The Bar

The Bar

Dialects, Accents & Reaching The Bar

In the modern, Authentic Casting landscape of voiceover, where have you set your bar for submitting for a role (if given the opportunity) that, by spec, calls for voice/dialect that does not align with your everyday speaking voice, upbringing, ethnicity, etc.? 

Will you audition for a role with a voice/dialect spec which is not in alignment with your race?  (My answer:  I can think of no circumstances in which I would.  Exception being, of course, if I’m the single narrator of an audiobook and there is a character of a different race than my own, it would be my duty to voice the character.) 

Will you audition for a role with a voice/dialect spec which is not in alignment with your gender?  (My answer, again:  I can think of no circumstances in which I would.  Exception being, again, if I’m the single narrator of an audiobook voicing characters of all genders and races.) 

Same with many other cultures.  So, for a moment, let’s latch on to that exception– that of audiobooks.  You can be CERTAIN that when these duties come up in the course of narrating an audiobook, I do my absolute damnedest to be accurate and respectful. 

If I’m called upon or cast to voice dialects representing communities of people beyond those of my natural Bostonian and/or General American sound, or of other nationalities besides my Irish and/or Italian background, again, I do my absolute damnedest to be accurate and respectful (additionally there would need to be a great number of people in those communities who are aligned with my race for me to feel right accepting the job). 

That’s where my bar is set.  When I’m not the authentic choice, I BETTER be an extremely accurate steward of the community I’m representing with my acting skills – I, therefore, demand of myself to be an ACCURATE choice.  Furthermore, I share this bar-setting when getting started with my clients.  Many of my dialect clients have similar feelings and similar bar-settings.  Speaking now about dialects which are more easily justified in going after (take, for example, a Massachusetts-born American like myself, who has spent a great deal of time living in New York, choosing to learn a New York dialect) I would STILL find it extremely unprofessional to claim dialect skills on, say, an acting resume, which are not fully under control.  Needless to say, my standards for inclusion of a dialect on an acting resume are very high and require a high control level. 

Without valuing accuracy and control highly, folks can too easily create “caricature dialects” which, depending on the context, can wind up being too-short-a-distance to a disrespectful portrayal.  The accuracy of my own dialect performance is derived, as I’ve said, from a self-imposed insistence on great accuracy, based upon deep study, and born of a passionate appreciation and love for every culture for which I can deliver a dialect/accent (particularly those I cannot claim as part of my own heritage).  When asked, I always say the same thing:  it is my fervent belief that the inclusion of a dialect (or accent) on an actor’s vocal resume should ONLY be done when the actor is FULLY confident in it – significant study (whether it’s through coaching or some other means) is required. 

Once deciding to take Dialect Study upon yourself, you’ll be able to look forward to some great benefits (more on these benefits coming up in a future installment of contribution to The VoiceOver Community).  When you do embark, take your time and enjoy the process in building confidence.  Some dialects will come easily, some will be harder-won.  As an example, there is a single moneme (one tiny sound) which long prevented me from placing Australian on my own major “Active Performing” list — despite being able to do an Australian dialect, having done it AND having booked with it!  To this day, it’s not reeeeeeally a dialect which easily flows for me which is why you won’t see it on my most exalted list:  “Active Coaching”.  (Side note about Australian:  the dialect is definitely now on my “Active Performing” list – with the help of a coach, I did finally conquer that moneme.  I do and have worked on it with clients despite not advertising the dialect on my main lists.)  Point is:  patience is key in dialect study. 

And NO ONE does EVERY dialect.  Some of my heroes and gurus certainly do more dialects than I do.  Certainly I do more than most.  At the end of the day though, quantity should never be more important than quality.  

At least not where I sit.  Food for VO thought. 

Thanks, Marc Preston, for inviting me to contribute!

– Tom Antonellis

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