EXCERPTS FROM THE CONVERSATION
Below is an excerpt from the Great Expectations play guide. The article features a conversation between Everyman's Education Department and Gary Logan, the dialect coach for Great Expectations.
Read the full Play Guide.
Everyman Theatre: Where are you from originally and when did you first develop an interest in theatre?
Gary Logan: I’m originally from North Carolina but have lived in 39 homes all across the United States and in Europe. My father was in the military and I became an actor, so I have lived in many places: San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Washington DC, Kansas City, Germany, and Pittsburgh, just to name a few! I developed an interest in the theater when I was 14 years old. I was in a terrific drama class in Fairfax Virginia during high school, was cast in a play, and have been doing plays ever since.
ET: When and why did you decide to pursue theatre professionally? How has your background shaped your career path?
GL: I decided to pursue theater professionally when I was 18, when I was making my choice of what to major in when I went to college. Even though it was right for my dad and my brother, I knew that life in the military was not for me. And lucky for me, the draft ended on my 18th birthday.
Having lived in so many places, and listening to so many dialects and accents, I think I have an ear for them. Also, I studied the international phonetic alphabet in college, which prepared me for being able to accurately transcribe sounds I hear.
ET: Define the Voice or Dialect Coaches responsibilities or the scope of their work in relation to bringing a story to life onstage.
As a voice and dialect coach, I am responsible for making sure that every actor is both audible and intelligible. If the actor can’t be heard, or if they can’t be understood, then I have not done my job as well as I would like. I also try to make sure that the actor practices good vocal health, and that they don’t damage the voices in moments of heightened emotion and vocal extremes.
GL: As a voice and dialect coach, I am responsible for making sure that every actor is both audible and intelligible. If the actor can’t be heard, or if they can’t be understood, then I have not done my job as well as I would like. I also try to make sure that the actor practices good vocal health, and that they don’t damage the voices in moments of heightened emotion and vocal extremes.
Like design, dialects and accents are meant to transport the audience to a particular time and place. They help to give context to the story being told. If everyone is doing their job well, then the dialects don’t take special attention away from the story, but simply helps the audience suspend disbelief.
Finally, I try to guide actors toward speaking more effectively. Sometimes, it’s necessary for me to point out words or phrases in the script that might be more operative than those being emphasized by the actor. It’s all in an attempt to clarify the meaning of the text and tell the story as clearly as possible.
ET: How do you find work as a Dialect Coach? What other types of work outside of theatre do you do?
GL: At this stage in my career, work as a dialect coach usually finds me first. Because of work I have done on a particular play, a theater will often give me a call to engage my services. However, meeting and getting to know directors, executive producers, and actors is a way of booking work.
For the past 12 years, I was at the ACA, as the director of the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Master of Fine Arts Program in Classical Acting. I taught ear-training and acting. Four months ago, I became the Associate Professor of Speech and Dialects for Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.
ET: What skills are necessary to being a vocal expert?
GL: The skills necessary to being a vocal expert have to do with one’s training. Most voice and dialect coaches have had extensive training, and most have also, at one time or another, been a professional actor, so that in most cases, voice and dialect coaches are actors who are able to impart a special area of expertise to other actors.
ET: How do you connect to Great Expectations? How does dialect influence this piece in particular?
GL: I am a particular fan of the works of Charles Dickens. He, along with other writers, such as Victor Hugo, paints a vivid picture of strife in the 19th century. Being a British writer, his stories center on characters from all over the British Isles, and thus, many dialects are required.
ET: What challenges does this piece present for you? Any fun facts or insider tidbits you can share that you want to draw our student’s attention to?
GL: Dickens writes beautifully, but his language and sentence structure is very different from ours in the United States at the present time. Often, modern American actors will not know exactly what to stress to get the most they can out of the text. I provide a separate and trained pair of ears to the actor.
English dialects, particularly of the British variety, are fun to listen to, and fun to speak. Some dialects require that the H’s at the beginning of words be dropped, or that T’s in the middle positions be glottalized. And it’s not just the Cockney dialect that will do this.
ET: What is your favorite dialect and why? What is the hardest for you personally?
GL: I think one of my favorite dialects is the Australian dialect, and it’s probably because I have an affection for Australians; I have never met an Australian that I didn’t adore.
The hardest dialects to do are always the ones that contain sounds that do not come naturally to an American. In linguistics, these sounds are called shibboleths. It takes quite a bit of training and work to sound natural while producing these unnatural songs.
My advice to anyone interested in pursuing the profession of a dialect coach is to become very familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (or IPA) and the anatomy of speech. It also helps a lot to not carry any judgments about the way anyone sounds.
ET: What is the vocal coach’s relationship to the Director? What other relationships are critical to your work?
GL: The relationship the voice and dialect coach has with the director has to be a very close one. Well before rehearsals begin, the two must discuss the director’s vision of the play. Based on what the director is looking for, I can determine what recommendations to make. Sometimes, it’s not important to be anthropologically accurate. The actors could get everything perfectly right and end up being unintelligible to an audience. In film, accuracy is imperative, but for the stage, the dynamics of the space will often determine what sort of work goes into the dialect.
Another relationship that is key is the one the coach has with the actors. The actors, though usually very well trained already, need to trust the coach and his or her recommendations. No one likes to feel as if they are constantly being corrected or not getting something right. It’s important to have a mutual trust in each other and know that we are both working towards the same goal: an outstanding performance. Having a sense of humor is critical in this sort of work, and not taking things too seriously. We are telling stories, we are not at an operating table; no one’s life is on the line if we get something wrong.
ET: In what piece are you most proud of your work?
GL: I am most proud of those plays where the playwright is living and has a chance to visit either a rehearsal or performance, and they express their happiness and gratitude for dialect work that is well done. I have been particularly gratified when that playwright happens to come from some place such as Ireland or a remote part of England and they are convinced that the actors are native speakers.
ET: What advice might you give someone interested in pursuing the professional of dialect coach as a career?
GL: My advice to anyone interested in pursuing the profession of a dialect coach is to become very familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (or IPA) and the anatomy of speech. It also helps a lot to not carry any judgments about the way anyone sounds. There are standards and there are non-standards; no one really speaks incorrectly or wrong, they may simply fall outside The blurry boundaries of what is considered acceptable. But what is considered acceptable in one group of speakers is not necessarily considered acceptable by all speakers. We “code-shift” all the time to be accepted by whatever group we are mixing with at the moment.