By Hazel Bowers, Dialect Coach for The History Boys
When I saw The History Boys on Broadway a couple of years ago, I fell in love with the play, and couldn’t wait until a company in Philadelphia decided to stage it – Yea Arden! So, when Terry Nolen called and asked if I would work on the dialects, I was absolutely delighted. Especially as the North of England “sound” is one of my favorites. There are also several characters in the play speaking standard British, which is my native tongue! How great is that!
As far as the process is concerned, I always prefer to work one-on-one with actors, slowly moving through the script, one sentence, even one word at a time, making sure, with constant repetition, that the actor starts to hear and mimic the specific sound of whatever dialect we are working on (in this case,Yorkshire and standard Britlish). I am a firm believer that work of this nature ideally has to be done early on in the rehearsal process, so that as an actor is learning his/her lines, they are also learning to incorporate the correct sounds to ensure that the dialect slowly becomes a natural extension of their characters. I am, in fact, quite a stickler, even having actors mark/highlight their scripts on all words that have to be changed to the correct sound, e.g. change the word ONE to WUN which is the correct Yorkshire pronunciation.
After a couple of weeks of constant reminders, all that should be necessary now are the occasional “tweaks” during runs of the play. I also encourage the use of tapes; movies; websites, YouTube clips etc., to steep actors in the cadence of the appropriate dialect. Finally, I have a personal mantra: CLARITY, CLARITY, CLARITY! – a perfect dialect is of no use whatsoever, if it is too “thick” for audiences to understand. I know that I have done my job if I can understand every word, yet still have the strong flavor we need to honor the play. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a dream cast, which is what I have in The History Boys!