Dialect Coaching: Online or in Person? (Part 1 - Actors)

Welcome to the future!!!

It may come as no surprise to most of you, but we live in an age of technological innovation that has made the world much smaller than it was even 10 years ago. And because of this awesome technology making the world smaller, we are no longer bound by the ways of thinking and working that we used to be.  


What does this mean for you and your dialect coach?

You no longer need to be in the same room, neighborhood, city, county, state, or country are your dialect coach to reap the benefits of having a dialect coach on your team!!


Now the big question is: "Can we really do the same kinds of work over Skype as we can face to face in the same room?"

The short answer is: Yes! (Almost always). 

Let me break this down.  You'll typically (if you're lucky!) know what dialect you need to learn a couple of months before you need to be on set or in rehearsals.  Aside from the fact that It's much more convenient for you to work from the comfort of your own home, the work that you need to do with your coach before bring on set or in performance can easily be done in an online webinar or one on one format.  Learning the sounds of the dialect, practicing the sounds, deciding on and making specific sound choices for your character, running your lines, practicing improv in the dialect to prep you for rewrites and in the moment changes on set, and integrating your dialect into your acting from start to finish can all happen online.  Last minute touch ups before an audition or a class presentation can all happen online.  

Basically, everything can happen online!


So when do you need to be in the same room as your dialect coach?

It's my belief that the best time to be in the same room as your dialect coach is just prior to when you need to be on set, and then, of course, on set.  The in-person care your dialect coach can provide will be invaluable to you on set!  We'll check in with you early, go over rewrites with you in your dialect, be on hand to touch up the dialect between takes, be listening to the sound on each take to ensure that there is always good audio of you doing the dialect.  We can address any acting challenges you're having in terms of your dialect in the moment and can make sure that the storytelling that the dialect adds a layer to is always supporting the director's vision.  We can even be on hand to provide a hit of chapstick or breath freshener if needed!

Conclusion: at the end of the day, the bulk of your initial work with your coach can absolutely be provided in a remote or virtual fashion.  But when the rubber meets the road, you'll be thankful to have your dialect coach in the same room and on set with you!

How Your Dialect Coach can Help With Dialogue and Text.

You probably start by asking, "Should my dialect coach be the one I even ask to help with dialogue coaching?"

The obvious answer... YES!

Here's why? Because outside of helping you to seamlessly incorporate your dialect into your acting and helping guide you in making the specific dialect choices that equal specific acting choices, your dialect coach specializes in how the language your are speaking (i.e. Dialogue) is put together for dramatic effect.  They do this because how the language is spoken and put together is an intrinsic part of a dialect of that particular language.

Let's go a step further... I've said before that you come already pre-loaded with a dialect.  But you also come pre-loaded with a particular and idiosyncratic way of speaking that dialect that is unique to YOU. We call this your idiolect.  If we were to write your conversations down, each participant in the conversation - including you - would have a slightly different way of choosing words, which slang and word order to use, and speaking and constructing their arguments and interfacing with the world. This is in addition to the sounds of the dialect itself!  

Your character comes with this feature as well. 

Your dialect coach will work with you to incorporate this level into your acting as well.  Remember, this is NOT helping you with line readings or telling you "how" to say your lines.  

Think of it this way, we integrate the dialect into your brain so you can speak extemporaneously in that dialect without thinking about having to "think" about how to make each sound change.  If we get into the nitty-gritty of how the dialogue is put together as well and integrate the way of speaking (and THINKING) into your actor's brain, then you can start THINKING the thoughts that create the dialogue in the dialect.

This is a HUGE step in making the dialect a part of your transforming into the character, and you'll love it as an actor when people meet you after seeing your film and you act and sound so completely different. They'll stand amazed at how you were able to transform into the character!  It can be a huge, extremely fun, and really great part of the magic of acting that you love to share with your audiences.

So bring your dialect coach in on your process at the beginning - you won't regret that decision at all!!

