In ‘Three Is A Magic Number’ I suggest that as an actor, mastering three dialects that ‘fit you to a T’ is a savvy career move.
So… what makes a dialect ‘fit to a T’?
It boils down to this: A dialect that fits to a T sounds good on you—that is to say it’s a dialect that compliments your unique physical looks and energy.
When you are ready to find dialects that fit you to a T, here’s where to start:
1) Look In The Mirror– Literally. Look in the mirror. What do you look like? Which parts of your ethnic heritage show on your face? Did you get Grandpa’s Italian good looks? Or do you look more like your Irish grandmother?
2) Ask Around-- Ask a wide variety of people (friends, acquaintances, strangers) “Based on my looks alone, where do you think my family originally came from?” Ask at least 25 people (more if the answers you get aren’t conclusive) and keep careful note of the answers you receive.
Armed with the above information, you can narrow down your dialect choices significantly, but you’ll need another layer of information if you want to select the dialects that will be the most lucrative for you.
Here are the next steps:
3) Look Around– Every time you find yourself at an audition sitting in a room filled with ‘you-alikes’ who are all waiting to read for the same role you are, ask yourself “What do all these actors sitting in this room with me have in common? What’s the basic /broad-stroke picture being painted here? Is everyone giving off a prep school vibe? Does everyone seem maternal? Aggressive? Innocent? Why were we the particular actors chosen to be here?”
When you figure out what everyone in the room has in common, you gain a clue as to how casting directors ‘see’ you. And by understanding how casting entities see you, you will have one more piece of the puzzle that will allow you to choose which dialects will be the most lucrative for you. For instance, if you look like you might be British, and are constantly being sent out to play blue-collar characters, it would not behoove you to spend all your energy trying to sound like the Queen Elizabeth. It would be a bit of a long-shot to bet that a casting director would call you in to ‘be’ one way (working class) and ‘sound’ another (like a British Royal). It would make far more sense for you to work on some type of working-class British dialect because that’s the kind of role you’ll be the most likely to land.
4) Study Your Resume– Perusing your actor resume can provide you with another level of information. Take a look at all the roles you have been hired to play and see if you can spot casting trends there. Among the roles you’ve played, are there racial/ethnic trends? Socio-economic trends? Personality trends? All of these facets should play into your ultimate dialect choices.(Make sure not to consider roles you were cast in during any type of actor training course, as these roles are often given to ‘stretch’ an actor. They won’t help you find the information you need for this project.)
And then… Once you’ve finished all the steps above, one of two things will happen–either you’ll have a ‘Eureka!’ moment, and clearly see which dialects would sound particularly good on you, or you’ll discover that you could use a bit of professional guidance. Once you’ve got your personal research in order, if you need assistance you can consult a reputable dialect coach to help you decide which dialects might be lucrative for you, or you might find that working with an image consultant is what you need.
The Voice and Speech Trainers Association can help you find a dialect coach in your area. You can find them at http://www.vasta.org
In Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC, the personal branding guru is Sam Christensen. He can teach you how to see yourself through the eyes of a casting director, and then learn how to market the heck out of your acting product. You can learn about Sam’s work at SamChristensen.com. In addition there are also many video excerpts of his work available on YouTube.
I’d love to hear from you about your experience with this little dialect adventure. You can contact me at dialect411(at) gmail(dot)com, or leave a comment below!
Good luck and good fortune to you!