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Killer Assumptions

Assumptions are necessary for human survival. For instance, we all assume that gravity will be there to keep us from floating away. (So far so good on that one!) If we were forced to double check every single detail of our lives, we might go mad trying.

Some assumptions however, can be problematic. Below are a few that I run into regularly in my work that I thought you might like to know about. All of these assumptions have cost people time, money and career opportunities. I hope that by listing them here, you’ll be able to avoid this fate!

Some Actors assume that their college actor training program adequately prepared them to use dialects in a professional acting setting.

(This is almost always not the case.)

Some Agents and Managers assume that actors can deliver on the dialect promises listed on their resumes.

(What they aren’t aware of is that the actor may have placed certain dialect skills on their resume because they took dialect classes while in college…(see above) or are otherwise misinformed about their proficiency.)

Some Casting Directors, Agents, Directors and Producers assume that asking an actor for a ‘light’ version of a dialect is doing them a favor because it will be less work for them.

(Bottom line: A dialect is a dialect. The same basic amount of work goes into preparing one for performance.)

Some Directors, Casting Directors,  and Producers assume that acting in a dialect is ‘just talking’ so actors should be able to switch dialects at a moment’s notice.

(The truth is that actors (all actors — even ones with shiny gold statues on their mantels) need time to prepare. It’s the same kind of time actors would need to learn to twirl a gun on their finger, accurately shoot a target, slam their gun into a holster,  jump on a horse and ride bareback across the plain all in a single take while acting their hearts out delivering the film’s climactic dialogue. In my opinion, dialect work is stunt work. It’s stunt work that the actor must do him/herself and it’s stunt work that can’t be faked well using current technology. Only rarely can ADR begin to save an uneven dialect performance, and when it can, the budget takes a hit.)

Some Casting directors, Agents, Directors, and Producers assume that if a person can speak a particular language (Other than English) fluently, then they must also be able to speak and act in English using a dialect influenced by that language.

(Not neccessarily true — They’re related but separate skills.)

Some Actors, Casting Directors, Agents, Directors and Producers assume that certain dialects are ‘easier’ than others.

(In truth, every individual will have their own list of which dialects are more or less difficult for them.)

Some Actors assume that Producers and Directors understand the complexity and demands of acting while using a dialect other than the actor’s own and so will properly support the actor’s process.

(For many reasons (too many to go into within this post) this is sadly, very seldom true. Working actors are often faced with shouldering the burden of performing without proper preparation — even Oscar winning actors attached to potentially Oscar winning screenplays often must push to get the proper prep time and adequate dialect support staff on board.)

Do any of these assumptions look familiar to you? 

Have you ever fallen victim to one of these killer assumptions?

Are there other assumptions about dialect that you’ve encountered you’d like to share?  

I’d love to hear from you on this subject.

Joy to you,

Pamela Vanderway



Mastery is a complicated and fascinating thing. When you first start out to master something (such as learning to snowboard or becoming an old-west style trick-shooter,  or even achieving the ability to speak in a dialect other than your own while hitting your mark, finding your light and acting at the same time)  — when you first start out — as you put in effort, you experience results.

You work and light bulbs go off!

You practice and you exceed your expectations!

You work and you reap rewards.

It’s a giddy and joyful experience.

Somewhere down the line however,  (and you never can tell exactly when this will occur) you realize that you’re still putting in plenty of work, but your skills don’t seem to be improving much further. You’ve hit a learning plateau and it feels like the party is over.  Practicing isn’t fun anymore and the work you’re doing really does feel like work. Soon you may feel like you want to (or should) give up.

And if you were to give up, you wouldn’t be alone.

Far from it.

It’s during this plateau phase that most people give up their quest for mastery.

Most people give up.

Most people.

Most people give up during the plateau phase of mastering a new skill.


Most people give up.

On one hand that’s kind of a sobering thought. On the other hand it’s also a pretty spectacular opportunity for anyone who is willing to continue to work for an unknown length of time without constantly reaping rewards.  Why? Because those who continue practicing a skill solely for the sake of practicing eventually find themselves ahead of their competition. It just happens that way.

As an actor that might mean that when a role comes down to you and two other people, you end up getting cast because you actually do know how to brandish a firearm, or yodel, or handle technical lingo while your competition — doesn’t.

You can have an edge over your direct competition (those actors you keep running into time and again at auditions) you just have to learn to expect the plateau, to accept it, to manage it and perhaps even to grow to love it. Here are a few books on this subject that I have found to be immensely valuable:

‘Mastery’ by George Leonard — This is one of my all-time favorites. I hope that all of you will find a way to give yourself the gift of reading this insightful book.