Anyway... Those are my thoughts!

How to Talk to your Dialect Coach...

This might seem like a silly thing to address, but I think that it's important.  You are probably asking, "Why do I need to talk to my Dialect Coach differently?"  Well, I'll tell ya!

 THE BIG REASON - (i.e. This is why!!)

Your Dialect Coach is here to help you book more work and to become more successful both in the audition room and on set and in rehearsals.  

What does that mean?  You will have a relationship with your Dialect Coach that is not dissimilar to the one you have with your favorite acting coach or your intimate confidant - your agent or manager.  But while an agent or manager is someone who you feel you have to put on a good professional face for (sometimes), your acting or dialect coach is someone who knows both you and your acting process (and can influence your process) intimately and often sees you as the artist with something to say as opposed to how you will contribute to a book of actors or a book of business.

So how should I talk to my Dialect Coach?

1) Be honest about your goals!

A good Dialect Coach will want to help you achieve them, and will be able to add to your goals list.  Above all, your dialect coach will be interested in helping you develop technique and skills to set you apart from your competition and to help you achieve your career goals.  Just to highlight, I tell all my clients that I will be one of the only people outside of themselves who will be as interested in their success as they are!  And I mean it!!!

  

2) Be Specific!

Whether it's a period piece or modern, or if it's a classical theater piece or film, or if it's an audition, indie film, or major motion picture, your dialect coach can help you to find the voice of the character you are playing, and to help you weld it to the fabric of your acting.  EVERY character you play has an accent or dialect.  Use your coach to mine into the layers of the text and character to find this accent in all its specificity and they will help you to attach and internalize all the information you've found so that you can KILL it on set or in rehearsal!  The more specific you can be with your coach in terms of acting and the voice your character has (or that you think it has), the better off you will be with your coach!

 

 

 

 

3) Be curious about what you don't know!

Your coach is probably an expert in something that you aren't! (Dialects right?) And since they want to help you beat your competition and book LOTS of work, it's good to be humble and learn how their knowledge interfaces with what you know at a deep level as your acting technique and artistry and talent.  You will ALWAYS know your talent and instrument better than any teacher or coach you will ever have, but they will be able to see the blocks in the way of that talent FAR, FAR better than you will.  Allow them into your process and get curious about what they see and how they guide you.  Since dialect is a layer of storytelling in film, tv, and theatre (Thanks to Pamela Vanderway at DialectCoaches.com for this bit of gold!), your coach will want to layer your work into your acting and will want to fuse it with your acting work so you don't have to think about it while acting (a good idea, yes?)!  Be open to this process, and don't be too protective or possessive of "your process".  Acknowledge what you don't know about even the smallest part of the process.  There are lots of mysteries in any role, and your dialect coach will have a unique insight into them, and how to help you explore them.  Be honest with them, and let them help you explore!!!  


Imagine your Dialect Coach to be a great mountain guide in the Alps.  You wouldn't have gone to them if you didn't know at leas a little bit about mountain climbing, but you certainly wouldn't know where to go and how not to die on any specific glacier without them.  Be sure to communicate clearly with them so they can help you out!!

Anyhow... Those are my thoughts!

I'm an actor and I have a Strong Accent. What should I do?

First of all... GET OUT!  Go!  Get out of here!!!  No accents allowed!!!

So, clearly, I'm joking!  But you're probably asking this question because you live in Hollywood (or somewhere else) and you are being told by someone - a casting director, agent, manager, acting teacher - that you need to "lose your accent" to be able to book more work.

Now don't get confused or stop reading, but on one level those people who are telling you this, are absolutely right, and on another level, those people are absolutely wrong!!


Where are they right?

They are right inasmuch as we can predict that you'd book more work if your accent didn't always sound like it does now.

In fact, the majority of your characters may want to sound very different from the way you sound in everyday life.

Where are they wrong?

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The are wrong in that you need to "lose" your accent.

