Irish Accents for Actors

I’m currently coaching my University of Houston students in our production of Cripple of Inishmaan, and a number of the students in the production are in my dialects class in their junior year, so I’m adapting what I usually teach in the class.

Normally I focus on the accents of the north of Ireland, including the accents of Northern Ireland and Donegal.  Part of why I focus on this Irish accent is that it’s not what most people think of when they think of an Irish accent, so it’s less familiar to them.  Usually people think of a Cork or Southern Irish accent when they think of Irish – the “Lucky Charms” accent.

I actually chose to teach them ALL Irish accents at once and let them choose.  Yeah, well, it’s an experiment.

The surprise is that they chose a variety of accents, and it’s going surprisingly well!  The four class members who are in Cripple chose the accent of the western part of Ireland (Galway, Sligo) for their pieces, which is roughly what we’re using for Cripple of Inishmaan accents.  The rest of the class, however, is spread out into the other accents.

One student chose the Southern Irish – Western Irish is a bit like Southern-lite.  A number of them chose Northern – and one more chose the Dublin accent of Eastern Ireland, which is much like doing Northern-lite.

It’s all still in the experimental phase, but it seems to be working well!  They’re getting a sense of the variations in Irish accents, and because I have them try out elements of each accent, they’re getting the exposure to the challenges of Northern Irish that I always shoot for while also getting to deal with the “opposite” challenges in Southern – and then doing a more subtle version of each for the east and west.

Final showings in a couple of days will tell the tale…

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Cripple of Inishmaan Accents

Western Irish accents

I’m currently coaching dialects for the Martin McDonagh play Cripple of Inishmaan.  The play takes place on the island of Inishmaa, one of the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland.  We’re using the Western Irish accent, though we’re adjusting it a bit for this specific play.

This is a very dark comedy – hardly anyone is likeable, other than how much you can like their built in cruelty to one another.  Due to the darkness of it, we’re incorporating a bit from Northern Irish accents – a tendency to play out sounds with a different tone.

In the elongation of sounds, I have the actors working slightly towards a slight flattening of pitches – we’ve taken to calling it an “uglification” of the sound.  This seems to be carrying the dark tone of the comedy thus far, though we’ll obviously have to see how it plays for an audience…

It’s certainly helping them with the cruelty and the desperation of the characters, and it gives a good coloring to the tone of the play overall.


Dialect Recording Road Trip!

At the beginning of May 2011, I’m pulling out of Houston in my ‘87 VW camper (Van Coover) and setting off on a dialect-gathering tour of the US and Canada, hitting as many of the accents I don’t “have” yet as possible.  Can you help?  Here are my major accent goals and destinations:

In May:
Beaufort SC for Gullah accents
Pittsburgh – yins are welcome to hook me up with some locals!
Pennsylvania Dutch
Baltimore
Philadelphia

A brief respite in Washington DC and NYC, and then June will take me to:
Nova Scotia (possibly – depending on timing)
Montreal, Quebec for French Canadian accents
Upstate New York
Toronto
Detroit

Then I hope to catch friends and family in Chicago, Iowa and Minneapolis before July finds me in:
Winnepeg across to Calgary OR Fargo across to Glacier and up to Calgary and Banff
Then I’ll seek out sources for the Pacific Northwest accent:
Eastern Washington State
Vancouver (the namesake of Van Coover, the VW)
Seattle
Portland
a stop in Ashland, and perhaps a bit of time going more east in Oregon
And then begin getting recordings of California accents:
Santa Rosa & San Francisco
Yosemite
friends and accents in Los Angeles and San Diego

August seems like the perfect time to cross the Mojave without air conditioning, to get recordings of the American Southwest:
Las Vegas
Moab, UT
the Grand Canyon
Phoenix
Albequerque and Santa Fe

Which should all roll me into Houston somewhere around the beginning of September.

This all, of course, depends on budget, breakdowns, and side trips.  I’ll be hitting all of the lower 48 states I haven’t hit before, a number of national parks, lots of friends I haven’t seen in far too long, and hopefully a lot of “the kindness of strangers.”

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As I travel, I’m hoping to do a good deal of editing and writing as well, so that I don’t arrive in Houston with a computer full of only raw material, which would be a little daunting…  If you have any leads on locals who might help me gather some of these more obscure accents, I’d appreciate the way into the community!  Most of these accents have very little demand, but my goal is to build a wide array of accents for actors to use no matter what comes up.

Future travels?  I’m hoping to spend some time in Central or South America this fall working on my Spanish, and at some point I have got to do a similar trip around the UK for a number of months to pick up on more of the regional varieties.  I don’t know if it’s worth shipping Coover, though, so I may buy an old van and customize a “stealth” camper for an extended voyage…