My research and creative activity covers three main areas of work. My accent coaching work utilizes my certification in Knight-Thompson Speechwork to research and analyze primary sources to craft authentic and artistic dialect choices for performance. My work as a director and choreographer primarily utilizes a collaborative movement-based style to develop the physical vocabulary of a show. I also develop visual representations of linguistic concepts, to better help students understand accent pedagogy.
The Knight-Thompson Speechwork framework for accent analysis and coaching consists of the 4 Ps:
The cultural context of the accent. We always start with People. It is not about a target accent so much as learning how a group of people communicate. Learn about history, music, food, art in order to build empathy.
The pattern of movement or way in which speakers repeatedly use the articulator muscles, and how those patterns differ from the actor's own speech habits.
The musicality of speech. Looking at repeated melodic phrases, and the context in which they are used. Dance, drawing, music, and computer programs are used to identify and embody the patterns.
What most people think of when approaching accents: "Say this word in a different way." We identify the phonetic target sound for groups of words, called Lexical Sets, and practice speaking them with ease and fluency.
Accent coaching involves detailed research for appropriate primary sources, as well as detailed analysis of those sources. It becomes most creative when we collaborate with the artistic team on which accents are appropriate and useful for particular stories and characters, and when we work with actors to embody these new sound landscapes.
I create and publish websites based on my original research and analysis for most accents I coach (depending on project and timeline). These websites are meant to support in-person coaching, not replace it. Each site includes primary source videos, as well as phonetic and prosodic analysis, and resources for practicing and applying the accent in the acting context.
I recently coached Haitian Creole accents for Once on This Island. Utilizing the KTS framework, I created an accent guide for both the majority population of Haiti and the upper class, called the “Grands Hommes” in the show. With an awareness that global majority speakers have a history of their speech being weaponized against them, our focus during accent coaching was on bringing authenticity, accuracy, and respect to the performances.
DIRECTor & CHOREOGRAPHer
As a director and choreographer, I primarily utilize a collaboratively devised, movement-based style to tell stories that challenge our assumptions, expand our understanding, and remind us of our joy.
Peter and the Starcatcher
For my recent production of Peter and the Starcatcher at The Art of Acting Studio, I served as director, choreographer, and musical director. Our casting choices for Peter focused on disrupting the show’s tradition of an almost all-male cast by having many women play traditionally male parts, as well as welcoming in the wonderful diversity of our student body. Our collaborative work environment allowed for these actors to bring in accent choices and movement vocabulary inspired by their heritage, like Ted being an orphan from France rather than from the US, and Smee being a Mexican Pirate rather than a British one, which helped us represent the historical truth that pirates came from all over the world. I am grateful that the school supported our choice to create a rehearsal space which shifted the traditional hierarchy to one more equitable, in which we could more readily learn from and collaborate with each other. This show also gave the ensemble the opportunity to reconnect with the child-like joy we can find in our work, if we are willing.
At Studio School, I recently directed Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Directing Orlando was an incredible opportunity to explore our social performance of gender constructs. I made sure that each of our eight ensemble actors had the chance to play multiple characters along the gender spectrum so that the show’s themes of gender, time, and identity engaged each actor’s lived experience and creativity, not just the leads’. We staged the show in an abstract movement-based style where the actors became elements of the set–a ship, doorways, trees–as well as many of the conceptual features–reflections of Orlando’s many changing identities. As part of this production, I also coached Romanian, Turkish, Russian, and Cockney accents. Our focus during accent coaching was on bringing authenticity, accuracy, and respect to the performance, especially in a truncated rehearsal period.
Photos and video by Z. Eric Yang.
In addition to theater, I also direct film projects--web series, short films, commercials, and industrials--and perform in film, theater, and voice over.
In addition to my accent research particular to individual coaching projects, I’m interested in the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and accent training, and work to develop visual models of phonetic and prosodic concepts.
Below are a few of the images I created in collaboration with Philip Thomspon, for his recent book Experiencing Accents: A Knight-Thompson Guide to Acting in Accent, written by Philip Thompson, Tyler Seiple, and Andrea Caban, published by Routledge in November 2023.
Phil and I are also planning a panel on Designing Conceptual Linguistic Images at one of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association (VASTA) Annual Conferences in 2024.
Future development ideas include working with engineers and fabricators to build a large (4+ ft tall) sculpture of the mouth with a moveable tongue to be able to physically illuminate speech actions.