Episode 65 – Life’s a Stage: Crafting Language with 246 The Main

Fluency Find Your Voice Episode 65
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 65 - Life's a Stage: Crafting Language with 246 The Main
/

“I want my characters to be authentic, to truly draw people into the story and not just say, “Oh. Well, there’s somebody putting on some accent or trying to speak in an accent.” I want to be authentic so that they don’t see necessarily the accent, but the character, and the story, and what that’s supposed to be conveying so that they can get drawn into it and not just, “Well, here I am sitting at a play.” Laura Holt

Jump down to listen to the podcast


A few weeks ago, I did a full-day workshop with the actors and directors of a community theater in the region where I live. They were interested in learning more about specific accents and the concept of how languages vary within and among countries and regions. They wanted to be sure that the identity of their characters felt more authentic to them as they prepared for performances, and to their audiences as they experienced the stories unfolding on stage.

We got to that! But first, we played.

I taught them the magic of the mouth, and we did exercises, hands-on-face, to feel how vowels are shaped and manipulated. I helped them “find their vocal cords,understand the historical phonemic relationships among key consonants, and shift between languages by noting patterns of sound preferences and groupings. We practiced what I call the “base drone” of several of their key target languages, sensitizing the ear to the underlying tone that clues listeners what language they are hearing even if they don’t know the words.

I brought them the magic of Anguish Languish, which I use in workshops of all kinds to demonstrate the power of the ear to make patterns out of and sense of language, and also to point out that cultural knowledge plays a key role in how language is actually heard and understood. Participants of this, as all workshops, are able to articulate by this point that their dedication must be to paying full attention to the ear of the audience. Their script may be, as the word indicates, written, but it must be transformed by the work of the actor (or teacher, or manager) to the living language, to sound. From the mouth to the ear: life and understanding.

Fun with Anguish Languish, then time to marvel at Sid Caesar, and how his good ear made him a master at accents, and then to use his technique to begin to grow mastery themselves.

Language preferences with regard to intonation, syllabic stress, rhythm, verbal “tics,” and accompanying gestures: all these immersions and more, to set up the amazement and sensitivity that means that actors can never go back to simply looking for “an accent.” They’ve asked for a world full of identities that they can try on, explore, live into, share out.

Trying on identities happens off stage, too, of course. From our earliest moments in our first language we are desperate to assume the identity-through-language of the giants that are the key to our survival. Our earliest babbling and the facial gestures we try on to see what works (“Look! She’s smiling already! So cute!”) get us fed. The right words, the right tone and pitch and phonemic reduction (“Hey! Gonna lemme have some?”) get us friends.

By the power of language used as a powerful tool all our lives, shifting registers to fit in, adding languages through travel or study, refusing to talk a heritage language or working hard to retain it, we create, grow, discard, and assume identities our whole lives.

These actors knew they wanted to focus on language to develop their skills. But all the world is a stage, and you and I are the actors in it. When we pay attention to how language defines our “character,” we bring more power and insight into the lives of our “audience,” those all around us.

Enjoy the podcast.


Click to listen:

Episode 65 – Life’s a Stage: Crafting Language with 246 The Main

Scroll down for full transcript.

Testimonial

Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore

Testimonial

Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL

Testimonial

You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht

Testimonial

Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.


Transcript

Norah Jones:

Hi, I’m Norah Jones. Welcome to It’s About Language. So, what is language all about? Well, it’s about learning and sharing, opening doors in education, work and life. Language is about creating communities and creating boundaries. It’s all about the mystery of what makes us human. Our conversations will explore that mystery and the impact of what makes us human. It’s about language in life. It’s about language at work. It’s about language for fun. Welcome to the podcast.

Norah Jones:

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to provide a workshop on language, accents, and dialects to a local theater troop. It was a great, full-day workshop. We had a lot of fun. There were folks there that were very interested in making sure that they sounded authentic. We took a look at what they even meant by sounding authentic, bringing true character, that is to say, identity, into the lives of their work in drama so that it could be understood and appreciated by audiences who then could take a look at their own personal history and connect with their lives and have fun or be touched or moved or recognize characters, as you’ll hear in the interviews that are part of this podcast today.

