|Guy McEleney, Katherine Parrish and Liam McHugh.|
According to Director Hisa Takakuwa, using dialects in a Players show has been a long time coming. “I wanted to wait until I was sure that our principals could comfortably incorporate dialects into their characterizations. Now that I’ve worked with all of them, there’s no doubt that now is the time, and Mary Poppins is the perfect show.”
And the perfect dialect coach? The director herself, a classically trained actor, who was a resident artist at A Noise Within and has appeared in productions of the classics at Indiana Repertory, Grove Shakespeare Festival and others, including SCR.
For Guy McEleney, who doubles with Christopher Huntley in the dual roles of Bert, the carefree chimney sweep (Cockney) and the Bank Chairman (Standard English), his coach makes all the difference. “Hisa has such a sharp ear for dialects that it makes this process fun rather than daunting. I’ve been lucky to have learned about Standard English in Teen Players, and now that I’m having to add Cockney, I’m really grateful to have worked with Hisa one-on-one over the years. An added plus—learning a dialect is helping me find Bert as a person and better understand his life and his story.”
All the work is worth it, according to Katherine Parrish, who speaks Standard English as her character, Mrs. Winifred Banks—mother of the misbehaving children. “It’s definitely very different from the way we usually speak and takes a lot of practice and repetition to get the sounds into your bones, so that you don’t have to think about it when you’re on stage. But I think that in the end it will help, not only with our ability to learn and utilize different dialects but also clean up and clarify our regular way of speaking for the stage.”
Hisa has chosen Irish dialect for the policeman, played by Liam McHugh, for a good reason—his entire family is from (or still lives in) Ireland. “I’m the first one in my family not to be born there, so I’m surrounded by accents, especially when we visit Ireland. At first, I was worried I might incorrectly portray the accent because I’ve been overexposed to the sounds and don’t really hear them anymore. I decided to conduct some online research to help me hear the distinguishing features. Now I’m looking forward to honoring my heritage through my character in Mary Poppins.”
As rehearsals began, everyone was given access to audio and hard copy information that includes vowel and consonant changes, placement, resonance and characteristics of the dialect. Hisa also has provided a dialect packet containing practice materials. And, because this Summer Players cast is creative as well as extremely talented, Guy, Katherine and Liam have additional ways of working on their dialects. (We suspect the other cast members do, too.)
Katherine: “Lots of Harry Potter, "Downton Abbey" and Jane Austen movies are a fun way to practice.”
Guy: “I like to speak in front of a mirror to see how my mouth moves to each new sound I make.”
Liam: “After practicing, I ask my dad to give me feedback about doing the dialect correctly.”
Be there to see—and hear—the results when Mary Poppins opens on August 8!
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