Tag Archives: accents

Time Out

1 Aug


I am here on a self-imposed “time out.”

…In my second hour of script study for the night, I’ve become revved up to such a level of frustration that I want to tear that sunofabitch to shreds. 

And I kinda need it still. 

Like, we haven’t even started blocking yet. 

…So, instead of dousing it with alcohol and lighting it a-flame, while watching the ashes crumple into a mighty heap…I’ve decided to take a break and blog.

It’s the “healthier” choice, I think.

…Also, better in product preservation.

Listen: this isn’t m’first night of work on this thing.  I may be behind where I originally set myself to be at this point (aren’t I always?)…but I’ve nailed two of the three dialects to the ground, am off book for all of the German (with the bulk of my nonsense monologues) and several scenes of the English.  I had skipped the Scottish on purpose, you see.  For two weeks. First, in order to get the German where I wanted it, and then: to make an easier segue going from English work, so at least we are dealing with somewhat the same mouth shapes and sounds scenarios.

…Which brings us to today.

In my head, I was gonna be off freakin’ book entirely and halfway into character physical work by now.  In reality, I’ve got a truly terrible German dialect (as it should be), and a hoity-toity English Finishing School “Call The Midwife” thing going.  I’ve slapped the worst of the bulked monologues into memory slot submission, and shoved “Gwendolen” from my consciousness to allow a new kind of bratty Brit to take her place.

…Things could be a whole lot worse, is the point I’m trying to make to me, right now.

…Only all I can see at the moment, is the three scenes of Scottish I’ve been working on…all fucking night long. 

I am in Glasgow hell. 

…It sounds like every place except Glasgow. And mostly like Newark.

I haven’t been so incredibly dialect-frustrated since I learned that north west Lancashire one for “Accrington Pals,’ forever ago. 

…Of course, what I should take from that was the fact that I eventually totally nailed it.  But instead, all I can think of was the sheer-terror-panic just before I finally did.

…And how it all just sorta “happened” one day.  With the speed of a snap.  A switch flipped and I “got it.”  I still dunno why or how.  And up to that point, (and since) I’ve never met an accent I couldn’t blitz with fifteen minutes of study time.  Dutch. Swedish. Italian. French. Irish. Russian. German. Canadian. Any mass variety of English. Any mass variety of American.  To me: it’s like music.  I hear it done well, by a native.  I listen to the musicality of the cadence.  And just like learning a song, I learn the accent.

It’s usually that simple.

…Except today. 

Being mostly Latina, I’ve never been called upon to pull out a Scottish accent before this.  Like the other more white-bred ones, I thought I’d simply slap it on when and if I needed it.  Because prepping for an all-inclusive what-if accent arsenal for a character actor is insane. I have no idea how many I even know. I’ve played just about everything except what I actually am, at this point. 

…So, silly me, I thought: “whelp, I’ll put a half hour in on this one, and I’ll be good to go.”

Only I ain’t.

Which is just STUPID.

…It’s only Scottish, for shit-slingin’-sake.

…Yet, here I sit, frustrated beyond belief, as I keep trying to prevent the width of it from sliding all the way to the back of the throat like that Lancashire I know, and not go too crazy with the cut-off endings so the lilt doesn’t slip into Irish, and the double “O’s” don’t float into some weird kind of Canadian, while the “R’s” are tapped just right and and not wandering lazily off into French ones.

It’s just too damn much happening at the same time ‘tween the circuits of my brain.  Maybe I know too many fucking accents.  And now it’s like every cocking one of them, that side of the pond, got together in my head and started to have a party.

…Who invited these people, even?!? 

I sure as hell didn’t!

…And I wish they’d go home already! I have work to do…and they’re just freakin’ me the fuck out right now!


So, yes.

…I’m really glad I took that “time out”…


Nod Off

21 Jul


I can’t keep the eyes open long enough to finish the blog of intent, so here is what you get:


Am about to begin a new week and a new script (in earnest), committing lines to m’brains until they stick, and running accents until my tongue muscle gives out.

…Not as sexy as from overuse of rampant kissing escapades, but we take what we can get, folks.

And right now, it could so be a lot, lot worse.

So, yay for that.


Next! (And, In German)

19 Jun


Tonight, I start work on m’next script, as first read has now been settled for this Saturday before “Earnest.” For it I’ll be playing three rolls in fast-action farce: A German spy, a bookish British smart-tart, and a Scottish country lass.

Circa, London 1935.

…Currently (of course) I’m living in posh period Brit, 1895. So that’ll be a fun mind fuck once we really get running in rehearsals while still finishing “Earnest” performances.

