BWW Interview: Liam Mitchell And Clara West of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST with the Upstart Crows Of Santa Fe
A chaotic evening during the summer of 2018 led to the Upstart Crows' upcoming departure from their traditional Shakespearean programming - the youth acting troupe had just embarked upon a much anticipated trip to the Stratford Festival in Canada, and as it often does, Murphy's Law applied to their travels. They only barely got to their seats as the lights went down for the first production they were to see - Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband - but despite the craziness that preceded the performance, the young actors were enamored with Wilde's wit, and as they left the performance at the end of the evening, a plan to perform some Wilde of their own was quickly formed.
Upstart Crows (and International Shakespeare Center company members) Clara West and Liam Mitchell recently shared their thoughts regarding their experience working on their upcoming production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
How did you get involved with the Crows?
Liam Mitchell: I was roped into Crows in the second production they ever did - A Midsummer Night's Dream - when their Duke Theseus dropped out suddenly. I had a good enough time that I have stuck with them since, and have done over 10 different Shakespeare productions, and now Oscar Wilde.
Clara West: I first got involved with the Crows almost five years ago. I had basically no acting skills, but I joined because I loved the play they were doing, A Midsummer Night's Dream. I showed up expecting to play a background faerie, but everyone was just so nice and encouraging that I found myself putting down on my three-choices-list two main characters that I had always loved. I actually got the chance to play both characters, and the Crows are some of the best people I have ever met.
What was it about seeing An Ideal Husband that made you want to do Wilde? What about that production resonated with you?
Liam Mitchell: It was the first production I had ever seen in Stratford, and of course it was of a really high quality, hilarious, and well done. I hadn't had many experiences with other classic theater aside from Shakespeare, and it was a great introduction to Wilde. I distinctly remember the Lord Goring in that production as particularly outstanding and witty. Seeing how it is so fast and well thought out Wilde is gave me a reason to want to do this production.
Were you familiar with ...Earnest prior to working on the Crows production?
Liam Mitchell: I had read The Importance of Being Earnest in school, but of course it was analyzed through an academic lens, and my teacher went through it slowly. Although we watched the play, it was stopped so often to ensure we got it from a literary perspective. So, I know this play quite well.
Clara West: I had heard of ...Earnest before we performed, because my father had a chance to act in it in high school and had loved it and of course had mentioned it a lot.
Which roles are each of you playing?
Liam Mitchell: I play Mr. Jack Worthing.
Clara West: I am playing Lady Augusta Bracknell, which has been a wonderful chance to get to play a really different type of role than I am used to.
The International Shakespeare Center recently took over the theatre formerly known as the Adobe Rose (now known as The Swan); what's it like to work there?
Liam Mitchell: I have been a volunteer at the Swan's revamping after the ISC purchased it from it's previous owners, and it's great being able to finally get to use a space I spent a great bit of time flooring and cleaning. It's a wonderful, intimate space that the Crows are glad to call their home, since we really haven't had a home theater for over four years.
Clara West: The Swan is a really interesting theater to perform in; for being so small it really is a good space.
What are some of the challenges of working on a piece by Wilde? How does it compare to playing Shakespeare?
Liam Mitchell: Wilde is particularly hard to memorize, but like Shakespeare it has its own musically and paraphrasing it is still a sin. Shakespeare has a meter, and that difference means you can work out kinks and paraphrases on the spot if you really need to, and it lines up with a specific cadence. Wilde has a cadence, but he also adds words and uses odd choices, which makes it realistic, if not hard to memorize. But you understand the words your saying most of the time, and an upper class British accent is quite fun to do.
Clara West: It is very different working on a piece by Wilde compared to Shakespeare. Personally, I prefer Shakespeare because the rhythm makes it easier to memorize. However, Wilde is really funny in his own way and it has been very fun to switch things up.
What might surprise typical Upstart Crows audiences about this production?
Liam Mitchell: For typically Crows fans, this is some of the most hilarious content, and we definitely make the best of it. It's more easily understandable, so you can have a great, easy time watching the crazy, witty, and fun Importance of Being Earnest.
Clara West: There are a lot fewer characters in ...Earnest compared to our usual plays.
What have you enjoyed the most about working on ...Earnest?
Liam Mitchell: I have really enjoyed taking on the British humor, which is typically more pessimistic, but still very funny. Also I don't get to play upper class British aristocrats, and their vanity and shortcomings are very fun to play. Besides, it's absurd, ridiculous, and silly content, which is a nice change of pace from the typically more intense Shakespeare.
Clara West: I think that one of the things that I have enjoyed the most about this play has been the interactions during rehearsal. The Crows always have a wonderful atmosphere and people care so much about their roles, but ...Earnest has really had a more concentrated amount of the feelings of having fun and at the same time just interacting with each other's characters in and out of scenes.
The Importance of Being Earnest opened Wednesday, with performances at 7 PM on April 18, 20, 26, and 27 at 7 PM and April 28 at 2 PM. All performances are at The Swan Theatre (1213 Parkway Dr B).
Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4187985?fbclid=IwAR2NZvPfIEwUAjaOfgkjWwEnLfz7lQXALGvT9F4prPitczk8nPJ2NvE5atE, by calling (505) 466-3533, or at the door.
For more information, please visit www.upstartcrowsofsantafe.org