If your accent is a huge part of your identity as a person and as an artist, why would we want to lose that identity?  

Well, we don't!  Not at all!!!


Now that we've laid that out in the open, here's what you should do!!

First, find a good dialect coach that you can study and work with like you would an acting teacher or coach.  In my studio, I LOVE when actors who have distinct accents come to study and work with me.  Whatever accent you have comes baked in the cake of your identity as an artist and as a person, and you have a distinct advantage over every other actor who doesn't have your accent - especially if it's an accent that is currently (or at various times) in vogue in film and tv.   If we nurture that accent the right way and make sure your English is perfect, you can use that accent as a huge asset in your career and you can book more work!

The problem lies in the fact that not every character you will play or want to play (or audition for) has your native accent.   This is why your agent or manager (or whomever) wants you to "lose" your accent.  

Here's my proposal...

1) We take a detailed look at your "type" as an actor and artist, and we identify that 6-12 accents that you will most likely be cast using.  This process is called "Dialect Typing" and is crucial to helping you focus your career, training and ultimately helping you book more work! 

2) We train you to be able to learn and use the other accents as if they were your own.  I always tell my actors to have at least 6 (preferably 12) monologues of every genre in their back pocket, so they can always be prepared for an audition, to do another piece in an audition, and to be specially prepared to audition at the drop of a hat for any producer or director they ever meet.  

You need to have your "back pocket dialects" ready in the same way.  This sounds like a long and hard process... it can be, but keep in mind that the more you do this work the more your brain learns how to learn dialects, so the 12th dialect you learn will be much easier than the first.  No matter what, you need to be prepared to take the time required to do this... see my previous post on how long it takes to learn a dialect to get an idea of this process.


Since voice and speech technique is really acting technique, this is as crucial an investment in your acting craft as the Meisner or Scene study or Cold Reading class you are taking. The kinds of skills you learn with your dialect coach are high-level skills that will set you apart from your competition.  Think of them like the high-level skills a professional athlete has.  If you want to play in the NFL, you'd better have the skills to play in the NFL.  Similarly, if you want to act at the highest level, you need to have the skills to do so - especially since these skills help to unlock and unleash your already formidable talent!!!

So cherish your accent, and learn to love the process of gaining more and modifying them to aid your career!!!

Anyway... those are my thoughts.

How to Land A-List Dialect Coaching on a Starving Actor's Budget.

OK!

So let's say that you're a typical actor living in Los Angeles (or almost anywhere for that matter).  You've probably got an apartment that comes with a few roommates to save on costs.  You've probably got a smallish, gas efficient-ish car with 120k plus miles on it.  You may have a cat or dog.  You probably are taking an acting class, are looking for or have an agent or manager who wants you to get new headshots.  You have your car trunk full of different clothing just in case you get an audition.  I've not even mentioned your costs for insurance, food, and all the other bills you have to pay... And you HAVE to pay for all of this somehow.

You probably have a day job to take care of these things, and money is tight because the kind of job you can get needs to be flexible so you can leave for auditions and eventually become a full-time working actor.  

How can you land a top-notch dialect coach when your funds are this stretched?

This is a question that I get asked almost more than any other.  The good news is that because your friendly neighborhood dialect coach exists to help actors book more work, we tend to have lots of options to make it easier for actors who want more work to train with us!  No matter what, a dialect coach who has the heart of a teacher will want to help you out, and will probably have lots of ways to be flexible.  Here are a few things to look out for...

1) Find an Acting Studio that has a Resident Dialect Coach.

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A good acting studio will have resources to point their actors towards, but the best studios will have a dialect coach in-house who can do dialect classes, dialect work scene study, and coach the actors there one-on-one.  These offerings will often cost a similar amount to your acting classes, but you will probably save anywhere from 50-80% over private lessons.  Two recommendations I have are Elysium Conservatory Theatre (www.fearlessartists.com/training) and the Andrew Wood Acting Studio (www.andrewwoodla.com).  You may find ways to get discounts by getting a group of friends to sign up with you, or by offering to assist the coach in setup for classes... get creative!!!

