A Thought on Accents

We did some work on accents over the weekend, and if you’ve ever read the script for Oklahoma!, you’ll understand why this is a hot issue for this show. A good portion of the script is written phonetically – forcing the actor to literally sound out the words to get the desired effect.  Think womern instead of woman or women; cain’t instead of can’t; heared instead of heard – many of us still miss this one even after having had it pointed out.


Being forced to twist one’s mouth around strange sounding versions of words we are familiar with makes it easy to slip into a drawl and start chewing up the dialogue something awful. At least that’s my take on what happens when an actor, while reading his or her lines, becomes more enveloped by their own deepening accent the more they read. I’ve heard this done even moreso with folks trying to put on an English accent – especially a London cockney – and everyone ended up sounding like they’re the same character from a Dickens novel.

The thing is, an accent is meant to serve the audience, not the actor. The whole point of talking with a particular accent is to take the audience further into the world of the character. A put-upon accent is really just a distraction, and if an actor persists with it – or worse, tries to be funny with how they are talking – he or she is doing so on behalf of themselves, not the character. As a previous director would insist, in these cases an actor is simply “commenting” on their character as opposed to portraying their character.

In my mind, less is more when it comes to accents, and at the very least, consistency is key.

I have heard people talk about authenticity where it comes to this stuff, but in my mind, especially with live theatre in front of a rather tight demographic – the perception of the audience is even more important. Why speak in a thick Scottish accent when much of that dialogue will be missed by those who don’t understand it?

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to feedback from the work on the weekend, and, eventually, from our audiences.

Who is Curly McLain?

bootsCurly is one of the principle characters in Oklahoma, in case you didn’t know.  I’ve been cast to play him in the VOS production opening this April. So, I figured I post my thoughts about him here, just for fun.

According to some folks, he’s about as deep as a dried up mud puddle, but I don’t believe that. It seems to me that there’s a lot going on with Curly, and he’s come from a place of contemplation and thought to get to where he is at the beginning of Act 1, Scene 1.

You see, all cowboys sit in the saddle for hours on end, just thinking, contemplating. And what’s Curly got on his mind? One thing: the future. Part of that future is Laurey, a big part, and he’s willing to give up anything and everything to win her over. Another part of it for Curly is the changing land itself: fences going up, crops coming up, folks staking out their place in world. While Jud hides away from the reality of the changing landscape, holed up in the smokehouse, Curly sees a challenge, something to take on.

In a way, that’s one of his major flaws, thinking that his future can be won over, and that Laurey is part of his conquest, but that’s the way he is, that’s what he knows. It’s how he deals with the world. Aunt Eller, seeing the strength in Curly, and his stubborn determination to succeed, is drawn to him . She can see that he’ll be around when the dust settles and all the others have disappeared.

All characters have choices, too. There are a couple of points where things could go either way if Curly doesn’t make the right move. For one thing, what is he thinking when he confronts Jud in the smokehouse? Does he think Jud can be scared off? Is he thinking that he might have to kill him? I’m not sure Curly himself has this figured out. He just knows he has to go deal with a problem. Conquest.

And there’s a point where Curly goes all the way, throws in everything he’s got, to win over Laurey. Does he do it because he doesn’t want Jud to “get her”? Does he just want to win? Or does he see his future, all the things that he’s dreamed about, sitting on his horse, enjoying the sunshine and the crops and the open spaces, all about to disappear?

Curly reminds me a bit like one of Louis L’Amour’s Sackett family. Like Tell Sackett, maybe. He’s kind of a loner who’s good at breaking horses and roping cattle and shooting his pistol, but brighter than his station, and whiles away the hours doing the repetitive saddle-work whilst contemplating a different life, settling down and raising boys. The hardest thing to secure for that future, and an absolutely essential element? A good woman. I know, I know – this kind of thinking totally objectifies women and reduces them to a piece of property, but that’s the x-factor here. Women of this time are coming into their own and don’t want to be someone’s property or conquested or whatever. That’s where the sparks begin to fly between Curly and Laurey.

There’s lot more to think about than just the few ideas I’ve started with, but it’s a start…

more later – joel

Seven Part Harmony

Seven parts of harmony on the title number for Oklahoma! (I love that the exclamation point is part of the show’s name – it makes everything so exciting…).  We had a really good rehearsal and this piece is sounding just brilliant.

Anyways, seven parts.  That’s just gold.  We have no weak sections (well, maybe my section, 2nd tenor, cause there’s only a couple of us, and I have a solo on TOP of the seven harmonies at one point)… but honestly, the sound mix is really, really good.  The ladies are singing 3 parts and all ranges are really audible within each other.  In the men, the parts are simple enough so that the “cool” accidental notes can really be sung with confidence.

In general the, the music for this show, while not being simple, is in my opinion, meant to be sung in a very straightforward style.  In fact, that kind of is the style – straightforward.  That way, when something strays from the straightforward, (like a cowboy selling his saddle, horse and gun) really stands out.

This is gonna be fun…

Turning the Page

It’s the first of December, 2011. I think I am finally ready to turn the page from all the things that happened in November and move onto new stuff.

Part of that is just Christmas, but my next project is the VOS production of Oklahoma! in April. Got lots of music to learn, lines to memorize, and most importantly, a character to figure out.

So. This is me turning the page and moving onward. See you on the other side.

More later – joel

McLean McLain

Just realized this.

I just finished as Laurie McLean in Vimy.

I am just starting as Curly McLain in Oklahoma. Who marries Laurey Williams, becoming Laurey McLain.

How crazy is that?