Introduction to Speechwork for Actors: An Inclusive Approach by Ron Carlos encourages actors to achieve intelligibility through rigorous language analysis and an exploration of their own accent and articulation practices.
Informed by the author’s extensive experience working with directors and acting teachers, this book serves as an ideal speech-training resource for the 21st-century actor, and includes specially commissioned online videos demonstrating key exercises.
The excerpt below offers a quick peek into how analysing language can be an exciting and reflective step towards working on one’s speech.
The first step to understanding your idiolect is to hear it and get to know it. What’s fun about the way we speak is that it’s always changing. We’re constantly adapting as we join new communities or lose touch with old ones. In order to truly study your speech as it is right now, we need to freeze it in time. You’re going to record yourself so you can analyze your speech over the course of this book. If that makes you squirm, remember: the way you speak is connected to everyone you’ve ever loved. It’s their gift to you. It’s good to practice listening to yourself without judgment. I know, easier said than done, but don’t let your inner critic stop you from transforming your speech from something you take for granted into a mindful, empowered choice you can make as an artist. You have a great accent. Let’s learn about it!
For this section, you should record yourself speaking to a partner. If you’re working through this book on your own, call someone on the telephone or on videoconferencing technology. This should take a bit less than fifteen minutes total.
The best way to hear what your speech sounds like is to speak from the heart. In this section, you’re going to speak naturally, without a script or a plan, so you have a record of what you sound like during everyday conversation.
Start recording. Take one or two minutes to tell a story from your childhood, and then record one or two minutes of the ensuing conversation, if there is one. Here are some prompts if you’re finding it difficult to think of something to talk about.
Sometimes, we sound differently when we read or perform memorized text. Let’s get a snapshot of what you sound like when someone else chooses your words! Record yourself reading the following, adapted from Stella Starchild, by Ricardo Pérez González [Stella Starchild is copyright 2020 by Ricardo Pérez González].
Stella Starchild, daughter of the Sun and Moon, couldn’t sleep. It was a sunny midnight afternoon (see back then there was no difference between night and day) and Stella’s parents were at it again. “How are the Children of the Earth to live? You burn much too hotly for them to survive,” argued the Moon. “Harrumph! If it were up to you, they’d trip and break their necks in the dark, you shine so weakly!” accused the Sun. And the heavenly realm was ringing with their fulgent fury as the two went back and forth, back and forth, not budging about the finer points of illumination. For all their supposed concern for the Children of the Earth’s health, they never grasped the fact that those very same Children were suffering thanks to their dazzling disagreement. But Stella Starchild, daughter of the Sun and Moon, noticed. She observed as sure enough, the bellowing heat of the Sun made it hard for the Children of the Earth to live as it scorched their crops to smoking ash and brought thirst to their throats. And she watched as the Moon reflected the light of the Sun (for that is how the Moon glows) into the Children’s eyes, obscuring their vision and confusing their path as they stumbled through the day-night. All the while the two squabbled in the blue sky above and failed to take notice of those around them, not the Children of the Earth, not their own daughter, Stella. Stella knew something had to be done, but what? “There’s only one thing for it,” thought Stella, resolved to help. “When my parents share the sky, their mythic discord erupts in the heavens and showers upon the earth. They’ll have to be separated, or else.” And so, Stella Starchild sprang straight into the middle of her parents’ quarrel and exclaimed “halt!” So surprised were they by the interruption they stopped their mouths and listened as Stella described her big plan. “You can no longer share the sky,” Stella proclaimed. “How am I to shine aloft without your Obi’s radiance!?” balked the Moon. “Yes! And how am I to know I exist without your Zaza’s reflection!?” bemoaned the Sun. “You will always be just beyond the horizon from one another, waiting to trade places,” their daughter replied. “With time and distance, you will learn to support one another the way you used to, when your love and warmth created me.” The Sun and the Moon admired the pure wisdom of their child. A huge tear welled up in the Sun’s eye and evaporated into wisps of steam. “And you, Stella? Where will you be?” they asked. Stella flinched, sniffled, then finally shrugged. “By myself?” She hadn’t thought that far ahead. She was stumped. “I’ll tell you, Stella,” said the Moon. “You will be with us, always. We will clear a space of honor for you in the northern skies, and your splendid brilliance will be a guide and teacher to all the Children of the Earth, as you have been a guide to us.” And that is how Stella Starchild, daughter of the Sun and the Moon, the first child of divorce, became the North Star.
We’ll do a deep dive into grammar soon, but for this section, just know that we structure the language we use in different ways depending on what we’re using the language for. Let’s get a sample of how you communicate a few different structures! For each of the following structures, record yourself reading the sentence and then make up a sentence using the same structure.
Last, we have some pronunciation we should listen to. Record yourself reading the following words. If you pronounce a word in multiple ways, record all your pronunciations. Linguists use closely related words, or minimal pairs, to compare accents and dialects. This is your “accent tag,” like the YouTube trend of the same name.