Your accent is a big part of your identity, but accents are also a prominent part of acting. The way you speak can tell where you’re from, and that knowledge helps people to place you on the map. Similarly, characters’ accents can convey information on their origins and thus tell us more about them.
In a conversation with English speakers, your home country becomes a topic quite quickly, especially if you have a foreign accent. English speakers would often rather risk getting into the possibly awkward situation of asking “I’m sorry, I don’t recognize your accent, where are you from?” than not knowing the answer. They will also guess. I myself have been placed in New Zealand, Australia, and increasingly in the U.S., although I am a Finn. To my great disappointment, however, I have sometimes been told that I sound rather Finnish.
In acting, accents bring variety. They are like different instruments in an orchestra; you recognise the difference and it makes you pay attention to them. They also contribute to the melody and the grandeur of the piece. Accents can be used just for this reason, but often they also back up the story or add another dimension to it.
For instance, Chemical Imbalance, Thespians Anonymous spring production 2012, is set in late 19th century England. Most of the characters are British upper class, and most actors therefore speak with a British accent, despite the fact that some of them would normally speak with a more American accent.
Chemical Imbalance is a delicious piece of work in that it uses characters (and therefore accents) from other parts of the British Isles as well, namely, from Scotland and Ireland. These are thrown in mainly for comical effect but also for historical correctness for those who care for such things. Some of the jokes are based on the different origins of the characters, but you will also find that the Scot and the two Irishmen of the play are in more of a servant position (a cook, a policeman, and a maid), which would have in fact been the case in 19th century: the British upper class was served by servants often from poor conditions or by the “lower class” Scots, Welsh, or Irish who came to England for work.
As mentioned, accents are also used for comical effect. Accents carry stereotypes that we know exist but will not say out loud. The stereotypes give you expectations of the characters, or at least tell them apart from the other characters. These stereotypes, as well as any funny-factors, are an important part of a tongue-in-cheek over-the-top comedy, such as Chemical Imbalance.
Com ‘n see fer yerself, loik’. Ish’ll be greet crack! (That would be “Come and see for yourself. It’ll be fun!” in Irish English. Or something along those lines. And “What’s the crack?” means “What’s up?” In case you were wondering.)
Saga Arola is a crazy thespian who loves hugs, useless knowledge, panda bears, and having a good laugh. As a student of English philology, she claims to have a clue of what she’s talking about when it comes to English language matters.
Thespians Anonymous proudly present Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Play on 15, 16, 17 and 18 May 2012 in Helsinki. For more information see Thespians Anonymous website or Chemical Imbalance Facebook event.