2) Find a Dialect Coach Who Offers Online Coaching.

In this day and age of technological marvels, there is often less of a need for expensive in-person coaching.  That is not to say that there are not times when in-person coaching is best, but we can alleviate a lot of time and cost for our clients by coaching online via offerings like Skype, Zoom, and other similar tools.  If your time is money, how much of it can you save by simplifying the scheduling process as well as by taking away the need to sit in traffic (especially in LA) to get to your dialect coach?  

Some dialect coaches (like the one writing this) will often offer lower pricing for online coaching, and for the purchase of multiple sessions in a package!  Also (again!) think about getting a group of friends to take lessons with a coach together.  Most coaches will agree to take less per person and you can still be coached online with up to 6 or more of your friends!

3) Find a Dialect Coach Who Offers a Sliding Scale for Pricing.

Every Dialect Coach prices his or her services differently and the prices often vary wildly.  If you do your research correctly, you can find a Dialect Coach who has a method to make it easier for what I call blue collar actors to get the kind of training they need to be successful at the highest levels in the industry.  

If you'd like to hear more, contact me, and let me tell you about how I can help!!

4) Find a Dialect Coach Who Really Cares About Your Success!

Aside from the other items in this post, this is perhaps the most important thing to focus on.  In life, the value something brings often outweighs its price.  Your Dialect Coach should be no different.  

One of the things I pride myself on as a Dialect Coach (and I tell every client I have this same thing) is that I will be one of the only people in this business who cares as much about your success as you do! My job as a Dialect Coach is to help you book more work and move up in the industry.  If I only cared about throwing some information your way or only helping to get you "kind of" ready for that next audition, I would be doing all of us a disservice.  

Bottom line: Be sure to put in the same level of work in getting to know your Dialect Coach as you do your acting teachers or agents and managers.  They will be a valuable asset to your career, and if they are good, they'll really care about your success and growth.  I love investing in actors who want to invest in themselves!!!

Anyway... Those are my thoughts!

 

One Simple Exercise: Prepping Yourself for a Dialect or Accent Before and Audition

Just a day or two ago I was asked by a student if there was an exercise or two he could do to really quickly prep himself to take on an accent or dialect (he already knows) just before an audition (or take).  I figured I write a quick blog post to that effect on the off chance that he's not the only one with that question.

Exercise 1: Posture Phrase  

This may sound at first like it has nothing to do with an accent at all, but let me assure you that it's VERY important.  Now I'm not talking about posture in the sense that you need to "Stand up Straight!" or anything like that (though you may find that a dialect changes that too!).  I'm talking about ORAL POSTURE.

In the same way that your body has a posture that affects how it walks, talks, and sounds, your vocal tract (mouth, larynx, tongue, lips, etc.) has a posture that affects how the sounds (read: accent) comes out.  In fact, Oral Posture is maybe the single biggest factor of getting a dialect right in a lot of cases.  So here's what you do...

  • Find the Differences between your own native/natural Oral Posture and your Target Dialect's
  • Find a catch phrase either from your lines, or something you've heard, or ANYTHING that you can say in that target dialect that typifies that oral posture
  • Use that phrase to immediately shift into the new Oral Posture and 
  • Lather, Rince, Repeat!

This is one of the quickest ways I know to adopt a foreign Oral Posture.  Ask your Dialect Coach for help identifying the Oral Posture differences and in finding or creating your helper phrase!

You'll be glad you did this exercise, especially right before an audition that you're running late for, or after a long break on set!

Anyway... Those are my thoughts!

How Long Does it Take to Learn A Dialect?

Ahhhh... I get this question A LOT!!!!

Well... you may not like this answer, but there really is no prescribed length of time that I can definitely tell you.