Norah Jones:

We did a lot of play with language. I love Howard Chace’s Anguish Languish. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. It’s a language play by this amazing linguist who wrote the book called Anguish Languish in which he used true English words, just not the right words in the right places. Yet, if you are culturally aware of what the story is about, you can understand, even though none of the words are correct. For example, Hair’s an otter furry starry, toiling udder warts, warts welcher alter girdle deferent farmer once inner regional virgin.

Norah Jones:

Here’s another fairy story told in other words, words, which are all together different from the ones in the original virgin. Version. See, I can’t even do it in regular English now. I’ve been doing it so long in front of people, and Anguish Languish is delightful. What it shows to these people in theater, to educators, to those that are working with helping to make sure they can communicate clearly in business and organizations, is that the spoken language is the way that we connect with what’s happening in our lives. The spoken language is the ancient approach to language. The written language is very, very recent in human life. We don’t respond to it as viscerally.

Norah Jones:

The spoken language of Anguish Languish, in this case, was understood by this group because they had a common culture, one that understood, in this case, the story of Little Red Riding Hood or Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, as Howard Chace has it. We took a look also at what happens when language sounds throw you off with the identity of the speaker. I do some ancient languages aloud from specific writers, or those that lived in the ancient world, and folks always have a visceral response to that experience because as they can say very clearly, “I never really thought about what this person sounded like. I just always heard them in English in my head.” Most of the folks, obviously, that I’m speaking with, in this case, were English native speakers.

Norah Jones:

We took a look then at Sid Caesar’s approach to how to make the underlying sound of languages. Sid Caesar said very clearly in one of the interviews later in his life that each language has its own song and this deeply touched the participants in this workshop. And they used their breath and sound activities that I gave them, we did together, along with the metalinguistic behaviors and movements, and even body stance, to put on a brand new identity, a brand new culture, a brand new sound, and to bring excitement and refreshment to their work in the theater.

Norah Jones:

I’m excited for you to listen to this group today, as they speak briefly about why they were in this workshop, why they are in theater. They belong to a theater called 246 The Main, which is actually the location on the street in the town of Brookneal, Virginia. You’ll hear the names of other towns nearby, but what you’re going to hear more than the specific geography or the specific experience just of this theater, you’re going to hear the general experience of us as human beings working in language and understanding culture and character.

Norah Jones:

Take a look at how they talk about how the theater can enrich their lives as well as the lives of those that come to the theater as the audience. They talk about the language and the experience being therapeutic, that they can share joy and pain with others. Here’s something else I’d like you to ponder as you listen. Whether or not you’ve been in theater, several of the folks that were participating talked about using the theater to put on identity so that they could escape from an identity or an experience that was making them unhappy or try on a new identity to see if there was something that could bring them more happiness than they had had.

Norah Jones:

As I was preparing this podcast, I reflected on the fact that I was in theater as a young person. I enjoyed trying on new characters. I found though when I was a young mother that I specifically had to make sure that I did not go into the theater for a while because I was afraid I would forget who I was supposed to be. Identity was so tied up in the language and the character of the theater that I had to make sure that I didn’t run away from being the mother I needed to be at that part of my life.

Norah Jones:

What is your experience, potentially, with theater, potentially, with singing? We have a singer that you’ll hear in one of the interviews here. What is your experience with trying on different identities? We’ve actually finished a strong sequence here on heritage languages and how the heritage language provides putting on identities, both those of our past and potentially of our future, and the correspondence between those past and future identities, or sometimes the struggle between them.

Norah Jones:

But, for today, enjoy these wonderful theater people and think to yourself, “How have I tried on new identity through my language, through my growth in understanding languages and cultures, potentially through theater, and enjoy the experience of watching people that have thought carefully about why it is that they wanted to learn about language, accents, and dialects in order to improve their theater life?” Enjoy this podcast.

Donnalynn Davis:

My name is Donnalynn Davis. I’m here today to bring some of our actors from the theater into a workshop where we can learn more about dialects, languages, and also accents. I’m here today because I love theater, it’s my passion, and I like to share it with others. I want to get as many people in here to share that with me as I can.

Norah Jones:

What do you hope to get out of that? What do you hope for the future of this theater in your work?

Donnalynn Davis:

I like to train people in all aspects of theater. Whether it be acting or costuming or, in this case, language or makeup, or whatever, we like to have them come in and learn something, grow, shine, so that they can go out and be better actors and actresses, but also better individuals.

