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Producer Eilene Davidson: ‘British actors are the best in the world’

Eilene Davidson

Eilene Davidson trained as an actor before moving into producing. Based in both the UK and the US, she talks to Georgia Snow about working across the pond and her latest production, the Canadian play Late Company

What drew you to this play?

I set up my company, Stage Traffic, in 2016 and our mission was to find good new work that was highly relevant to people and their lives. Mike [Yale, company co-founder] and I have both sat through a lot of theatre that doesn’t have much to say to people, or isn’t relatable. Once I read this play I knew I had to put it on, it was fantastic. It addresses so many issues – cyber bullying, teen suicide, mental health. I am based between the UK and the US so I have access to Canadian plays, of which this is one. There’s a lot of good writing coming out of Canada and I think Canadians have more in common with the British than with Americans.

Is technology and the digital world something you think theatre is addressing well?

I don’t see it much actually, there isn’t as much as I think there should be. There are a lot of contemporary themes being explored in terms of politics, and a lot of shows addressing that. But with the internet and technology, I think we’ve just scraped the surface.

As a producer, what do you look for in a play?

Stuff that’s relevant and modern, and told in a format that isn’t preachy. I hate preachy, worthy theatre. I hated it as an actor and I hate it as a producer. For me the trick is finding good writing that tells it to you in a highly entertaining way, and which resonates with audiences. I look around and I’m aware that theatre tickets are primarily bought by middle-aged women, so for me it’s about getting young people into the theatre. Today they have to compete with so much – TV is better than it’s ever been, [then there is] film, and gaming. We have to ask ourselves why would somebody go to the theatre? Why is this relevant?

How important is the international collaboration aspect of your job?

I want to have that global reach, which I think is particularly important now. It’s so important that we keep those doors open for the arts. I produce at a theatre in Boston and I would like to bring the best of UK work over there. It’s about keeping the door open both ways so that both places get good exposure. That’s my aim over the next five years.

Why did you leave acting for producing?

I trained in the UK and acted in the UK for five or six years, before starting a family when I moved overseas. In the US I started getting involved in new writing, and I got more interested in producing. I really like putting together the creative team for a show, it’s very exciting building something from the ground up.

Has theatre always been your main focus?

It’s my complete passion. When I was an actor, very frustratingly, my agent didn’t always want me to do it. I remember one year in the 1990s I did about 25 commercials and a bit of bad TV, but for me and a lot of actors the passion was always theatre. It’s what you’re trained to do. For me, being in the states, it’s very interesting to note the differences – British actors are the best in the world. Americans are in awe of what goes on in the UK.

What are the differences?

The UK has a training unlike anything else. It’s completely different. You have top drama schools that work with people for three years on developing performance skills. In the US it’s a more academic approach, and there isn’t the theatre structure for them to hone their craft. You have a big TV industry, a big movie industry, but in terms of theatres, you don’t have that many. There are a lot of musicals but in terms of serious drama, it’s nowhere near as good as the UK.

CV: Eilene Davidson

Training: Guildford School of Acting (1993)
First professional role: Daughters of Venue, Wilde Theatre, Bracknell (1993)
Agent: None

Late Company runs at the Finborough Theatre, London, until May 20

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