 All I can say is this, it's based on a number of factors (which I'll outline next!), and that at the outset, I usually budget anywhere between 12 and 16 weeks to help an actor master a dialect.

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So what are the determining factors?

1) Are you an actor that has a lot of experience with dialects and voice and speech, or do you have little or no experience?

This is perhaps the most important factor in how long it will take you to master a dialect.  This is because the part of learning a dialect that takes the most time is actually made of two parts: 1) How to go about learning a new dialect or accent.  Essentially, do you know how to learn a dialect (I guess I should say, the processes and homework involved)?  And 2) Integrating the dialect into your acting work.  This means LITERALLY imprinting the dialect into your brain so that you can think and speak at will in the accent. 

If you have lots of experience and already have the tools in your actor's toolbox to be able to more quickly assimilate a new dialect, then this part of the process tightens up quite a bit.  

You'll know how to make connections and do work on your own that will speed up your mastery a lot!

However, if you have little or no experience then your dialect coach will need to teach you some of the tools that will ultimately make learning a dialect easier for you both now and in the future.  

IMPORTANT NOTE!!!! - it's not out of the world of possibility that you may be given little to no notice for an audition or role for which you need a dialect.  Don't despair if you are inexperienced in accents (or even if you have lots of experience).  As a dialect coach, I have lots of tools and ways of working that'll help us get there faster, though sacrificing some of the in-depth work.

The times when an accent or dialect doesn't work for an actor in film or TV are the times when I CAN GUARANTEE, the actor was not given enough prep time to really master the dialect. 


2) Is the dialect close to or far away from the way you speak in everyday life - what I call your "Native Dialect"?

Just a reminder here - you already come pre-loaded with an accent!

This can go either way.  It all depends on your proclivities and how you best learn.  Some actors do much better when an accent is far, far away from the way they naturally speak.  Some do better when it's closer to how they normally speak.  It all depends on you, and this will affect how long the process takes.  The point is that we want to shed your Native Dialect and completely assume the target dialect... I wish I had a better answer for you than "It depends on how you best learn," but I don't!  This is actually a part of the process that really excites me as a dialect coach!!!!


3) How much work are you willing to put in outside of your sessions with your dialect coach?

You'll probably have 1-3 sessions a week with your dialect coach, depending on the project and budget.  You can get a lot done in those sessions, but since the hardest part of learning any dialect is imprinting it in your brain so you can think and speak extemporaneously in that dialect (rather than just saying the lines you have to memorize), you have to put in a lot of work on you own time.

Think of this like training for a role as a big mountain climber.  You wouldn't want to look like you had no idea how to tie a figure-eight knot, or belay a climber, or attach protection to a rock face, would you?  Of course not!  You'd practice these things with a  coach and on your own to get it in your bones so it becomes second nature!  You have to practice and drill a dialect in the same way.  Your dialect coach will have lots of cool, creative, and above all, FUN ways for you to do this.

They may give you recorded samples to listen to and repeat in the car.. if you're lucky they'll do your lines!!  You may have word lists with sounds that you struggle with and you'll have to repeat over, and over, and over, and over.  You may get flash cards, or a movie or TV show to watch and listen to an actor, or even an actual person to have a conversation with and watch his or her accent in action!!!  There are too many fun ways to help an actor master a dialect to list here!!!!

One of my pet peeves is when dialect work - which is potentially extremely hard - is made into a chore and all the fun is taken out of it.  If you enjoy exploring the different psychological and emotional facets of your characters, then dialect work fits right into that.  Dialects are literal vocal projections of all that psychology and emotion, so have FUN exploring!!!

There are more factors that'll influence how long it takes to learn a dialect, but these three are, in my opinion, the three most important.

Above all... HAVE FUN!!!

Anyway... Those are my thoughts!

3 Tips for Actors New to Dialects and Accents

So let's say you're an actor, and you've been having some success.  Let's say your agent or manager calls you and says, "Hey sport!  I gotcha an audition for Game of Thrones!!" or "Hey there guy! You have an audition for Fargo!"  