Norah Jones:

Why theater in your life?

Donnalynn Davis:

Hmm. That’s a good question. It’s always been a passion of mine to be in theater and all aspects of theater. I love design, I love creativity, and it allows me to breathe and to enjoy my own life.

Lisa Rae Ring:

Well, hello. I’m Lisa Rae and I’m from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I’m here today at 246 taking this workshop because I want to learn. I am fascinated with accents. I wanted to learn to build my own craft in the arts by using different accents. More than anything, I wanted to learn how to communicate better with others in different cultures. So I had lots of reasons to be here today.

Lisa Rae Ring:

Theater. Theater has allowed me to have expression, something that I knew that was in me as a child, but I did not have the opportunity to have that expression in my life. I dreamed of being an entertainer when I was a young girl. I think one of the biggest things is when you grow up in a home that is not a normal, conventional home, you want to feel special, and I didn’t get that.

Lisa Rae Ring:

But having theater has allowed that and it’s also helped me to recognize other talents that are there and the opportunity to grow them. It’s given me the opportunity to be part of a family, a family that I didn’t have, that I value so much above many other things that happened in my life as a young person. I want to help others. As I use my God-given talents, I hope that I can help others to grow in theirs.

Lisa Rae Ring:

I think that’s one of the main things, is when you find that you have talents in the arts, it’s wonderful to succeed, but to be able to say you’ve been part of someone else’s success is the grandest part for me at this point in my life. I’m learning and nurturing my own talents while I’m allowed to help others to do the same with theirs.

Ryan Murphy:

Hi, my name is Ryan Murphy. I’m originally from Virginia. I’ve lived in Lynchburg since 2008, so however long that’s been, but I grew up in this area. Anyhow, I’m here today to learn more about languages, more about why we say the different things we say and why languages are different. I think that I’ve learned a lot about that and even just the origins of language itself and how we process that in our brain and why we do what we do. It’s all very fascinating to me. It’s always been very fascinating.

Ryan Murphy:

I grew up singing and in the course of my singing career, of course, I’ve sung a lot of different languages, but also learned how singing is so different from speaking. You really have to pay attention to each and every syllable when you’re singing, especially in a group, because you want all the sounds to sound the same. That has taught me from a very early age that language has meaning in each little tone and everything like that. I’ve sung in Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Japanese. Just other languages like that. Like Sid Caesar says, each language has its own song. I love that. It’s so true. It hits home for me as a musician, as a singer.

Ryan Murphy:

I’ve had the privilege of being involved here at 246 as both an actor and a music director. That’s been really neat. I’m involved in theater arts in general because of this theater. I was invited here to audition for a play and, of course, I have more of a musical background than I have an acting background, but it’s been great synthesizing my singing with acting because, with acting, you have to be more spontaneous. There’s more of a natural flow of language and expressions and ideas and everything.

Ryan Murphy:

With singing, it’s all very rehearsed. With acting that you have to have more of a spontaneity. It has to be more natural, but it’s not you at the same time. So it’s a whole new skill set and I just love learning. I want to continue learning, acting. Of course, the basic building block of both singing and acting is language, so that’s why I’m here today.

Holly Finn:

My name is Holly. I’m here today for your language workshop at 246 The Main in Brookneal, Virginia. I am interested in learning more about performing in theater shows for the fun of it and also to enrich the lives of our audiences when they come in so maybe they can have some fun or learn something new. I hope to really enjoy it and make it enjoyable for them.

Leanna Mosley:

Hi, my name is Leanna. I’m here today so I can learn more accents and languages so if I ever get a character with an accent, I know how to do that accent or at least know somewhat how to do it. Theater is very fun and I’m very glad I joined. I joined because my sister actually was a Mersister in The Little Mermaid. I went to see it and I decided, “Oh, maybe I should try this.” So I auditioned for The Wizard of Oz and was a Munchkin and a Poppy. I’ve met so many great people here and everyone’s amazing.

Norah Jones:

Thanks again to the Coalition of Community-Based Language Schools for being a sponsor of this podcast. The Coalition supports, guides, and promotes community-based heritage language schools and organizations across the United States to increase the visibility and recognition of these important schools. Learn more and connect with the coalition on my website: fluency.consulting. Connect there too with me to learn how sponsorship can help you meet your goals.

