Music-Speak With Ghosts

25 Feb

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First of all, accents have a musicality to them. 

…We’ve been through all this before, but today brings a new challenge.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been drawn to accents, and able to learn and speak in them with relative ease…even the more complicated ones, mixing cultures and races together…or pinpointing it down to a specific region.  It’s my favorite thing to do, and I’ve gotten to play with all kinds of them in the course of my career…which is awesome, even though it may at times also be “limiting.”

For instance: right now, I’m trying to find that thin line of European Jewish lilt, minus any other linguistic influence, because our Director has chosen to go without Dutch and German for the show, entirely.  The van Daan’s, however, are written with sentence structures so specific to a Yiddish musicality, that it was made clear to me we’d have to either consciously work against it, or embrace it.  The Director (thankfully) allowed us to keep the influence as written, yet specified he wants no others to muddy the soup.  This means that the contributing factors of what delineates a European Jewish accent from say a New York one, becomes harder to define. 

An American Accent, influenced with the musicality and lilt of Yiddish, automatically lends itself to the cutting of clean endings, the combining of words together to make a mouthful, and the inclination to end almost every sentence with the cadence rising upward in a question.  For a European Jewish lilt, you would temper the large roundness of the sound and lazy endings with say the Russian “R’s” or forward motion of the mouth pursing out Dutch “D’s” or German “V” sounds replacing the wide “W’s.”  All of those mixtures help contain the Yiddish sound a bit, calming it down, so you sound less like some random guy from Brooklyn. 

…When those influences are denied you, tempering the Yiddish, is a lot more difficult than you might think. 

It’s one of those accents with a mind of its own, that takes over the tongue in no time flat, and runs off with itself. Which means that right now, while pounding lines, I’m forever having to consciously hit every ending and separate every word so it sounds almost freakishly unnatural.  Because, I have to isolate and find the correct rules to apply to each word-combo problem I find, keeping it with hard “R’s”, and hitting all the endings just right, but without it seeming like a freight train hit every sentence in a head-on collision.

…And because of the subtraction of any other accent as influence, it means I can’t just go to a YouTube of native Polish Jews, or watch a news story, or archive footage of German Holocaust survivors sharing their stories.  I’ve got to basically invent this whole other version, whose closest mother-tongue of existence actually  (so far) has only resided in the mouth of Shelley Winters as she had herself performed the movie.  Which is infuriating, as she’s the last person I want to listen to, while I’m trying to muscle through and discover the role for myself.

Usually, American films are the WORST place to go to for any ounce of dialect authenticity.  Only this time, I had little choice…it was either this or the overindulgence of something like “Fiddler on the Roof”…which would just be fucking ridiculous. At least in THIS case, I know the source is clean and on point.  Because Winters was from a Jewish-Austrian family, and if anyone would have been able to figure out how to solve the English-only Jewish European Accent problem, I’m thinkin’ she’s the most qualified person in the room.

…So despite hating it, I had to listen and learn.  Not because I loath to learn from “the goods”…but because she was SO fucking good, that even in the parts where I hit a line-read just like her, it sorta pisses me off that I’m not coming up with newer choices.  Sometimes it’s just in the writing: your choice.  Sometimes in the attitude and type of character.  Obviously, I already have a good grasp of this woman, because we are lined up in many facets of it.  And wisely I only kept to one short scene for homework purposes, so as not to get her living in my head throughout.

…Now that I sorta have a grip on where to go with the influence, I’ve gotta go to first blocking rehearsal tonight, and forget everything I heard from her, so I can forge my own way through the Attic jungle. 

Which is doable. 

…It just means for one section, I’ll be fighting an Oscar-winning ghost, is all.

So, again…no pressure or anything.

~D

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