Now you ask yourself, "Do I know the accent I need for this audition?"

If you're an actor who doesn't have a lot of experience or training in accents and dialects this can be a scary proposition.  The best bet for your career is to make sure you never are in this position, but how do I begin if I don't have the kind of training that I need right now.  For someone new to dialects this can seem like a daunting task but don't worry, there are a few things you can do right away to... 

Prepare for the future!!

Here are 3 tips for actors without dialect or accent training to start prepping 

1) Find a Good Dialect Coach that you can work well with.

This is THE most important step to take to be successful as a dialect actor!  Think of it like this: You wouldn't take on a role or try to get a role that features heavy use of martial arts without finding a great martial arts instructor to train with who can teach you to master the technique you need, would you? I thought not!

Whether you come to me, find one on your own (go to www.DialectCoaches.com), or get a recommendation from an acting teacher or friend, your friendly neighborhood dialect coach can help you from A to Z when it comes to feeling at home in dialect work.  For my own part, I can work with you in the beginning to identify which dialects you are most likely to be cast using (we call this dialect typing), and help you build a roster of dialects so when that call comes you're not out in the snow without an accent on (great metaphor right?)!

Remember a good dialect coach's job is to help you book more work!!

2) Get Interested in your own unique and cool way of talking!

Believe it or not, you already talk in an accent!  The way you speak every day and in different situations is your own native dialect.  This dialect tells us LOTS of information about you: your background, where you're from, how your parents taught you to speak, social and economic background... EVERYTHING!  Dialect is identity, and the more you can get curious about your own dialect, the easier it'll be for you to learn the new ways of talking that make up the dialects you're looking to master.

3) Try Some Accents on for Size

So even if you've never played around with accents or dialects before one of the best ways to get ready to work with them and your dialect coach is to try an accent or two on for size.  Try copying a cool accent you hear on TV or in a movie.  Try copying the way a friend talks.  Just try it on and don't be afraid to get it WRONG a bunch of times. (Keep in mind that this step is only the beginning - you should NEVER take an accent that you just "try out" to an audition or on set!)  Learning to make new speech sounds is like learning to dance, or ski, or use a power tool.  It's a skill like any other, and as a skier myself I can tell you that you don't learn to ski by watching another skier ski.  You learn by trying it out, and you certainly learn by falling more than a few times.  

So try some accents out, and have fun getting them wrong more than a few times.  You can trust your dialect coach to help you iron out all the kinks the more you work together!

 

Anyway... Those are my thoughts.

British Actors in higher demand... Why?

I've been noticing a trend over the last 5-10 years in film and television.  I'm sure you've noticed it too.  Actors from outside America seem to be getting more play in film and television.  I'm not talking about only period pieces and sci-fi and fantasy films where our bad guys in America seem to come with variations on British accents.  I'm talking about classic American roles in American Stories.

For example: David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2014's Selma, or Hugh Laurie in House, or Ewan McGregor in Blackhawk Down and Big Fish, or Ray Winstone in The Departed, or Michael Caine, or Jude Law, orJason Statham, or Daniel Day-Lewis in EVERYTHING... and the list goes on!

(You'll notice these are all male actors, this phenomenon doesn't seem as prevalent for Female actors...)

Now, these are all fine actors and they deserve to get the roles they are getting - because they are REALLY good!

My question is why are these roles not going to American Actors? 

My theory is that for the most part, British Actors are receiving far more, and in some cases, far better training in Dialects, Voice, and Speech!  

This is both unfortunate, and fixable!!  Think how many American actors crossover to British accents (or others) successfully.  There are some, but not as many as the other way around.

Solution:

Be sure to make the kind of investment in you Dialects and Voice training that you are making in your acting classes and casting director workshops.  Don't let yourself be out marketed and muscled out by British Actors who can play Americans.  Give 'em some competition!!!

Anyway... Those are my thoughts.