But I’m totally good for it. 😉

…Homework right now is working on the accents so I have something decent to use for the read on Saturday. Never having done a German without Jewish or Dutch influence, means that’ll be a whole new bag to play with for me, as well as digging out a comedic Scottish that you can still actually understand.

Tons of fun ahead.

Tonight: am focusing on Annabella Schmidt…the German spy…the model for which I will (naturally) be using, being Marlene Dietrich. I want her vocal pitch so low she sounds like a man in drag, and her accent so exaggerated she sounds like any Noir period spy supposed to be based in Germany (having prob’ly actually been born in Jersey.)

…It will be awful-beautiful.

I almost can’t wait.

So I’m leaving now to go work on it.

First bus stop on the homework train is this:


…All aboard!


Music-Speak With Ghosts

25 Feb


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.


Commedia dell’Ham

27 Dec


The only fun thing about running lines at this point (a total necessity) is to fuck with ’em by punctuating them with ridiculousness. So when I get to this point in the process, I just let it all hang out.

…Personal favorites are Telemundo-ing them to such great lengths of unnecessary melodrama that it is all but impossible to keep a straight face.

…Also adding inappropriate accents. 

…There is something about doing Shakespeare in a wide Wisconsin yowl that makes you want to piss your pants…like, every time. 

Look, if you HAVE to run these words over and over and over and over again in your head…to the point of incorporating their thought process and sentence structures as a second nature, you might as well have some fun with ’em. ‘Specially the dramas. One can only live in that kind of head space for so long…you have to be able to divorce your emotions from the words at some point or you’ll just launch into depression on a consistent basis. I like to fix this by reciting them while rocking out to music set as loud a possible, or at a speed mirroring that dude who used to do those Micromachine commercials when we were kids.

Dramas “at speed,” are fucking hilarious.

…Raising stakes to that level but without taking the time to segue from one thought process to the next, suddenly makes your character sound like a complete schizo, with totally unreasonable commentary and validations. Like today, for instance: running the worst emo lines of Act III, had me scrunching to the floor so as not to wet myself with the hilarious help of a friendly cue-giver. Every line spoken absolutely flat, on their end, was responded with mine in a highest-stake faux meltdown of wailing that would make Gloria Swanson look like an amateur.

…Which, because I like to pace while running lines, went a little bit like this:

Them: (Sitting in a chair.) But. Why. Oh. Why. Did this happen.

Me: (While walking out the room.) –I don’t KNNOOOOOOOOOOW!!!!!! Beeecaaaaaause iiiit DIIIIIIIIIIIIID ! Iiiit HAAAAAAAAD to!!!!

Them: Now. We. Will. Never have. A normal life. Again. Why. Oh why.

Me: (While walking back into the room.) –Wwwwwwweee aren’t LIIIIIIIIIKE that!!! We aren’t!!! WE AREN’T!!!”

Them: Ok. So we aren’t. But then. What.

Me: (Pacing.) Listen!

Them: (Silence.)

Me: (Pacing.) Listen!

Them: (Silence.)

Me: (Stopping and yelling at filing cabinet.) LISTEN TO ME!!!

Them: I am. Listening.

Me: (Pacing back out of the room.) –We can NEVER go baaaaaaack! It’s alllll DOOOOONE for us now!!

Them: But. Why.

Me: (tearful-vomit-screech-of-pain-from-the-other-room)

Them: Why.

Me: (Heave. Heave.)

THem: Why.

Me: (Walking back into the room.) IIIIIIII DOOOOOOON’T KNOOOOOOOOOW!!!! It’s all because of “THEM!”

Them: Damn. Them. Damn them. All. To hell.

Me: (Gesticulating madly.) —Oh! Oh! Oh! It has come to THIS!

Them: Yes.

Me: (Falling into chair melodramatically.)— I KNEW it!!!

Them: I’m cold.

Me: –The END!

Them: Are you cold.

Me: –The END of EVERYTHING!!!!

Them: Lets not. Talk about it.

Me: (Standing and wailing.) GODDAMN MY LIIIIIIFE!!!!

Them: I’ll go. Cook us some dinner…

Me: (More wild gesticulations.) What care I for food?!

Them: You have to. Eat something. What.

Me: Nothing!

Them: What.


Them: (Beat.) What.

Me: (Calling out with all the power of Stanley from “Streetcar,” while sinking to my knees.) EEEEEEGGS!

Them: Fine. I will make us. Some eggs…


…This is not a literal translation of our line sequence of course, it’s more a general flavor. Wouldn’t wanna give the end away and all. But the point is: I laughed lots while doing it, which is exactly what WON’T be happening tonight when we run the scene for three solid hours.

…And I really needed that.


