Thursday, February 18, 2010

5 questions with MICHELLE LOPEZ-RIOS, dialect coach

Continuing in our series of questions for the cast and crew of DUET FOR ONE, I sat down (via the wonders of the internet) with Michelle Lopez-Rios. In addition to her work on DUET FOR ONE, Michelle appeared in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's production of BROOKLYN BOY last season. She works full-time on faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee theatre department.

Michael Cotey, education assistant: What's the difference between an "accent" and a "dialect"?

Michelle Lopez-Rios, dialect coach:
I distinguish the two by language origin. For example, American English is spoken with NY Dialects, Southern Dialects, Midwest Dialects, etc. However, when an American speaks French they speak it with an American Accent. So Dialects are the regional sounds of a language and Accents are the influence of the speaker's original language when speaking a different language.

MC: How do you encourage actors to approach learning a dialect?
ML-R: Everyone learns differently, I try to do what is most comfortable for the actor. I like to give the actors authentic samples of the dialect as early as possible so that they can have time to listen to the speech pattern, sound changes, and sound placement. I give them a sheet of typical sound changes and tips for executing the dialect. If the dialect is new to the actor or if it is a difficult dialect we usually meet one on one before rehearsals even begin. I encourage actors to listen, listen, listen to as many sources as possible (TV, film, youtube, websites) and then practice, practice, practice in the dialect. I usually visit rehearsals about once a week to take notes on dialect and voice work.

MC: In DUET FOR ONE, where both characters speak with different dialects, how did you prepare yourself as dialect coach to assist both actors?
ML-R: The dialects are only a piece of the puzzle. The sounds we make (our dialects) are influenced by language, class, education, family, society, personality, age, career, race, and many other factors. I take all of the clues from the script and work with the director to help the actors find the character's voice. The specificity of that voicework coupled with the listening, listening, listening, and practicing, practicing, practicing is usually enough to keep the actors in their own dialect.

MC: Is there a dialect now that, even after your years of training, is still challenging for you to learn?
ML-R: Australian was a nice challenge in THE SUM OF US (at MCT in 2009). I think the challenge isn't so much about learning a new dialect, the challenge is learning it well enough to teach it to someone else!

But wait...that's only 4 questions. Here's your chance reader. Ask your own question below as a comment. I'll pick the most thought-provoking question for Michelle to answer.


  1. Is there a particular performance or scene that comes to mind when you think of the worst accent imitation you've ever seen?

  2. Is there an actor who you see as a master at accents and dialects?