The Process: Dialect Work in She Stoops to Conquer

The Process: Dialect Work in She Stoops to Conquer

Nov 7 2014

The cast works with Rosemary Hay on their character's accents

By Emily Young

The third show in the Temple Theaters, She Stoops to Conquer, is fast approaching, and the cast and crew are hard at work. Set in northern England, the play presents a unique challenge to the cast: a collection of English dialects, including Yorkshire - think the downstairs staff of Downton Abbey, and Recognized Pronunciation (R.P.), the most recognizable English dialect - think Harry Potter.

The two dialects share a forward resonance and purer vowels which are universal in English dialects, but they are still vastly different. R.P. differs from standard American mostly in placement: Americans focus their voices toward the back of the mouth, while the British focus sound closer to their lips. Adjusting the placement of the sound and adjusting a few vowels-and there are fewer than you'd think-takes an American actor most of the way to R.P. Yorkshire, on the other hand, demands a more challenging balance between being forward and not too forward, being more closed but also much more open than R.P. Americans are also much less exposed to the Yorkshire dialect, which only adds to the challenge.

Fortunately for the cast, Rosemary Hay, and adjunct professor at Temple and an English native, has come to their aid. Hay teaches acting for the department, but has stepped in to help with the production. She works on a regular basis with cast members, either individually or in groups, on both dialects. The hardest part of working on a dialect can sometimes be simply not knowing what's right and what's not. By working on lines with Hay, and receiving her corrections, the entire cast has been able to grown more confident.

Cheryl Williams, a Temple adjunct faculty member playing the formidable Mrs. Hardcastle, started work on her dialect well before rehearsals began. "The first thing I did," she says, "[was watch]Downton Abbey…to listen to the people downstairs. But that didn't help me. At all. So then I ordered a dialect tape and started listening to that."Ken Sandberg & Julia Hopkins in a scene from She Stoops to Conquer

Dialect tapes are available for countless dialects, but most feature a male voice demonstrating the sounds. Many actresses, including Williams, have trouble using them, because imitating the speech pattern of a male voice is difficult for women. Fortunately for the ladies of the cast, Rosemary recorded an interview with a young woman from Northern England, a foreign exchange student studying theatre here in Philadelphia. With a native, easy-to-listen-to voice to work with, dialect work has been a bit easier for those working on a Yorkshire Dialect.

Julia Hopkins, who plays Miss Hardcastle, has a double challenge, having to use both RP and Yorkshire dialects. "It's difficult, especially in scenes where I flip back and forth," she says. Hopkins has been working hard on her dialects since the cast list went up earlier this semester, and is lucky enough to have a friend from England to talk to. "I run my lines with her and she helps me over Skype," Hopkins says. Having two dialects to work on, and having to use both in the same show, means having to be twice as confident in both. With help from friends and from Rosey, though, Hopkins is already doing well.

With only a few weeks until opening night, dialects are starting to be easier for everyone in the cast. "We're trying to get to a point where we don't think about it," says Williams. But think about it they will, until the curtain goes down on closing night.

She Stoops to Conquer will open November 12, and will run until November 22 in Randall Theater.  

Scroll to Top