As an actor, working privately with a professional dialect coach can be the most rapid, reliable, trouble-free method for mastering an accent, and there’s no disputing that the addition of a key dialect coach to one’s professional team can go a long way to helping an actor to become more competitive.
While the rewards of private coaching may be great, the price tag for working privately with a qualified dialect coach is not necessarily one the average working actor can take lightly. Reputable dialect coaches in major metropolitan areas charge anywhere from $120–350/hour for their services depending on the project requirements and the number of lessons purchased in advance. Contrary to what less scrupulous coaches may advertise, the average actor tends to need around 12 private coaching hours spread out over six-to-eight weeks in order to completely learn and fully integrate a performance-ready accent.
Allow me to clarify: Can a dialect coach explain the components of an accent in the course of a few lessons? Yes. Absolutely. In a lesson or two the average actor can receive academic training about any given accent, but knowing about an accent and actually being able to speak convincingly in an accent while acting are worlds apart. The latter requires far more time and energy investment than the first.
Is the price tag that comes with private coaching worth it? That depends. Hiring a qualified, experienced coach is imperative, but choosing a dialect coach wisely is only half the battle. The best dialect coach on the planet cannot help an actor succeed if the actor isn’t doing their part.
If you want to make every penny of your financial investment count toward your artistic goal, once you have hired a qualified coach there are some obvious (and not so obvious) steps you can take to make your training dollars go as far as possible:
1. Know what you want. What exactly do you want to learn and why? Share this with your dialect coach. If your accent is intended for a particular project, share as much information as you are allowed to about that project with your coach. Sides, breakdowns, and scripts contain important information your coach can use in training you, and even in helping you to verify if the accent you’ve chosen to learn will work well for a particular project. If the accent you want to learn is not directly project related, send your coach links to audio samples that exemplify the direction you want to head. Not sure where to find these samples? Try these free resources: Pinterest and the International Dialects of English Archive.
2. Time it right. Whenever possible, schedule your coaching sessions for your own best time of day. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, your most alert time of day is when your lessons should ideally take place.
3. Have a plan. During the time between sessions, as questions pop up, jot them down. A day or two before your lesson, send the questions to your coach; that way they can be ready to help you efficiently during your lesson.
4. Set the scene. More and more, rather than happening in person, dialect coaching sessions take place via Skype or FaceTime. On one hand, this is marvelously convenient, but on the other hand working at home may come with distractions. Take the time to prevent these by turning your phone to vibrate and making sure pets and children are being cared for elsewhere.
5. Gather your gear. Make sure everything you might need during your lesson is within arm’s reach of your computer. Typically it’s a good idea to have the following items handy: your script or sides, any PDFs or MP3s your coach may have given to you, paper, a pen, a mirror, and your smart phone for recording (with permission). You may also want to have water handy.
6. Get your head in the game. Start each of your scheduled sessions on your own about 15 minutes before your coach arrives. Use this time to do some overall physical stretches and articulatory warm-ups so that your body is centered, flexible, and ready to work once your lesson begins. Not sure how to do this? Ask your coach. They can create a warmup especially for you.
7. Keep a practice diary. To make the most of the practice time in between lessons, as you work on your new skills each day ask yourself, “What am I doing well in terms of practice, what do I think needs to be worked on further, and what am I going to do in order to try to make a positive difference?” Sharing these observations with your coach in the first five minutes of your next lesson can give them useful insight into your work that they can then translate into personalized lesson plans for you.
8. Stick with it. I’ll leave you with this: Mastering and integrating an accent requires consistent, targeted practice over time. Going all out with your training for a short while, but then losing focus or taking a break of a few or more weeks can not only wreak havoc on your progress with accent acquisition, it may even sow the seeds for doubting your own aptitude. If you want your new accent to meet the demands of today’s audiences, be sure to set aside the time it truly takes to learn one and then stick with the process (even when the going gets tough!) until with the guidance of your dialect coach you’ve reached the level of mastery you set out to earn.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!