As a speech and dialect teacher, I work with students who are fully engaged in the Meisner Technique. One thing that makes a Meisner trained actor so distinct is in their ability to listen, and respond personally in every moment. My task is to help my students figure out exactly what they are trying to communicate with text, and how the WAY they speak can help them achieve their objectives. We do this by looking at the different ways in which arguments are structured. We look at rhetoric, culture, dialect, and musicality, and how these important clues help make the behavior they need to create as clear and vivid as possible. This specific type of text analysis is essential for an actor’s ability to create vivid, nuanced human behavior. The wonderful part of working with students steeped in Meisner training is their ability to bring depth and vulnerability to this important aspect of an actor’s skill.
The Meisner Technique trains actors to work simply and specifically, and this must be brought to language skills. By identifying some key structural parts of an argument, an actor can identify those words and phrases that are really going to give them the most “miles per gallon” in a scene (we would call them operative words). When an actor sits down to look at a scene or monologue, especially if that text is heightened or complicated, it can be a great and practical skill to be able to look through the text with an eye toward making clear arguments and specific choices about the most effective words to use in order to achieve with text.
Of course the REAL fun comes when an actor decides a distinct dialect is appropriate for a performance. Then we can start to look at the unique ways different cultures approach language. It is so rewarding to see students start to think about sounds in new and specific ways. I get excited when I see a student start to draw connections between patterns of pronunciation and inflection that they notice in the dialects they choose to tackle in class.
We all have a dialect, and therefore every character an actor plays ALSO has a dialect. It might not always be as specific as “Liverpool,” or “Latvia,” but making specific, consistent, playable decisions about language, vocal placement, and inflection can take an actor one crucial step closer to fully embodying a character. Familiarizing oneself with different vowel and consonant choices is just another way of empowering an actor. It is also a first step toward becoming versatile and adaptable: ready to tackle any new regional dialect that is required!
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