A descriptive offering of accent features that may be helpful targets for those faced with the terms “Standard (yikes!) British”, “General British”, “Modern RP“, and the seemingly un-kill-able — “what accent? Oh, you know…British.”
FRAMEWORK/INTRODUCTION TO THIS OFFERING:
“CHARACTER SPEAKS WITH A BRITISH ACCENT”.
While I do not claim to have definitive knowledge of the mind of every casting director, I have come across this descriptor in casting breakdowns more times than I can count, and been given roughly the same explanation of it by casting directors, actors, writers, directors…the list goes on. All of which has led me to interrogate a rather widely shared perception – a perception that I had myself, until just a year or two ago!
The perception? “There is a single, predominant ‘British’ (well really actually ‘England-ish’) accent, and it sounds like this.”
As an actor and coach, I find myself being asked on an almost daily basis to perform in, and help others perform in, that very accent. Which is why I decided to embark on the journey of this accent breakdown, as trepidatious as I was to do so. Because, I’ll admit, tackling any accent that has been deemed a ‘standard’ – that has been both weaponized and stigmatized – feels like opening up a terrifying can of worms. But in honor of the lovely friends who shared their accent with me, and those who wish to learn it, I’ve decided to give it a go.
My hope with this breakdown is two-fold: one, to offer observations that will prove helpful hand and footholds for anyone who has been given the task of scaling the mountain that is: “The **insert age-old and reductive term/s here** Accent”; and two, to find more useful terminology for this grouping of accent features, through an investigation of the features themselves, and with the help of the donors who will so kindly demonstrate them for us in this breakdown. I’ve already made a start with this second objective in the naming of this breakdown. **The caveat I’ve given myself is this: it’s a title in progress. It works in my brain, but there absolutely may be a better title. And if there is, hooray!
I’ve also spent slightly more time in the People section – this may not all prove useful in the teaching of this accent, but I wanted to be sure to give ample information in the hopes that it may be used, in part or in total; 1. to give an insight into why this accent has the various connotations that it does; 2. in order to build a healthier, more objective view of the accent and; 3. to build a framework for how to approach this accent, and the very idea of a ‘standard’ itself.
…And so, with that I say: HUZZAH! Let’s dive in!