Act in the language – part 2
association, memory, sensuary awareness
If you believe the voice you believe the character (Brendan Gunn, dialogue coach on SNATCH, ANONYMOUS etc.)
That quote goes for a language that is not your mother tongue as well as your own native language. As an actor what you want is to be truthful. What you don’t want is for the audience to be paying attention to your linguistic insecurities rather than the authenticity of your performance.
In her book THE BODY SPEAKS Lorna Marshall says:
In order to speak language with true conviction you must fully own it. […] This is an obvious statement, but you can not possibly speak truthfully if you are uncertain of the precise sense of what you are saying.”
When I gave an English Accent Workshop for German actors I came up with this experiment: I asked everybody to close their eyes and when I said „Teekanne“ I asked them what they saw before their inner eye and how that word made them feel… for quite a lot of them their “Teekanne” was round-ish, made from porcelain, with a bent nozzle and sturdy, most of them had a sense of warmth in their belly and chest. I asked them to do the same with „teapot“… and suddenly the thing became sort of rectangular, made from metal, one of the actors could not imagine anything at all, had no „connection“ to it, no image… and what REALLY surprised me (on a personal note): for me it was EXACTLY the other way round. You ask me how I think of a teapot and it is round, comforting and sturdy. A Teekanne is an elegant, tall thing, maybe made of metal or glass… but that only as an aside.
This little story shows:
a) associations and senses can differ from language to language b) you might lack those associations altogether, THEN how do you connect?
Isn’t it interesting that in English „to act“ means „to DO“? As an audience I need to see you naturally „do“ stuff without being made aware of how you speak. I need to be able to understand and follow your character. As an audience we detect pretence, subliminally, you all know it! You all have seen it! You might have DONE it?
Working as an accent and dialogue coach mostly in/from Berlin…
here is something more I have been thinking about:
If German is your mother tongue then that is truly what it is: your mother tongue, that means it is innate (i.e. native), you have memories of words, you have feelings attached to certain expressions… and that is something that – to a certain extent – you may need to (re-)create when acting in another LANGUAGE you did not grow up with.
If you don’t work on that aspect your connection to the script might stay superficial, if you do not create the associations or memories your character might have with those words then you might never really be truthful (or possibly not even articulate clearly enough). There will always be that worry in the very back of your brain: did I pronounce this correctly? Should I say it differently (and THIS is what is sensed by the audience). And sometimes actors seem to confuse “linguistic skill” with speed: if I say this really quickly then they will think I can speak really well (when really chances are “they” just won’t understand what you’re saying…)
Mel Churcher in her book ACTING FOR FILM says:
“words are just black hieroglyphics on a page. They have a lexical meaning but they won’t mean anything to you until you make them specific. […] This is the quickest way I know of making a LANGUAGE YOUR OWN:
high light your key words and ACT THEM OUT and they will become the ladder of your thoughts […] then instead of having to remember lines, the words will arise unbidden as the action unfolds”
and you want this to happen in ENGLISH, too! This approach is just as helpful if English is not your mother tongue – maybe even more so. Move and physicalize your words, anchor the ENGLISH in your body. Never underestimate the body’s capability to remember!
This aspect of the work is not so much about delivering your lines, it is about the space to internalise, specify, make accessible and experiment… it is PREPARATORY! It is from here you can go into more specific accent work on safer ground.