I Want To Eat You

28 Oct


It’s something I say to a book, sometimes…so get your mind out of the gutter there, friend.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t consume a book fast enough to please me.  I’d spend ten hours straight, totally uninterrupted on a Summer’s day, and rip through “Gone with the Wind,” or “War & Peace.”  I’d plow through Bronte and Austen and Dickens every Holiday Season. I’d devour L.M. Montgomery and Twain in special closeted room seclusion.  On every car ride, on every vacation and trip…even at the breakfast table over Cheerios: there would be a book.

…For me, it wasn’t only the stories, it was the language that fascinated me. I would eventually begin introducing their speaking patterns and word choices into my own lexicon…which is weird to hear comin’ out of a little eight-year-old Latina kid.  I’d speak in accents for whole days…just because I could, and it seemed totally natural to me.  And these worlds and words became obsessions…I would always hunger for more, the more I read…wanted to consume them…to read them out loud and chew them. 

…To actually eat the words, and have them somehow make me a better, more clever, talented, funny, bold, and dramatic. To MAKE me into those specific characters…even if only for a little while.

…Which is a large contributing reason of why I love theatre.

It is your opportunity to consume and digest words on a page, and use the power that they give you via their interpretations, meanings and thoughts, to bring this character to life from a book’s pages, a script…with more choices involved being as you are now responsible for even their walk, stance, physical interactions, plot projections, and vocal choices.

Sometimes, just like when reading aloud from a Novel, these things come easily to you, free of thought really…the character seems to just “be” this way, in it’s most basic form, and you build from there. Sometimes you have to dig and dig to get the information needed at every stage of the character’s building…like an Archaeologist slowly resurfacing information, one tiny sweep of sand at a time, on who this person was, buried in this paper tomb and waiting to be reintroduced to the world again. Sometimes it volunteers you information, from places you are totally unaware of, and can’t quite explain…yet because of it’s insistence of “being” there, I always work doubly hard to justify the “choice” made in that moment. Because it was (for whatever reason) a gut instinct that just happened. And gut instincts are usually the correct line to follow, simply because it was a natural inclination. Not forced.

…Because of this long-time fascination with language and words, it happens most often that the “gut instinct” choices will first form with the words. If I read a script out loud (the only way they are meant to be), in time a natural voice for the character will emerge. And because I’ve done character acting for so many years, it tends to be often of some accented requirement. So this, then, becomes their voice…with changes here and there in pitch or cadence to fit them closer. What is really difficult for me, is when the voice is asked to change, halfway through the process.

…By now, it is so much a part of the character, that the lines just naturally cling to it…as much as the posture on stage, naturally falls into place. I am passed now, the point of thinking about those things…they were built and settled several weeks ago, and my head is now onto other specifics. It is a note, however, of wanted change, so I am now trying to retrace my step back to the root to retrain my brain, who is stubbornly wanting to be focused on other things. It shouldn’t be a difficult alteration…it isn’t a true accented issue (which was confusing me, until a specific clarification was made)…it’s a softening of the “r’s” mostly…sometime a softer “t” here a there…a more cultured and genteel sound, for the fact she is more educated, a Lady in Waiting, a certain status, not just a kitchen serving wench. And it also is placed to put more likeness to the stiffness of Malvolio’s regime over the house and his specific speaking style, to help bridge the gap between the two worlds of servant and master, that she pops in and out of…and what happens as she allows that mask to slip when in the company of Sir Toby. It is part of showing her struggle between doing the thing that is right and proper, and the moments when we see the total unabashed relief and joy, in saying, “Fuck it! I’m just gonna have a good time!”

…But if I am not explaining that enough with the action of it, or if it is getting in the way of the bigger picture, it has to change.

…Now, you can certainly pick and choose your battles with notes given, and though it is a major character choice for a reason to me, I also understand that it is hitting the Director’s ear and saying, “No.” So “no” is the answer. And my job: a new alteration, and justification. It’s what notes are for: to bring each character into the pack, as a whole, and to make one joint vision of this thing. When your instinct to fight a note pops up (and I’m stubborn, so I have to work extra hard on this point), you need to step back and trust that this thing is for a greater good aspect. At this point, we are all so tunnel visioned with our own work and characters, it is impossible to see outside of that.

It’s our job to focus, so we do…it’s our job to define and interpret…so we do. It’s our job to make specific choices, and put them out there on that stage. And it’s the job of the Director to keep all the plates spinning, the show as a whole, with all these individuals attacking words in print and flinging them about the stage with a thousand intents and purposes.

Now that certain concessions have been made on the Monologue From Hell, this is my new task to tackle. To change her language…how she eats her words, difficult because it was there in her first beginning of learning to walk and talk…like a child, learning that “this” word sounds “this” way, so “this” is how I will always say it…contributed hugely by the influences of those about them.

