The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1320  Tuesday, 14 May 2002

From:           Judi Wilkins <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 14 May 2002 12:30:25 +1000
Subject:        ACTOR'S (sic) and ACCENTS

Thanks to all those who responded (to my firmly tongue-in-cheek comment
about a misplaced apostrophe) with several elucidations about St.
Paul's, Covent Garden, also known as the Actors' Church.  The portico of
the church is the setting for the opening scene of both Pygmalion and My
Fair Lady.  Henry Higgins, 'an expert dialectitian and grammarian' is
taking notes, in his new-fangled phonetic symbols, on the speech
patterns of the costers.  The mimetic Higgins is based on Henry Sweet
(1845-1912), a pioneer philologist, who did much to establish academic
study of Anglo-Saxon, Old and Middle English.  He also constructed a
phonetic alphabet and in his 1899 publication, 'The Practical Study of
Languages' advocated teaching the spoken language (to a standard we now
recognise as RP) utilizing the new science of phonetics.  Can it be mere
co-incidence that RADA and Central, founded respectively in 1904 and
1906 emphasised speech training?  Indeed Central was founded by Elsie
Fogerty specifically to teach 'poetic speech'.  Regardless of the other
parameters and necessities of dramatic speech training, the sound
patterns taught were firmly based in RP, and Sweet's diagrammatic and
symbolic representations of sounds enabled aspiring actors to see what
they were supposed to do to attain an imposed standard.  I find the
terminology instructive.  I cannot now imagine any reputable,
progressive and competent academy of dramatic training advertising
'speech training' as a desirable part of its curriculum.  Proper
professional 'voice' training? Essential, in order to have a flexible,
musical, articulate, strong instrument.  'Speech training', with its
connotations of fussy elderly spinsters (of all sexes) teaching
elocution so the lower classes can attempt to speak naicely and do
Shakespeare 'properly'?  Forget it!  If anyone wants to hear the most
fabulous parody of RP for its own sake, beg borrow or steal a recording
of the late great master of mimicry, Peter Sellers, doing Laurence
Olivier doing Richard III doing It's A Hard Day's Night as a dramatic
monologue.  You will laugh, I promise you, regardless of your own speech

The beautifully spoken Judi

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