Monday, February 27, 2012

Finding the Right Voice

This is a continuation of the blogpost I wrote last week entitled “Creating Characters” which shares some of the work the actors are doing behind the scenes to prepare for their roles in The Carol Burnett Show: Your Favorite Sketches, a collection of some of the funniest sketches from the original show, performed by the Saline Area Players. 

So, what do you do when you play multiple roles within the same show and have to make them all different?  One of our cast members plays a number of very different characters.  Some of them are in parodies of movies, like Love Story and Gone with the Wind.  Watching the original movie helps an actor figure out how to parody it.  One actor says “for the humor to work, I think one has to do somewhat of an imitation.  So, I watched the film ‘Love Story’ and I’m trying to emulate Ryan O’Neil’s breathy vocal quality and to still make it youthful, since I’m portraying a college student (which is quite a stretch).  For Rat Butler, I watched the film and listened to recordings from “Gone With the Wind.”  Clark Gable had a kind of nasal and forceful style to his delivery and I am doing some of that, but I’m also adding a bit more of a southern plantation sound to it than he did.  It helps set the scene for the piece.”

Another actor talks about how he works at altering his voice for the different characters.  He changes accents – German & Brooklyn – to name a couple, and changes registers in his voice.  He notes that sometimes speaking faster or slower works for him.

Another actor who is versatile with accents and delights in trying them, says “I think the biggest challenge for me is literally finding my character's voice. The first few times I mentally read through the sketches, I listened to how each character spoke in my mind, not just the characters I would have the privilege and responsibility to bring to life but also the others that would be part of the interaction with my character.”  She asked herself a variety of questions including where is she from, in what class of society does she feel most comfortable, what’s her relationship to the others in the sketch, and what is her back story?  For one sketch she chose a NJ or Brooklyn accent for her character, but the director initially disagreed and asked her to play the character as if she came from the south with little education and lived in a trailer park.  To prepare, the actor said “I listened to several dialect examples online and settled with Loretta Lynn's southern accent with nasal-whiney overtones.  After a couple of weeks working with this character, the sketch just wasn't working. My character was complaining but not funny, which is somewhat critical in a comedic show. In the middle of a rather intense rehearsal, the director and I chatted about it briefly and she asked me to go back to the Brooklyn/NJ accent, which was now more difficult as I had memorized the sketch with the Appalachia accent and pronunciation. “ 

The next step required researching NY and NJ accents, “everyone from Snooki to Peg Bundy to the Brooklyn Beat on SNL” and to re-memorize the sketch in a new accent which turned out to be a lot funnier when tried on cast mates later in the week. 

In working on the character Mr. Tudball, the actor playing him recognizes that it is a fairly identifiable character from the Carol Burnett Show and is trying to capture that essence.  He says “I'm struggling to do that bizarre pseudo-Scandinavian accent that Tim Conway did, not that I feel an actor should necessarily imitate the original, but that character's dialect was always a part of the humor of the Tudball-Wiggins sketches.  So I want to have some of it in my portrayal.  His posture, pot-belly and uptight demeaner are also part of the physicality I'm going for.”

Check out the show and try to notice how the different actors change themselves to be different characters.  Perhaps you won’t even recognize them from one sketch to another.  The Carol Burnett Show: Your Favorite Sketches opens March 8.

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