Resident Artistic Staff for Voice and Speech, 2002-2010, Joe Dowling, Artistic Director. Coaching Credits include:
2009-2010 Season: M. Butterfly (Peter Rothstien, dir.),
Dollhouse (Wendy C. Goldberg, dir.), A Streetcar Named Desire (John Miller, dir.), A Christmas Carol (Gary Gisselman, dir., 4 productions since 2005)
2008-2009: Premiere of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures featuring Michael Cristofer, Stephen Spinella and Linda Emond (Michael Greif, dir.), Tiny Kushner (Tony Taccone, dir.), Shadowlands (Joe Dowling, dir.)
2007-2008: Pen (Rob Melrose, dir.), The Secret Life of Constance Wilde (Marcela Lorca, dir.), Premiere of Julie Marie Myatt’s Boats on a River (Michael Dixon, dir.)
2006-2007: Lost in Yonkers (Gary Gisselman, dir.), The Glass Menagerie (Joe Dowling, dir.), Major Barbara (Lisa Peterson, dir.)
Workshop of Kia Corthron’s Tap the Leopard (Tim Bond, dir.)
2005-2006: Intimate Apparel (Tim Bond, dir.)
Premiere of Kelly Stuart’s Shadow Language (Michael Dixon, dir.)
2004-2005: Sex Habits of the American Woman (Michael Dixon, dir.), Premiere of Ellen McLaughlin’s Oedipus (Lisa Peterson, dir.), She Loves Me (John Miller, dir.), A Body of Water with Michael Learned, Edward Hermann (Ethan McSweeney, dir.)
2003-2004: The Night of the Iguana (John Miller, dir.),
Crowns (Tim Bond, dir.), Romeo and Juliet (Ethan McSweeney, dir.), Pirates of Penzance (Joe Dowling, dir.)
2002-2003: The Chairs (Daniel Aukin, dir.), Mrs. Warren’s Profession (Lisa Peterson, dir.), Wintertime (John Miller, dir.),
Six Degrees of Separation (Ethan McSweeney, dir).
Pioneer Press/Twin Cities
DIALOGUE COACH PUTS THE ACCENT ON PROPER DIALECTS
BY DOMINIC P. PAPATOLA Theater Critic
May 10, 2007
Elisa Carlson has always been fascinated by the music of language.
Her grandfather loved to regale the family with stories. Her grandmother was the kind of woman who could tell you where in Georgia a person was from based on the way he or she spoke. And growing up in the South, Carlson herself would always be getting into trouble for imitating teachers or grocers or the ladies next door.
So maybe its not surprising that Carlson's acting career has evolved into a job helping actors develop and hone dialects. It's her full-time gig at the Guthrie, where she's currently parsing degrees of high society and Cockney accents in the theater's production of "Major Barbara," and a talent she has taken around town to teach dialects from around the world.
Those Swedish accents in the shot-in-Minnesota indie-film "Sweet Land"? Carlson helped craft those. Same with the Okie dialects in the Minnesota Opera's recent production of "The Grapes of Wrath." It was Carlson who got the young Minnesota-born boys in the Guthrie's September production of "Lost in Yonkers" to say "ovah" instead of "over."
And at the Children's Theatre Company, she undertook some of her longest linguistic journeys, helping actors adopt Somali accents for a 2004 production of "Snapshot Silhouette" and a Dinka dialect for this spring's "The Lost Boys of Sudan."
Carlson, whose natural speaking voice only hints at her Southern upbringing, said the right dialect can tell an audience as much about a character as a costume or the way an actor carries herself.
"It's transformation," she said. "You become someone who expresses their emotional life in a very different way."
As a stage actress in New York and Atlanta, Carlson was known for having a good ear and was routinely sought out by fellow performers looking to polish an accent. In the early '90s, the onset of some physical challenges and the fact that the universe of roles for actresses who are almost 6 feet tall is relatively limited conspired to help her focus her creative energies in a new direction.
She talked her way into doing dialect and vocal coaching work for the Georgia Shakespeare Festival and Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Company and worked steadily for a half-dozen years before getting a call from the Guthrie five years ago.
Though they might not be able to articulate the reason, listening to bad accents is for most audiences like hearing fingernails scraping a chalkboard. Carlson said the discomfort comes from the fact that an actor is probably inconsistent and overlaboring, probably hitting the consonants too hard instead of making them flow smoothly.
When Carlson works with actors, she usually gives them a CD - ideally, featuring that of a native speaker of the dialect - as an introduction. Depending on the complexity and the unfamiliarity of the accent, she might go through the script, line by line and even word by word, with phonetic pronunciations.
In the case of the African accents used in the Children's Theatre productions, she sought out native speakers to listen in on a later rehearsal to see how the cast was coming along. "They usually wind up shaking their heads," Carlson said. "It's never going to sound like it comes from someone's bones. We know that, but we know that we'll do our best."
Carlson concedes that the satisfactions of her job are different from when she was appearing on the stage. "It can be tough if you're sitting around the rehearsal table, and all of a sudden your acting response goes off," she said. "On the other hand, there are many, many roles that I can engage in and help an actor explore that I'd never be considered for. The characters I get to engage and the actors I get to meet make it worthwhile.
"And," she said, "I'll never forget the opening night of 'Lost in Yonkers,' hearing those boys say their 'ovahs' and 'undahs.' That was a wonderful night."
ELISA CARLSON ON ACCENTS
"Vowels are how we express emotion in speech. Consonants convey action." That's why your mother articulated every syllable in your name when she wanted you to get downstairs right this minute.
An Irish accent is often mangled because actors put too much lilt in their voices. "The Irish dialect can be very direct. Your voice doesn't have to go up and down like you're on a trampoline."
The hardest linguistic trick for American actors? It's something called a "glottal stop." Technically, it's the sound made when the vocal cords are pressed together to stop the flow of air and then released. You hear it in Cockney-accented English, when the words "pretty little" come out sounding like "PREH-ee LI-uh."
Some of the dialects she has coached: Long Island, Ozark, Indian, French, Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Welsh, Hmong, Vietnamese.
Other Performing Arts
The Good Lie
ListenUp! Audio Books
The Alliance Theatre
The Grapes of Wrath
The Importance of Being Earnest
American Players Theatre
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures
As You Like It
Children of Oedipus
The Grapes of Wrath
The Children's Theatre Company
Much Ado About Nothing
The Guthrie Theater
Oregon Shakespeare Festival