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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

One of the greatest tools that we have as actors is our mouth.  The way we shape our vowels and consonants says a lot more about us than we may be aware of.  And yet, most of us have little to no idea what actually happens inside our mouth while we're speaking.

Class.  This is a charged word.  In certain parts of the world, class is a fairly rigid divide.  In others, it's much more fluid, although maybe not so much as we would like to believe.

I've taught a lot of international actors.  I remember one in particular who came from the UK.  One of the comments he made at one point was how shocked he was when he watched "Supernanny" for the first time.  "I can't believe you let that woman on television." (He may have said "the telly", or that could just be me projecting British-isms backwards)  He was commenting on Jo, who speaks with a very low-class London accent.

My students from the US were appalled.  That was so classist!  Why should Jo be kept off of television because of the way she talks??

I agreed.  Then I asked them how they'd feel watching the same show with a woman from the backwoods, telling them all about "Hows theys gonna raise their key-uhdz."  The silence was deafening.

The way we speak gives a lot of information to the careful listener.  It tells them where we were raised, our educational background and even our social status and standing.  Even to the casual listener, much of this information is gathered on a subconscious level.

This is important to us as actors.  When we portray a character, the way they speak is as much a part of their character as the way they move and dress.  There's a reason we accept Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but have a harder time with him in Waterworld or Robin Hood.

There's also a reason why George W. Bush was mocked for being stupid (he isn't, whatever else you want to say about him politically) and Clinton was not.  Clinton's dialect sounds much more refined and polished than Bush's.  Bush's was almost deliberately hick-ish (that's kind of a Texan thing...we take pride in sounding "just like folks").

Despite his enormous wealth, classy is typically not a word used to describe Donald Trump.  His speech isn't elevated.  We can "hear" the difference between a polished Manhattanite and a cab-driver.  Between a polished Southern gentleman and a redneck (and I use that term with affection, seeing as how it describes a good number of my close relatives).

Learning and truly understanding diction, intonation and inflection, as well as dialects, is a very important part of becoming a truly versatile actor (Meryl Streep or Kevin Cline, anyone?).  It's also something that is completely within our control.  That's right folks!  In addition to amazing acting coaching, I teach diction, accent reduction and dialects...online!  My next online workshop coming up this week will be on speaking Standard American speech more clearly (accent reduction) and will be limited to only 5 students.  If you would like to be one of those students (again at a discounted price), follow my blog, comment below and make SURE to leave your email or Twitter handle.  Also, if you are interested in ongoing instruction in accent reduction or dialects, email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

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