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London’s West End to America’s Great Southwest

London’s West End to America’s Great Southwest

Albuquerque’s newest theater company, West End Productions exclusively performs plays, past and present, from the United Kingdom.  Elbow Room NM’s Publisher Stephanie Hainsfurther sits down with co-founders Colleen Neary McClure and Jessica Osborne to talk about the new company.

What made you want to start West End?

Colleen: For me it was about the material, I really wanted to have more plays from the UK. I wanted enrich the already existing culture here in Albuquerque. Often, here in town, the directors will do the safe choices, like Oscar Wilde and I wanted to do plays that are more a real stretch to understand but that are more accurate view of England or UK as it is today. I would like to do more that would include Ireland, Scotland and Wales but for now with this season, I wanted to do plays that would draw a following for us.

Why did you want to join the company?

Jessica: Well, obviously I wanted to work with Colleen…

Colleen: Obviously…

Jessica: (laughing). Yeh. Also, while I don’t dislike playing American roles- I had not had the opportunity to play a Brit yet- aside from the TV series, Manhattan. But in the theatre I hadn’t. At least, until Shirley Valentine, thanks to West End Productions…

Colleen: Thanks to me!!

Jessica: Yes, thanks to you! LOL. But before that, I had only played Americans. Oddly enough, I didn’t really ever get called in to read for a UK role, only American roles- which is just bizarre because there were some productions done here that were UK based, but I only got called in for American roles. I really wanted to connect with my roots a bit and I’ve been feeling a bit homesick and that connection was important to me. And there is a natural connection, almost family feel, that Brits abroad have together- we seem to find a kinship almost immediately, in some way, in some capacity even if we might normally have not have anything in common, there’s a kinship that happens being a displaced Brit. And I missed having that connection. Obviously, I’d been working at the Aux Dog for a long time, and I loved it there- I’m very proud of the work that I’ve gotten to do there but I wanted something that was more personal to me.

Colleen: Something that fed that…

Jessica: Yeh, something that fed that need. And of course, we swear like sailors over there…

Colleen: True…

Jessica: And I found myself, when I was getting tired or overworked- I’d slip and start swearing like a sailor. And I offended people, unintentionally, with phrases that would be fine in the UK and not taken seriously over there, but taken totally seriously here. It was kind of tiring to have to watch my mouth all the time.

Colleen: Yeh, I don’t have that type of issue with it at all.

Jessica: Exactly! And it’s refreshing to not have to worry about that working with you. I can say f’ off or shut up you tart and you don’t take things like that seriously. Things we’re used to, things that we say in a throw-away way all the time.

Colleen: Yeh I wouldn’t take that seriously at all.

Jessica: Yeh, but it’s taken so seriously here.

Colleen: Yeh. I really miss the West End. As a kid, I was close to London and after I was a student, when I graduated I got a job at the Vaudeville theatre and we had this tiny little office – this shoebox of an office… we did everything by hand, paper you know- the seating plan and all of that and we were surrounded by this incredibly fun gay community. I became close with this guy, who would take me everywhere and I’d get to see all this free theatre and opera. Then one day, no idea why but they called me to the production office. I don’t know why, but Michael Codron owned the Vaudeville and some others and for some reason, they wanted me to help there in the production office. They would ask me questions, even in my twenties, about dancers or actors etc and ask my opinion, do you think this person would be better or this person. And I think they were trying to groom me for production but I started working in the West End as a performer so I didn’t follow that path in the end. But I think creating West End was a call back to that time for me, that life and that environment. And of course, with Albuquerque being “the West” – there was something in that too.

West End's Educating Rita

photo credit: Marcelle Garfield Cady
Frederick Ponzlov and Jessica Osbourne star in “Educating Rita” at N4th Theater, opening this weekend.

What are your hopes for the company?

Jessica: My hopes are that we could eventually become a full blown funded company, professional, touring perhaps. Of course, it difficult to become that in this state, or any state really. But, it feels like many theatres don’t really value what the actor puts into it, sometimes expecting many hours for no or little compensation. Because they know we do it for the love of our craft. It’s getting better here for sure, but it’s still not prevalent and I’d like to see that become the norm for West End, being able to give the actors something for their time. Designers often get a fee here but often we don’t get enough to cover our gas expenses, you know.

Colleen: Yeh, I’d love for us to be able to get to that point.

Do you see this being a company for just English/UK actors?

Colleen: God no, I want to include everyone here. There is so much talent here, I’d like them to experience working the way we work and the world we live in.

Jessica: YES! I’ve seen so much inconsistency with dialects too. I really wanted to see them tackle the dialects correctly and for the right region. I’ve seen many productions here, where they were doing a dialect that was inappropriate for the region they were in or the play’s world and I’d love to do that right. I’d see something and go “why is he doing an upperclass English accent- this character should be Welsh!?” and it would throw me right out of the play. Or they’d focus so much on the accent that the character wavered or vice versa. I’d love to help actors get over this hurdle, because I think it’s such an important development of actor’s skills.

Colleen: Yes, I know for me- when I did Nickel and Dimed, I was adamant that they were on me all the time to correct my American accent along the process. And I strongly feel that you can’t throw dialect work as an afterthought. I want to tackle that first so that it’s part of the character’s development. That’s something I want to do with West End Productions, is I want to expand their abilities and skills, their dialect skills, I think that’s something that’s always beneficial to have.

Jessica: Yes, because there are so many actors here that are very good – but sometimes there are some basic techniques that are lacking and I think dialect is one of the places that can sometimes be lacking. Both of us have English training and perhaps we can enrich the training that is here with some basics that aren’t always thought of or covered here.

Colleen: One of the things that was great about you doing Shirley Valentine, was that it was in your bones, you knew everything about that region and her world. And I think, we can help other actors find it in their bones, with research and knowledge of that world and region to enrich the work that they do and relate it to what they’ve experienced.

Jessica: Yeh, what type of life and world the character lives in, to understand how they came to be where they are today. Also, one of my pet peeves, is someone saying “I can do a British accent” and that is just so wrong, because there are many different British accents not just one. And I’d like for us to propagate that knowledge of what accent specifically they are doing, where it is and how it came to exist and what are the influences that make it what it is.

What about the film world? I know you want to create things in that realm.

Colleen: Yes, we’d like to create film work for sure. We have shot a short film that is currently in post.

Jessica: I’d really like to see us create strong female roles both behind the camera and in front of it; female directors, as well as strong female lead roles. For example- so many of the roles that are cast here are cast male; regardless of whether the character could be female or not. I’d like to change that.

Colleen: Yes, one of the things I see in British Film and TV is real people. Every age, every shape – real stories. It’s very glamourized here. It’s not about doing English work for me in that realm, but recreating that type of truth here.

Jessica: It’s starting to change here, but it is still glamourized for sure. I would like to see us break that mold. And I’d like to combine what we get here in the theatre world into film. That rehearsal and development period, that is normal for us Brits, is often skipped here… I’d like to do that in the film world, so that the performances have a three-dimensional quality that I often find is lacking in film performance. That’s something that I want to work on film as a Film Director.

Colleen: Also, I’d like to create some solid footage for the local actors, so we can show what they can do.

Jessica: Yes, there are many actors that don’t have the type of footage that can show what they can do. I’d like to help them create that.

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EDUCATING RITA opens Friday, May 5th and plays for three weekends through Sunday, May 21st.

Performances are at VSA North 4th Art Center located at 4904 4th St. NW. Tickets can be purchased via www.westendproductions.org. For more information visit the website or call 505-410-8524.