Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Don't smoke!

The Words of Wisdom this week are very simple.

Don't smoke!

As an actor one of your main assets is your voice. The easiest way to damage it is by smoking. Don't smoke!

You'll know about the health factors: lung cancer and other cancers, heart disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis - all nasty diseases that you would want to avoid. Don't smoke!

Ever seen a smoker trying to run? Breathing more deeply they dislodge the tar buried in their lungs. It rises into their throat and they suffer a coughing fit as they try to clear it and have to stop. Don't smoke!

And then there are the wicked tobacco companies, making money out of a drug more addictive than heroin. Why put money in their pockets? Don't smoke!

Smokers have years taken off their lives. A recent study of 180 people aged 100 and over found that one, yes just one of them, smoked. About 20 had smoked in the past but had given it up. The remainder had never smoed in their whole life. So if you want to live long and healthily: don't smoke!

And, if you are afflicted by this addiction Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking is recommended.

But, best of all: don't smoke!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Accents: exaggerate when learning, underplay when performing.

An actor should never stop exercising his or her voice. Apart from working on the tone of the voice, developing projection and maintaining clear diction, there is the whole area of dialects and accents to consider. (The meanings of these two words overlap, but generally a dialect is a different version of a mother tongue, depending on the country or area someone comes from, while an accent either refers to someone using a foreign language or the voice of a particular person.) Although actors are usually cast for parts which use their own accent, this is not always the case and, in any case, the more you learn about voice and speech the better.

The main way in which accents vary is in the actual sounds made in pronouncing the vowels and consonants: for example, whether the 'r' is rolled in a word like 'worse', whether the 'a' is long or short in 'path' whether the 't' is pronounced in 'brighten.' But there are many other important differences: how much stress or emphasis there is on individual syllables (French speakers, for example, speak with very little stress), what is the characteristic pitch, how much of a musical intonation is present, what is the typical tone (often throaty in city dwellers) what is the pace (often slow in country people) how precisely do people speak.

The throatiness factor is an interesting one. The cockney accent, from London, and the Bronx accent from New York, share this and, presumably, people in those places have for generations closed their throats when speaking, to protect themselves from the polluted air of the big city. However, there is a new kind of throatiness heard from fashionable Californians - sample 'The Hills' to hear it - and I have no idea why this should have happened, but then there is no accounting for fashion, is there.

There is endless fascination in how people speak and many subtleties. For example, doctors and lawyers speak slightly differently from each other, no doubt because of their different roles in life. Neither do builders speak like sales staff. There is also a lot of fun to be had in 'doing' voices and developing characters who speak in different ways. I was lucky enough to have been brought up in the golden age of radio comedy, listening to classic shows such as 'Take it from Here', 'The Goon Show' and 'Hancock's Half Hour.' I found that when I got into school the next day I could imitate what I'd heard the night before and add to it as well. I found I could make people laugh and this was one of the first things that turned me on to theatre.

The best way to learn an accent is from someone who speaks with that accent or by going to the area where that accent is spoken. Failing that, listen to recordings and talk back to them (the talking back is very important.) You are using the power of imitation, which is an important part of the learning process. When a whole cast have to speak with an accent they can improvise together using it and catch it from each otherlike a disease.

One final Word of Wisdom: when learning an accent, exaggerate it: this accelerates the learning process because you are stretchiing yourself. When using an accent in performance, underplay it because accents are more subtle than you think and you don't want to fall into a 'stage' caricature version. Accents: exaggerate when learning, underplay when performing.