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Mastering the art of an accent


Nobody notices a good accent, but a bad accent can ruin a show. Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts researcher Luzita Fereday explains how she makes sure actor accents are on point.
Nobody notices a good accent, but a bad accent can ruin a show. Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts researcher Luzita Fereday explains how she makes sure actor accents are on point.

Luzita Fereday’s research explores the needs of Australian actors when undertaking accent and dialect performances. It’s theory she is putting into practice at WAAPA.

“So many students require accents for their plays, so I wanted to get an in-depth understanding of what makes up the Australian dialect to use as a starting point.

“Once you know the actor’s starting point, you can see what’s needed and find the new musculature setting or vocal posture to help them master a new accent,” she says.

Ms Fereday works on around 15 shows each year with both musical theatre and acting students and helps them master up to 10 different accents in any given show.

“You don’t want someone sounding like they are from a different play to the others because that’s when their accent stands out,” she says.

And it is surprising which accents can be the most difficult to master.

According to Fereday, subtle accents can be just as problematic as stronger inflexions.

“It depends on the individual and their own habitual vocal setting. Some of our students had to master an Iraqi accent for a recent production which was quite challenging, but the South African accent can be just as difficult. Even a neutral British accent can be quite tricky because actors really have to work on finding ease, consistency and sometimes a new breath energy in order to sound authentic,” she says.

WAAPA Researcher Luzita Fereday

Fereday has adopted a multimodal approach to her teaching where all the areas of learning come together.

The process involves seeing it (watching YouTube videos, using images of the inside of the vocal tract and the movement of the tongue to visualise the accent), hearing it (listening to native speaker recordings), and feeling it (what happens to the lips, cheeks or tongue when making a sound).

“A student might be stronger visually, so I’ll help them to wake up their listening which makes their learning or accent acquisition more flexible and rounded.

She says, "mastering an accent is not just about the vowels, consonants and the melody, but the whole person and the cultural and geographical influences of the accent being studied.

“I guide my students to think about all the aspects of the character they’re playing. Part of my approach is to stimulate their imaginations, so they are more able to make the vocal shift and incorporate the body language and gestures of the character. The accent is just one part of the whole character that needs to be convincingly portrayed,” she says.

Listen to WAAPA’s accent and dialect collection which represents many of the world’s fascinating renditions of the English language.

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