Classically Speaking w/Patricia Fletcher: Voice, Accent, Dialect Coach

Today, Monologue Blogger speaks with Voice, Speech, Dialect and Audition Coach Patricia Fletcher, celebrated author of Classically Speaking, Dialects for Actors and designated Linklater Voice teacher, who has worked with actors in feature films, television and on Broadway for over 25 years.

Clients include a diverse range of performing artists from Harvey Keitel, Lynn RedgraveJames Spader, Brian Dennehy, Michael Esper, The Wonder Girls, Jean Reno, Elias Koteas, Gina Gershon and Drea de Matteo, to business professionals at Court TV, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and IBM. Patricia’s expertise and service to the performance industry and corporate world are highly recognized.

How did you discover that you had a passion for dialect coaching?

Patricia Fletcher: I began as an actress/singer and found I was often cast in dialect roles, which I loved. My actor friends started asking me to help them with their dialect auditions; so they were instrumental in kick-starting my coaching career. From there, coaching snowballed rather quickly, outpacing my acting career.

Can you tell us a little about your book, ‘Classically Speaking’ and how you feel this will help actors?

Patricia Fletcher: Classically Speaking was written to help actors on several fronts: understanding the sounds of English, learning the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), learning and practicing Neutral American, Classical American, Mid-Atlantic and Standard British dialects.

It begins with a 25-page overview of the sounds of what is referred to as Neutral American English (which is well-spoken American English spoken without the regionalism that might reveal an actor’s specific state of origin or ‘home’ sounds). Though very few people actually speak pure Neutral American in their everyday lives, this dialect is commonly requested by agents and casting directors, and its mastery can position actors for a much wider range of acting roles.

This is followed by 20 pages of IPA: explanation and practice. IPA is a system of symbols for representing spoken sounds-one symbol per sound-which offers a much more reliable method of comparing spoken sounds than alphabetical spelling. IPA is used in many texts and dialect books and can be a very useful tool for actors.

Then, there are 40 pages addressing rhythm, stress and musicality in Neutral American Speech, including a section on Literary Devices and Scansion.

Following these shorter ‘interviews’ are over 200 pages dedicated to each specific vowel, diphthong and triphthong sound of Neutral American, including ‘sound checks’ which offer trouble shooting advice, along with accompanying sound recordings (which are downloaded from my web site).

The same structure is offered for Classical American (90 pages) Mid-Atlantic (15 pages) and Standard British (60 pages).

So, Classically Speaking offers the specifics that can start an actor off on the right path to making and executing interesting, character-appropriate speech and dialect choices.

What has been your most challenging experience when it has come to teaching?

Patricia Fletcher: I suppose the most challenging aspect is teaching classes of students with varying talents and abilities. Keeping everyone interested and focused while meeting their individual needs is often very challenging.

How did you learn your craft, to become the teacher that you are today?

Patricia Fletcher: I sort of slipped into this career from an acting career via my friends prodding. Once I had decided I really enjoyed coaching/teaching, I then studied privately with several speech and dialect coaches; took additional singing, acting and Shakespeare classes; became a designated Linklater Voice Teacher and received a Master’s Degree in Voice & Speech. During all of this I also had a lot of hands-on experience, as I had a thriving private practice throughout.

I was very fortunate to get into this business when I did as there was a need for more coaches at that time; and I was offered jobs that furthered my growth and experience.

Can you discuss your process of working with an actor during rehearsals?

vocal training

Patricia Fletcher: HMMM. Well, there really isn’t one process. So many variables: is it theatre, TV or film? Am I working with one person or the entire cast? Is the actor a beginner or a ‘star’. How much time is available; when am I being called in: the day before the show opens? Six weeks before? How ‘talented’ is the actor? How receptive?

I would have to say that I try to access the situation as quickly as possible and help the actor in any way possible.

What has been the greatest challenge during rehearsals with an actor, in finding their character’s voice/dialect?

Patricia Fletcher: Though it does not happen often, the greatest challenge is when the actor does not want (or think they need) any help. There have been a couple of times when I have been called in by the producers to help an actor when the actor thought he/she was already terrific! I can usually read people pretty well, and I do tend to have a soft touch, so eventually these things are worked out. But, it can be a challenge!

What processes do you go through when you are preparing to teach a new dialect?

Patricia Fletcher: If it is new to me, I will first get as specific a character description as I can and then find as many character-appropriate sound samples as possible. I analyze the samples for musicality, rhythm, resonance, specific sound adjustments, etc., practice and practice and repeat until I have the dialect. I then work the character’s lines so I will be able to demonstrate (or record) them for the actor, if so desired.

Are there any stories you would like to share that have stood out with you over the years?

Patricia Fletcher: I do have some good stories, but I also have signed confidentiality agreements in my file cabinet, so I will pass on that one.

That sounds fair enough, Patricia.  Are there certain acting techniques that you draw upon in your teachings?  If so, can you talk about that?

dialect coaching

Patricia Fletcher: I have taught Voice & Speech at the William Esper Studio for many years and think highly of the Meisner Technique. But, I am not an acting teacher, so I stay away from any direct acting instruction. That said, in working with actors on their dialect auditions, if I feel the actor is open to my suggestions, I speak my opinion regarding their acting choices and offer suggestions. Naturally, the final decision is always theirs.

Have you ever been involved in a project in which you had a limited amount of time to have the actor ready for performance?

Patricia Fletcher: Yes!

What do you feel is the most challenging dialect for an American Actor? And why?

Patricia Fletcher: People are so different, but I would suggest that Australian and Scottish dialects offer a challenge for many American actors. As to why–Americans, until recently, did not hear much Scottish and I think that is a contributing factor. From an American’s standpoint, Australian and Cockney have many similarities, so delineating those differences can be a challenge for Americans.

What are some of the stand out performances that you have seen over the years, where you feel the actor naturally had the accent?

Patricia Fletcher: I am not alone in thinking that Meryl Streep is stellar in almost all of her roles, I would add Gary Oldman and Cate Blanchette to the top of that list.

Any projects coming up that you would like to share with us?

Patricia Fletcher: I have worked as Dialect Coach on The Blacklist for three seasons and I look forward to continuing this work in Season 4, along with my usual teaching and coaching in the MFA Program at The New School and the William Esper Studio.  This does not leave too much time for other coaching…but we shall see!!

What has been your most rewarding experience to date as a teacher?

Patricia Fletcher: Well, I would not necessarily say this was ‘the most rewarding’ but……many years ago while teaching at Rutgers University we worked on a poem called O CHEESE by Donald Hall.

I was hoping to make this a memorable experience, so I brought samples of every cheese spoken in the poem (about 15) to class and we had a cheese tasting, poetry event—sampling each cheese as mentioned in the poem.

A couple of months ago I saw a Facebook posting by several students who had been in that class. They were reminiscing – discussing that class and how it made such an impression and how they still remembered the experience, the lines of the poem, the cheeses, etc. Mission accomplished.

That’s a good story.  Patricia, we truly appreciate your time, kindness and expertise shared within this interview.  It’s been a real pleasure.  Thank you.

Contact Patricia today to set up a private consultation to discuss your or your company’s particular needs. Patricia is located in New York City.

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Daniella Alma

Daniella Alma is a Staff Writer/Creative Producer for Monologue Blogger. She is also a working Actress/Producer. Projects have included work with Red Bull Media House and films that have premiered in Festival de Cannes - Court Metrage.