‘The Dip’ by Seth Godin — This book  actually does not discuss the topic of mastery directly, but rather focuses on recognizing and managing the plateau (which Mr. Godin refers to as ‘The Dip’).

Enjoy!  (If you have other books or resources on this topic to recommend, it would be lovely of you to add them to the comments section.)

Top Ten Dialect Posts

The other day a new reader asked me which Dialect411 posts did I think they should take the time to go back and read. At first I thought ‘all of them!’ Then I realized that in four short months I’ve already posted 35 entries and reading all of them might indeed be quite an undertaking…

So today for your enjoyment, I present to you what I think are the Top Ten posts. Whether you were with me from day one or just arrived last week, these ten will give you the essential information you need to benefit from the posts that lie ahead!

If you have time to read only three posts, I recommend:

1)  What Are They Expecting — Which explains exactly what it is that casting entities and productions are looking for when they are casting dialect roles.

2)A Good Private Dialect Coach — Which lets you know what to look for when hiring a professional dialect coach.

3) The Steps To Learning Any Dialect — Which describes the process of learning a dialect, so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised…

If you have time for three more, I offer you:

4) What is Good Speech (You might be surprised.)

5) You Have an Accent (Yes, you.)

6) Myth: I’ll Add The Dialect Later (You can try…)

And if you want more, check out:

7) Fit to a ‘T’ — Which explains an effective tactic for using dialects to increase your casting opportunities.

8)  Voice Care Practices (Actual Title: Start From Where You Are) — This is where I share information on caring for your voice when the voicing gets rough.

9)  Finding a Dialect Donor — Where to look if you’d like to try your hand at recording your own dialect materials.

10) How to Shop for Dialect CDs— Tips on what to look for in the theatre bookshop if you must rely on purchased goods.

That’s it! My choices for the 10 essential posts!

But…I am one of those people who always likes to send my guests home with a little extra, so if you’re ready for dessert, please enjoy:

Why? A Tangent Worth Taking — The post I almost didn’t publish, but the one that has garnered the most response.

Which are your favorite posts? I write this blog for you and love hearing about what you enjoy and what you’d like to see more of! Leave a comment here or send me a private email at dialect411 @ gmail dot com!

Serious, Serious, Serious! (And Now For Something Completely Different)

I’ve been serious, serious, serious thus far in blog-land.

When it comes to voice, speech and dialect work, serious can be good, but to get the very best results, you’ve got to be sure to fuel your sense of play, too…so…

Time for some fun!

Here are a few of my favorite voice and speech related clips for your enjoyment— a bit of tricky dialogue, some ultra-specific mimicry, some Shakespeare and an unusual demonstration of the potential of the human voice…

First up, a simple sketch from The Tonight Show back when Johnny Carson was king…

Next VO actor Josh Robert Thompson demonstrates the fine art of voice matching. (Voice matching is essentially dialect work taken to the next level…)

Here Actor Brian Cox teaches a bit of Shakespeare to the world’s smallest Hamlet.

And finally…Tuvan Throat Singing (Overtone Singing) meets John Newton’s Amazing Grace. There are no tricks or devices here. This man is making this sound with his voice and nothing else.

Have you got favorite voice, speech and dialect clips?

Post them in the comment section!

You Have To Want It Less

From what I keep hearing, training programs seem to be telling actors ‘To make it in this business, you have to really want it.’

While it seems logical, it turns out, that it’s not necessarily true—at least not at every level.

Think about it: How many ‘perfect’ roles have you missed out on because you wanted the job so much that you stressed yourself out and blew the audition? (More than you want to remember, right?)

Why does this happen?

The Federal Reserve Bank and the London School of Economics did some research to see what kinds of rewards motivate people to perform at their best, and it turns out that when dealing with a complex task (such as acting), the bigger the reward offered for a job well done, the worse people actually performed at the task. The studies indicate that when there’s too much riding on a situation, people shut down. The stakes are just too high to allow creativity to blossom.

If you want to hear more about this study, watch the video at the bottom of this blog entry.

If you would rather take me at my word and run with it, here’s what I suggest: Next time you have an audition or gig that makes you feel particularly nervous, take notice of what kind of self-talk you are using. Are you fantasizing that this gig might lead to something huge? More lines? A recurring role? Your agent’s undying love? If you are, then you have probably raised the stakes too high to allow yourself to do your best work. Why not see what you can do about changing the self talk to reflect a much smaller reward? Instead of something big, try something like ‘If I book this one, I’m going to spend an afternoon at my favorite museum to celebrate’ or ‘If I prepare well for this piece and actually do what I set out to do, afterwards I’m going to  Santa Monica Pier to ride the ferris wheel’, and see what happens…