With its Week Seven seminar class “Accents and Dialects” and the opening of The Tempest at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Chautauqua Theater Company’s emphasis this week is what special studies instructor Chris Corporandy called “the music of the language.”
Acting in Shakespeare and using an unfamiliar accent both require training focused on the pronunciation and flow of spoken words. The class and the Shakespearean production collectively show the onstage and behind-the-scenes concentration on language that is central to an actor’s work.
“The elocution of Shakespeare’s language demands a lot,” said CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch. “A Shakespeare play is much more athletic than a lot of contemporary drama — what it requires physically, in terms of breath.”
Voice and speech coach Deb Hecht works with CTC conservatory and guest artists to be able to accomplish the verbal exercise that is Shakespeare. According to Benesch, Hecht says training for Shakespeare is similar to training like an athlete.
“We give it a week longer than any other show to rehearse,” Benesch said. “You have to really work at making the language your own, in terms of understanding exactly what you’re saying so that the audience understands exactly what they’re hearing.”
Meanwhile, Corporandy instructs a younger audience in his Special Studies class on accents and dialects, sending students home with monologues to practice throughout the weeklong class.
“Accents and dialects are hard work,” Benesch said. “They’re really fun, but they’re also very specific, very detail-oriented.”
An accent is the pronunciation of English by a non-native speaker, while a dialect is a way of speaking English specific to a country or region where it is the native language. In last year’s class, Corporandy instructed students in a Russian accent and Cockney, Irish and Queen’s English dialects.
“ ‘Accents and Dialects’ is fun; I think people just get a blast out of it,” Corporandy said.
Last year, one student was so committed to learning an Irish dialect that he followed up the week with private lessons from Corporandy.
“He worked and worked and worked, and by the end of it, he really had it down,” Corporandy said.
The actor and instructor said the class teaches the basic tools needed to pick out linguistic differences in pronunciation, similar to the language work actors undergo in rehearsal.
Benesch said the class adds a backstage element to CTC’s seasonal programming, offering a portal into how actors train for different productions.
“Chris is giving people a great opportunity to experiment with how fun it is, but also to demonstrate what hard work it is,” Benesch said. “There is a demand for more specific involvement on many levels, so it’s a way to enhance their experience of what the company is doing but also their own interests in many different facets of the process of theatermaking.”
While CTC’s conservatory rehearses Shakespeare’s musical language in Brawdy Theater Studios for The Tempest, this week’s Special Studies allows Chautauquans the chance to also engage in speech practice with Corporandy.
“I hope in the long term that this will continue to grow and be one of the elements that helps grow our audience of the future as well as our theatermakers of the future,” he said.