Soderbergh's production Tot Mom was a huge task and wonderful challenge. Our cast of 10 actors played 50 real-life Americans all with varying regional US dialects and/or voice styles. The play followed the media circus, led by US legal commentator and television host Nancy Grace, surrounding a child-murder case in Florida. Australian actress and Tony Award nominee Essie Davis played Nancy and our other 9 fantastic actors (including Wayne Blair, Zoe Carides, Glenn Hazeldine, Genevieve Hegney and Damon Herriman) played 49 roles between them - lawyers, psychologists, reporters, FBI forensic investigators and more. Each actor had private coaching to help them find the differing voices of their characters - their US dialect, pace/rhythm, melody, use of range, intonation & vocal drive, individual pronunciation traits, vocal qualities (eg. resonance, breathiness, glottal attack, vocal fry or whistles etc), and/or any physicalisation that might affect the voice (eg. slumped posture, de-energised lip muscles and so forth). They did an extraordinary job of transforming themselves vocally and physically in front of the audience and I was thrilled to have worked on the show.
The musical Titanic saw me needing to coach 35 singer/actor/dancers in 14 dialects - including variations from America, England, Scotland and France. I also needed to take into consideration differences between the speech patterns of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class passengers to give a very clear class distinction on the ship. Another trait I had to consider was how pronunciations have changed over time. The Titanic set sail in 1912, a time when the dialect style and pronunciations of 1st Class American passengers would have been a blend of American and British, rather than the strong contemporary American pronunciations we're now familiar with. I always enjoy the added challenge when I get to work historically as well as theatrically.
Stainless Steel Rat is a new play by Melbourne writer Ron Elisha about the Wikileaks scandal and media coverage surrounding Julian Assange. Directed by former Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Wayne Harrison, I was hired to coach 7 of the 10 cast members who were playing multiple characters - including Swedish delegates, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, German co-founder of Wikileaks Daniel Domscheit-Berg, an American journalist, a Southern American GI, and Julian Assange himself. It was crucial for each actor to quickly find the placement, sounds, melodies and rhythms of their differing dialects so they could easily transform from one to the next. One of the methodologies I utilise really helped this cast to find these variations. Based on Rudolf Laban's movement analysis (a system I trained in for 3 years during my acting degree), I sometimes use physical terms in coaching accents. What this does is help actors feel the weight, direction, pace, height, flow and movement of a dialect eg. does the accent glide on a flat plane like ironing; does it move up and down melodically like a roller coaster; or does the culture hit words with strength like playing a linguistic tennis match? It's a great way to physically and energetically discover dialect variations on top of mastering the standard technical aspects such as placement, rhythm, melody, vowel changes, consonant replacements and so forth, and the cast had lots of fun learning how to iron or play tennis vocally.
Copyright 2011 Jennifer White. All rights reserved.