Norah Jones:

Please join me in sharing with those in education, business, and organizational leadership, the opportunities that come from knowing and celebrating human language. I invite you to become a sponsor of this podcast. Please see my website, fluency.consulting, for more information and to connect up with me about sponsorship.

Suzanne Jennings:

Hi, my name is Suzanne Jennings. I am here today because it was something that was offered that I have been wanting to do for a really long time. I’ve been an actress or a performer in one way or another for 50 years, let’s say, and this is the first opportunity I’ve really had to come and be formally instructed and learn and listen from the pros to learn how to do what I should be able to do.

Suzanne Jennings:

As for why do I do theater arts, I believe that we were all gifted with something that we are to use to the best of our ability in a way that God has set forth for us to make an impact somewhere. I don’t math, I don’t do lots of other things, but one of the things that God gave me was an ability to act, or perform, or take on a character and enjoy it. Unlike being scared to do it, I enjoy it. I figure that’s where he wants me, what he wants me to do, so that’s why theater is such a big part of my life.

Laura Holt:

Hi, I’m Laura Holt. I am from Gladys, Virginia. I came today to this language workshop just to learn how to be more authentic in accents. I’ve done accents in the past, but because acting is a passion, for me, I want my characters to be authentic, to truly draw people into the story and not just say, “Oh. Well, there’s somebody putting on some accent or trying to speak in an accent.” I want to be authentic so that they don’t see necessarily the accent, but the character, and the story, and what that’s supposed to be conveying so that they can get drawn into it and not just, “Well, here I am sitting at a play.”

Laura Holt:

A general interest in acting originally, I just got my daughter into the theater because I thought it was something that would be good for her, that would develop her. But I really, really found that I had a true passion for acting, for bringing characters to life, and bringing stories to life for people to enjoy. I’d love to stretch and grow as an actress. Definitely don’t ever want to be pigeonholed into one type of character, but definitely to grow and do unique characters and different characters. That’s something that learning about accents and language and being able to broaden my ability to use different accents will help me to be different characters.

Anita Martin:

My name is Anita Martin. I am not originally from Brookneal. I’m originally from Oregon, but I live here in Brookneal. It’s been my home for about 13 years now. I came here today to the workshop to learn more about language and dialects and just give me more confidence and make my characters better. I think that anything I can learn as an actress to make my characters better will help me. I came to theater because I really love the theater and I love the fact that we can work on a project together with a group of people and with a goal of making something really good that we can then go out and share with the community. I hope to continue.

Nia Martin:

My name is Nia Martin. I’m from Rustburg and I’m here because I think dialects is really important with acting, because when you get a character, you will know what their accent will be but you don’t know if you’re going to be able to do that, and you need to know how. I think that’s really important. I got into theater because ever since I was really young, I’ve wanted to do television acting or any theater in general, really. My friend, about last year, showed me this theater that she was doing. I was like, “Oh, that’s really cool,” and I decided to do it.

Norah Jones:

What are you enjoying so far about your engagement with this theater project?

Nia Martin:

I’m enjoying that everybody’s so nice and that everybody is just really supportive with anything you want to do.

Shannon Popoca:

Hi, I’m Shannon Popoca. I’m actually here for two reasons. One is to broaden my horizons on accents and the other is that the lady instructor of the class is my former teacher from the class of ’92. So it was an opportunity to get to catch up with her and see her as well.

Norah Jones:

What are some of the aspects of you being in this theater and with this company?

Shannon Popoca:

With this one, in particular, the pandemic had the theaters closer to my home closed down, so a friend talked me into auditioning for a play here. I did that and I got a part that I really loved and made new friends and liked the area. I saw a lot of my high school people here because it’s closer to my old home place.

Norah Jones:

What specifically attracts you about acting?

Shannon Popoca:

I think it’s a therapeutic thing for some people that they can escape reality for a moment and be somebody different. I think it’s also to share joy and pain with other people that are in the audience trying to convince them of what you’re trying to sell.

Teresa Sheppard:

Hello, I’m Teresa Sheppard. I am here at 246 The Main today with Norah Jones. She’s been teaching us all sorts of interesting things about dialects. 246 The Main came into my life when I needed saving. It’s been my saving grace for the past few years. It’s allowed me to come to the theater, meet some great people, and be anyone other than myself for just a few hours a day.

