course, participated in several seasons of OSF. My first three speakers have all of that.”

The Three Actors featured in the first Rogue Lives Storytelling Event

Actor Doug Rowe
Doug Rowe
Actor Michelle Mais
Michelle Mais
Actor Anthony Hill
Anthony "Tony" Hill

The three actors featured in the first Rogue Lives event are Douglas Rowe, Anthony Hill, and Michelle Mais. Together the three present a more than impressive resume, and the Rogue Lives story telling event promises to be one to remember. The event also kicks off a new series for Southern Oregon PBS.

Rogue Lives will also be filmed, edited into several 30-minute segments, and broadcast to the wider community in the months following the event. Bringing this show to a wider audience through the platform of SO PBS is the cherry on the cake to Jane.

“Working with PBS on this venture is a dream come true. From going from a spectator [of the channel] to being involved with a production is just so special to me at this phase of my life. It brings together so many interests, and talents and skills to one place.”

Hosting an event featuring such incredible talents and life stories is not something just anyone could do. But, as usual, when presented with the opportunity, Jane takes it. And she leaves it bigger and better than it was when she started.

Jane with her husband, Steve.
Photo by Debra Thorton.
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