Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Six Dialects of "Mary Poppins"

Guy McEleney, Katherine Parrish and Liam McHugh.
When SCR’s Summer Players present Mary Poppins on the Argyros Stage (August 8-9 and 14-16) the principal actors will speak in six different dialects: Standard, Cockney and North Country English; as well as Scottish, Irish and German!

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!

Learn more and buy tickets.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Faces in Summer Players

South Coast Repertory’s production of Mary Poppins (on the Argyros Stage August 8-9 and 14-16) has a cast of 32. An even dozen are new to Summer Players. Daunting for the director? Not if she’s Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa.

“These new faces aren’t really new to me,” Hisa said. “All twelve of them have been in the Conservatory for at least a year. And while they aren’t necessarily seasoned performers, they’ve learned about the process of acting, which is so important to our program.”

And what about the actors themselves? We caught up with five of them during their first week of rehearsal, and here’s what they had to say.

Nicholas Kessler, age 17, has attended the Theatre Conservatory for four years, beginning with the Summer Acting Workshop, but never has been onstage at SCR.

“I thought Summer Players would be a good experience and help me grow as an actor. I was pretty nervous during my audition, but now I’m eager to get to work and be a part of the process.”

Eleven-year-old Aoife McEvoy also got her start in the Summer Acting Program and is in her third year. Last season, she played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.

“I tried out for Summer Players because I wanted to be in a musical, meet new people, learn more about acting and have fun! When I got chosen I tried to play it cool but eventually started dancing around the kitchen.”

Twelve-year-old Zoe Hebbard has been in the Theatre Conservatory since fourth grade and last year played Belinda Cratchit in A Christmas Carol.

“When I saw Peter Pan last year and realized how much my friends loved being in Summer Players, I decided to audition. On the car ride to the theatre for the first day of rehearsal, I was so excited!”

After four years in the Conservatory, Kat Lewis finally had enough free time to audition for Summer Players. This will be her first appearance onstage at SCR—but not her last. Look for her in Teen Players this fall.

“When I got the call that I was chosen, I started running and jumping around my house because I was so ecstatic! I can’t wait to work on this show and see it come together.”

JT Casey is going into the 7th grade and has performed in other plays but never has been in (or even seen) a show at SCR.

“I love plays and wanted to do something more professional with other serious acting students, but I was super nervous because so many were auditioning. We were at Souplantation when the call came, and everyone around me knew I had gotten something really big!”

Be there for “something really big”—a cast of 32 Summer Players, acting, singing and dancing in Mary Poppins, beginning August 8.

Buy tickets and learn more.