Teresa Sheppard:

Never was very athletic. So anybody out there, if you’re not athletic, you’re not that pretty, you don’t have confidence in yourself, then give theater a try because it will make you grow and stretch yourself. I came today to try and not be quite as Southern when I speak, because they give me a hard time about that, so hopefully, now, I’ll do a little better. Thank you.

Norah Jones:

What kind of impact does your knowledge about why you are in theater have, do you think, on the audiences? What do you think sometimes audiences get out of being in theater?

Teresa Sheppard:

It gives the audiences an opportunity to be swept up in some of the characters they may have known from childhood. It gives them an opportunity to come here and watch us bring those characters to life for them and just give them a chance to come out and laugh in public, cry in public. Whatever emotion the characters are able to bring up in them.

Haden Clark:

Hi, my name is Haden Clark. I’m here at 246 The Main taking a dialect workshop. The main reason I came here was I wanted to learn more about dialects and different accents that I could use in my everyday hobbies and to be a better actor as well. I was drawn to theater one time, because I was invited here to this theater, and I’ve been hooked on performing ever since. I want to work harder to make myself a better actor so that I can improve the experience for anybody in the audience.

Norah Jones:

What do you think theater does for people?

Haden Clark:

I think theater allows you to escape life just for a second to just be in a different world. Even if you’re not just acting, even if you’re just in the audience, you get a chance to see the tale that the actors are telling you, they’re putting in front of you, and you get to escape reality for a moment, which in these times nowadays is something I feel is necessary.

Carl Davis:

I’m Carl and I’m basically here because of my wife. I did quite a bit of theater in high school, but then life got in the way and I left it aside for many years. When we got together, she moved into the area and realized that there was really nothing like this going on here. It’s always been a passion of hers. So I got into it with her, and we opened a community theater, and have been doing it ever since.

Carl Davis:

I’m here today because I do various things around the theater. One of the things I do, in some of the performances we have, is I’m an actor and I wanted to be able to improve my skills and make things a little more authentic. I find I’ve enjoyed it.

Norah Jones:

What do you think the theater has done for the community?

Carl Davis:

It’s pulled a lot of people together. We’ve gotten a lot of support here and I’m grateful for that. I’ve made a lot of good friends here and I think so have other people that have worked with us.

Actor:

I didn’t get my real start in theater until five years ago. I’ve always been a writer and a singer. But, as far as acting, that was something that I didn’t do until much later in life. It’s not that I’m like, “Oh my goodness. I’ve only got maybe another 10, 20 years to do this.” I’ve got the rest of my life to do this and nurture it. It’s almost like starting over as a child chasing your dreams.

Actor:

It’s never too late to do this. It’s great to start your children early. That’s the advice that I would give any young parent now. Start your kids early in the arts so they can find their talents, find their passions, so they can grow them. But just because you didn’t start as a young person, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start right where you are.

Norah Jones:

Anybody else?

Holly Finn:

Is that okay I didn’t have my last name?

Norah Jones:

That’s quite all right.

Holly Finn:

[inaudible 00:27:42].

Norah Jones:

Oh, absolutely. Whatever you felt comfortable with saying, no question. Thank you for asking. Any other comments? How did you enjoy today? Was it okay?

Actors:

Oh, yeah. It was amazing.

Actors:

[inaudible 00:27:54].

Actors:

Fabulous.

Norah Jones:

You had a variety of things that you were interested in accomplishing. Do you feel like you accomplished some of them at least?

Actors:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

Okay.

Actor:

I think I got started.

Norah Jones:

Got started.

Actor:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

Yeah?

Suzanne Jennings:

I would love to, at some point, have another one to not only… We only really hear and pick up part of what is thrown at us, even listening to television or speech. So I’m sure that there are things that were mentioned today that I was hanging on in the moment, but now that we’ve moved on, I may forget. I would love to come back and revisit it, even if it’s just a couple of hours, and refresh and revisit and maybe refine. But, I think, something like this is just dynamite.

Norah Jones:

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast episode today. Please leave a review for me or share your thoughts on social media or on my website: fluency.consulting. Thanks again for considering a donation to keep the podcast going. I appreciate it. I look forward to our next time together.

Become a Sponsor

Leave a Reply