Instructor Interview: Lynne Soffer and American Accents

Transcription:

Aaron: So how did you first start working as a dialect coach?
Lynne: It's interesting, some people have a talent for music or dance, movement whatever, or sports, and so they fall into it because they connect to it. I was always like that, I always imitating dialects. I had a high school acting teacher who had me do a dialect role because he knew I could do it. And then when I got to advanced theatre training, actually I came out here to train at A.C.T. for graduate school and I just thrived in speech class, it was like I had come home. My speech teacher –because my hometown is New York City– she said, “When you go back there, you go study with my teachers and come back here and teach,” and the teaching led to coaching, and it just sort of evolved. I'm still a professional actor, but I actually do more dialect work and coaching than I do acting.

A: So just falling into what you love?
L: Yeah, and falling in love with a subject I hadn't had before.

A: For actors, what's something that's important for them to keep in mind when learning a new dialect?
L: When you are approaching a dialect– and life has gotten much easier! When I started, you had to hunt down real people and record them for actors. Everything's on the internet now, like YouTube, so you've got visuals as well as sound stuff. As you are learning a new dialect, don't just focus on the sound changes, focus on becoming. I say, like for example if you’re working on a French accent, find your "inner French person." It can't just be “Hi, I'm an American putting on this accent,” it has to be (in a French accent) “What are you talking about? I am from Paris, you know?” To find what that does to you, to incorporate as you learn the sounds, as you use your ear, you use your whole being, because that's what acting is. You know? It's when you're doing a voice over, a commercial or something, you believe in the product in that commercial, and you are that person. So same thing with a dialect. You dance with it and you find your harmony with it in addition to learning the sound changes.

A: Can you describe what people can expect from your American Accents class?
L: Well, it’s very ambitious. (laughs) We’re covering American Accents. We’re only covering two, really, because there’s only two sessions. One of the things I say to people is, “We are learning how to learn and accent.” So what we learn in this class, even though it's limited, it's something that you can apply as an actor to any dialect, and that's one of the things that we cover in the class. What do you do? Where do you go? How do you find this information? What do you listen for? And we focus on the fact that we're not trying to go behind enemy lines and not get caught and put up against the wall and shot by the firing squad. It doesn't have to be “perfection,” it is theater. You are convincing the people that they are hearing a real person. So in the class you learn how to dance with a dialect. We start with Southern, and we deal with a generalized white-collar Southern, and then how you adjust that for a blue-collar Southern. (Slips into a Southern accent) How you would take a refined thing and bring it down to where it might twang a little bit, or get some Rs back in. Then we talked about– “Oh, if you’re doing Texas, you listen to this on YouTube, and if you’re doing this…” –so I just teach people how you learn it, but you get a feel for it, what it feels like to be Southern. The next week, after we review that, we hit New York, which is like the flip side, (transitions from a Southern accent into New York) where we were melting, now we're poking people. New York is like “Yeah, what?! I’m not aggressive! What’re you talking about, here?” Once we worked on that, I mention how you can adjust that for Boston. So you're basically learning two dialects, a little touch of the third, but you're learning how to learn. It’s not two sessions, it’s “how do I take this into the rest of my work?” I believe in empowering actors, not just “do what I tell you.” It's like, how do we get you to be your richest, your best moving forward, and achieving what you want as an actor.

A: What is your favorite American accent and why?
L: That's like trying… you know, you have a large family and you go, “who's your favorite child?” It very often switches. I did finally find one dialect I didn't like in America, I'm not going to mention it because I don't want to prejudice people… it just was sounds I wasn't crazy about. I'm really in love with whatever I do. As a new native New Yorker (slips into a New York accent) “How could I not love New York, you know?” But, I’ve worked on New England (slips into New England accent) “I’m a Mainer, and you’re not.” I'm in love with that. It's hard not to be in love with all of them. One of the things I tell people… like I work out here a lot and people say “Oh, yeah, we’re Californians, we're sloppy, we’re lazy” and I'm like, “No no no, you're doing the good regional dialect.” It's the correct sound for California, for parts of California. So we should fall in love with all of them, and whatever is right for the character is the one we love the most. But yeah, no, I can't pick one over another, and there's nothing I love more than actors growing and adding things to their arsenal of talent and weaponry and stuff that they’ve got to use.

Sign up for Lynne Soffer's class here: American Accents

2 Wednesdays, 1/26 & 2/2/2022
6:30-9:30pm Pacific
Online
$225

Read More about Lynne in her instructor bio

For more dialects classes, go here. New offerings every semester.

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