Tuesday 16 February 2010

Well, here's a story for you...

Since acting has a lot to do with speech, I've been doing a lot of thinking about my natural accent. Although none of its elements are particularly distinctive, my accent is a mixture of Midwestern American, Irish, Kiwi and - lets face it - some German. I have lived in all of those places and some of the local accent has always rubbed off on me. Unfortunately, a non-neutral English accent that is impossible to place won't help me get acting work.

So, I've done some research. While most theatre roles require a New Zealand or at the very least a neutral accent the better part of the film work in New Zealand nowadays requires actors to speak with American accents.
Luckily, the Wellington Actors Studio is currently negotiating an American Accent Vocal Class with a recent edition to Wellington from the US, the lovely Jade Valour, and is taking registrations from interested parties.

I have also had a look at the mystery of the 'neutral accent'. The International Dialects of English Archive is an amazing resource for an abundance of native and non-native English accents. Check out their Special Collections, especially their pages for Received Pronounciation and General American. The sound recordings there are all made by trained speech teachers for speech for the stage. As a starting point it can't get much better than this!

Apparently, a neutral English accent for the stage is a non-regional version of British English called Received Pronounciation (RP), or 'The Queen's English' or 'BBC English'. Similarly, General or Standard American is the style of American English which speech professionals recommend as the desirable non-regional accent for the stage. I am guessing that RP is the accent I was meant to have learned in school and which never stuck. Bugger that. Back to the beginning then!

All this means that over the next few months I will demolish and rebuild the way I speak English. A new challenge! I guess that this is exactly why acting as a craft is so fascinating. You get to learn things you would normally not even think about, from the way you speak to the way you move and use your body, and from how you read text to how you make it come alive.

'Well, here's a story for you'...

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