Father Jack Production Diary: dialect coach

We’ve started rehearsals for Lughnasa at last!

For the first time in my experience, the first rehearsal was not a read-through. Instead, we met with our dialect coach for a briefish hour to go through the details of the Donegal accent. Our dialect coach is a prof at the performing arts school that’s attached to the university that employs me, and the rest of the cast are all his students, and the director, in addition to being another prof, is his spouse. It’s all very collegial. And he’s a terrific guy, with the combination of skill, talent, discipline, experience, patience and affability that you would want in a dialect coach. So that’s all right.

I don’t know if any of y’all have ever worked with a dialect coach; I’ve only done had the opportunity a few times myself. I usually coast through on having a fine ear for mimicry, and frankly on most other people having a terrible ear for accuracy. I go by instinct, usually. If I’m having difficulty, I listen to some random voices in the accent I’m looking for—the internet is a wonderful thing, innit?—and usually have been able to pick up the sound enough that the director doesn’t complain. I don’t mark up my script with the International Phonetic Alphabet to remind me that ʊ becomes u: or whatever. I’m not really good with the IPA stuff, honestly. I just listen and mimic.

So it was interesting to go through an hour of real dialect coaching, taking us through eleven vowel and dipthong substitutions and four consonant ones, with attention paid to the position of the jaw and the lips, and of the method of voicing. It was helpful to think about the sorts of things that go in to an accent or dialect. How many ways in which we humans produce sounds that are different to each others’ while saying the same words, or more or less the same words. I mean, is eejit the same word as idiot, really?

Our dialect coach is also sufficiently smart and experienced to know that authenticity is a trap. The dialect, he said, is an artifice, like everything else in the play. He might have said: it’s a tool to help tell the story, and is useful as a tool to the extent that it helps tell the story. When it’s a distraction, it’s not helping. Now, an inconsistent accent is a distraction, but so are words that are difficult to understand, and so are patterns of emphasis that are difficult to follow. We have to balance consistency with comprehensibility, accuracy with effectiveness, musicality with, um, memorability? Anyway.

Of course, we have yet to really settle on a sound for Jack. It makes sense, I suppose, to have this accent-and-dialect session before the first read-through so that we have the information to read-through with, but I think perhaps for Jack it’s a little early.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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