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Accents and Words

Many actors, presenters, and public speakers that I work with, struggle with the politics of sound and accents. They find themselves judged by how they speak, and they never quite seem to make the right choices about what and when to change. I have a few pointers for you here.  

  • If you leave your country to find work in another country (such as Charlize Theron did) then by all means learn to speak with an accent to fit in and find work!
  • If you stay in your country (mine is South Africa) then speak with your own accent in real life! And work with your own accent as much as possible (its easier to use and lets you spend more time on the job of acting, presenting and communicating and less on the energy required for change)
  • If you stay in your country learn to do more accents (not change your own) so that you will be more versatile when it comes to casting and doing voice overs.
  • Only change your accent if the role or the play demands it
  • Discover how different accents use language differently, how they sound different, how they are energetically different, how they are musically different, how they construct meaning differently etc, and then work with this knowledge
  • Knowing how different accents use language differently, how they sound different, how they are energetically different, how they are musically different, how they construct meaning differently allows you to discover how yours works and how to have fun with it. (Because your accent, whether you like or hate it, does have its own energy and rhythm and its own appeal).
  • Know how the writer accents words
  • Know how the ‘original’ character accents words
  • Know how you accent words
  • Find out who your audience is going to be, get to know how your audience accents words, how it hears words and how it likes to listen
  • Make a decision based on what you wish to achieve, and who you wish to impact on!
  • And then when you have made a decision work hard at getting it right for the right reasons
  • And if you are in broadcasting (journalism, interviewing, VJing etc), do not change your accent, as you will lose much of your connection to the story / text / script, and so to the life of the story in your head and heart. 

On this topic I want to say that every accent uses words in a specific way. Each accent has a natural energy, impacts on the length and musicality of the word, and the cultures we come from shape words to fit the culture. Accents reshape at will in order to own the words and the language to fit them to their energy.  

So I think that it is dangerous for you to abandon your natural accent. It will destabilise your organic relationship to words and to self expression. And I think that you desperately need these connections to be a good actor / communicator. Personally I think that you should get to know yourself and your own voice as much as possible before deciding to shift from it, if ever. Do “you” first before you do “someone else”.  

© Donald Woodburn


  
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