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Actors simulating accents which they don't own

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 05 June 2009

Bay Area community theatre management (not limited to Masquers in Point Richmond) would do well to reconsider having actors speak in accents which are not their own. At least not without some extensive training or a teleprompter.

Few community theatre actors perform accents well, so speech is difficult to understand in all plays with accented English (including British).

Any dialect makes dialogue difficult to understand, if not impossible. A person from Paris pronounces English vowels in a consistent way for however many decades s/he has been adult—whether that Parisien comes from France, Illinois or Texas—which an actor with a few weeks of an assumed accent does not.

I’m of average brain power, hearing, etc., so am able understand someone speaking a different brand of English than I do—given time to warm up, and given enough time to detect speech patterns—neither of which is present in a fast-moving theatre production with “unnatural” accents.

Be mindful of the effort you are asking from your theatre patrons; we have to work hard at comprehending these simulated accents, and we’re not always successful. We have to pay close attention to understanding words, to the detriment of the show. If comprehending dialogue were unimportant, it wouldn’t be part of the play.

Please consider having actors speak naturally. If the play must be performed with in situ accents, arrange for comprehensive professional coaching.