Learning to Shift Your Voice Can Up Your Bookability

Doug Honorof is one of the most sought after dialect coaches and dialogue consultants in film and tv (imdb.me/dialectdoug). He has taught at Voice One since 2000 and has lectured extensively around the country including in the Acting Department of the Yale School of Drama. His client roster includes Broadway stars, well-respected film, television and voice actors and some of the most talented newbies in the business!

We had the privilege to speak with Doug to offer you all a little insight into the world of accents and dialects. Here's what he had to say:

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Why should a voice actor study dialects?

Learning to shift your voice can up your bookability for lots of reasons. For one, directors like working with actors who can make adjustments without freaking out. If you study voices and really go deep with them, it can open you up -- make you more empathetic -- help you see from a different perspective, maybe, and that can make you more flexible; more responsive, more spontaneous, more available to the director -- less prickly when you get a note. And, frankly, more credible. And what voice actor doesn't want that?

What is the biggest challenge when learning a new dialect?

The sooner you learn to self-adjust, the less frustrated you'll be. Because you'll get a lot of feedback when you play "dialect parts." And it isn't always productive feedback. Many people in the business will project their anxieties about accent work onto you. In some cases it's because they don't understand your process -- and why should they -- maybe your process is very private -- but sometimes it's because they've had bad experiences in the past with actors who don't know how to incorporate the voice work organically, so the vocal adjustment itself jumps out or gets in the way -- makes the actor less emotionally available or less expressive. Or maybe they've worked with actors who don't have the training they need to keep the voice consistent. That creates an editing nightmare for a v/o or on-camera production, so you can't really blame them for worrying. And some directors don't really have the rhetoric they need to talk about voice work clearly, so you're left trying to guess the real meaning behind their notes so you can get on with your own work. And you need to understand those notes.

Are certain dialects easier to learn than others?

Not exactly. But if you haven't heard an accent or voice type much, you may have to do a lot of listening up front so you can build up a long-term memory to work off of.

What advice would you give to someone who struggles with learning dialects?

Play a little. Explore. Learn to make all the sounds of all the languages spoken around the world -- not just the sounds of your own language or of a so-called "standard" dialect. Learn a notation system so you can keep track of the sounds you are learning -- you'll need that for recall. Learn as much as you possibly can about the history of English (or whatever language you are working in) -- and about how to guess pronunciation from spelling, if possible. Eventually you should be able to teach yourself dialects, though it's always helpful to get feedback, but when you are starting out, it's super important that you work with a trainer who has a keen ear and who won't dishearten you, but also won't try to make you feel good about work that isn't your best. And then force yourself to practice reading copy or scripts in accent without locking into a read. These are learnable skills for all of us, not for just a select few, either.

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