…Which is how, in even a non-accented situation, you get choices that delineate and are specific. The difference between “Ont” and “Aunt.” “To-ma-to” and “tomato.” “War-shing” and “washing.” “Caribbean” and “Car-i-bbea-n.” Vocal choices…we make them all day long in every conversation we have, not even knowing it, because it is so much a part of who we are at this point.

…Guys, acting ain’t for sissies. When you break things down to these kind of elements, and need to re-educate yourself, its almost like learning another language, on the fly, and justifying it, letting it alter the heart of your character as little as possible at a stage where we are soon launching into tech.

Homework is good…it makes you push to an end, to have a specific focus. Where this note is specifically difficult, is that it is sourced from literally my childhood. The way a person sounds, is just how they sound…and always have, to my ear. Like a musician ear caters to specific notes in succession, making music. I only really realized WHY she talked the way she did, when I had to study it in order to find the code to break it. Then once understanding why the natural choice was made, and realizing what that brings to the table, I learned so much from that discovery, that I want to keep it alive in some way, because it’s pretty straight-up legit.

…So between now and today’s run through at 3:30, my homework is to give Maria a new voice, with the old reasons still intact.

…This is just a long way to say: “I have a lot of work ahead. And what we do on a stage isn’t easy. Just so we’re clear on that.”


Foreign Travel & Foreign Ways

13 Sep


Here is a secret: Traveling to a foreign country is exciting no matter where you go. Even if its Canada. Even if they talk more or less like we do. Even if they still deal in “dollars” that are somehow worth more than yours.

…It could be because they have things like Darth Vader playing a violin with a lightsaber. (Even Buddhist Monks think that shit is dope):

…Maybe its cuz they pastry-pipe your potatoes:

…And doodle all their art on sidewalks:

…And light their government buildings up like the St. Louis Fair of 19-ought-four.

Everybody seems to be much more polite…(even after they find out we’re Americans.) People go outta their way to give good service (like whoever ran my coat from the hotel to the ferry, and got it on board, just before launching.) Store owners don’t haunt and bother you while you shop (I was left unmolested in Munro’s books for two hours after the initial smile “hello.”) And, they are willing to help you break some small laws, as needed (“Uh, yes…would you suggest a rolled-up sock, or poster tube art, to get this Cuban cigar home?”)

…In the end, we went with a Hemingway and couple Macanudos instead…but they totally had our back, if we needed them.

No question.

…And I like that in a hosting country.

It solidifies trade and tourism.

…Also, did you know that calories consumed outside of your national country do not count against you? It has to do with the metric system and how its all secret and magical. I try my best not to understand it on purpose. It’s one of those things that if you break the code, it won’t work for you anymore…like that one time I decided there was no mathematical way Santa could do his gig. I haven’t gotten a damn thing outta that dude, ever since. (And I even pleaded math-stupidity, and tried to take it back ten or twenty thousand times.)

Other awesome things about foreign travel include:

* Funny Money
Not since Monopoly have you had this much fun with colored buckage. Also they name their coinage like cartoons.
Me: …And…you’re never gunna b’lieve it, but this is a loonie, and this is a toonie…
Puff: Nuh uh.
Me: I swear to you, on a Canadian Mountie…

* Everyone Has An Accent
You know how I go weak in the knees when people start throwing dialects around? Well, I haven’t walked upright in 48 hours, and have asked questions I don’t given a shit about, just to milk a little more Aussie, Scots and French out of a store clerk.
Me: Um, yes…can you please list out — in detail — all the reasons I should or should not buy this one item versus the other one. And can you tell me slower, please.

* Not My Room, Not My Problem
Traveling is the only time my OCD living-space order can go take a flying leap. Guess what? I didn’t make my bed today. I didn’t fold my towel or wipe down the sink. I never put the top back on the shampoo or cleaned out the coffee maker either. Cuz I am a disgusting mess of a human being, when on vacation…and you know what? That’s okay!

* You Can Justify Almost Anything
Me: I’m gonna get those truffles, and the caramel apple, cuz I may never come here again. I will have two beers, thank you…and I’ll prob’ly not eat anything green today…unless they find a way to cover it in this chocolate sauce. Know what? I deserve this journal I know I’ll never write in: because I want it and this isn’t just a regular “run to Barnes and Nobles” kinda thing. Yes, I have an entire shelf of tea, but I need three more because it’s foreign tea, therefore tests smarter and is prob’ly less toxic. I HAVE to buy that thing, because I have all this fake money left over, and it’s either that or give it to the street mime over there…but I’m a selfish asshole, so I’d rather spend it on me, instead.

…These are just a few reasons that you too should venture out into the big wide world of poshness and foreign travel.

…’Specially if you’ve got a kick ass bed and five pillows waiting when you come back home again, to swallow you up whole.


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