If You Can't Do An Accent, Don't Bother Trying

Anthony J. Piccione

In the world of theatre, there are good actors and bad actors. There are also great actors and terrible actors. A few of you might be wondering: “What exactly is the difference between, for example, a bad actor and a terrible actor?” There are quite a few things that stand out in a performance, and it is these flaws that easily make an already bad performer look even worse during a show. It is these flaws that separate the merely bad actors from the terrible actors. One big example of such a flaw is when an actor clearly doesn’t know how to probably speak in a certain accent or dialect during a show.

This is a big mistake that American actors make all the time. Sometimes, it appears in the form of a dreadfully bad British accent in a production of a play such as Equus or Richard III. In other cases, perhaps it is an incoherent Southern drawl in a play such as The Glass Menagerie or A Streetcar Named Desire. I could go on with other possible examples, but I think you get my point. It is a mistake that is made by actors far too often, and it is one of the most cringe worthy acting mistakes that an audience member could witness. Given how many times I’ve seen an actor do this during a show, I would also argue that it is made more often than most other possible acting mistakes that could be made, aside from things such as occasionally not saying a line the way it is intended to be said in the script. I believe that performances such as this are far too frequent, and they significantly drag down what are otherwise fantastic productions at many different theaters.

Personally, when I see performances such as this from just one actor in a show – while it may not necessarily ruin the entire show for me – it does prevent me from enjoying it as much as I otherwise would have. If a director sees during the audition process – at least in the case of professional theatre – that an actor can’t do the accent that they are supposed to know for the role, that person should instantly be removed from consideration for the role, and the role should be given to a more-skilled actor. If it isn’t immediately apparent and it becomes more obvious during rehearsals, than the actor should be fired and replaced.Yet this doesn’t seem to always be the case, even in professional productions where you’d think there would be more talent out there that is eager to be in these big roles. (In certain cases, this might have to do more with the cliquishness that sometimes exists in theatre, but that’s another topic for another day.)

Now some of you reading this column might be among those actors that I speak of, who couldn’t do a proper accent to save their own life. To all of you, I have this to say: If you want to be in a role that involves an accent other than your own natural accent, and you can’t already do a perfect job at speaking in it, please take the time to learn how to do it first. Learn it before you even consider auditioning for such a role, not to mention before you start rehearsals for it. It never hurts to have some additional acting lessons in certain situations, such as this. In this particular case, the audience that will be coming to watch you on opening night – as well as your own reputation as an actor – will benefit greatly from it.

So allow me to end this column with a bit of tough love for all the performers out there reading this. If you can nail the right accent or dialect that you know is necessary for a show – or a specific role – that you want to be in, then by all means, go ahead and audition. Otherwise, as an audience member who frequently attends – and sometimes reviews – many of these shows, I have to say that I don’t care if it’s at the community or professional level. Before you even think about it, make sure you know how to pull off the right accent needed to make your performance believable. If you ask me, actors who are terrible with the necessary accent for a certain role need not apply.