When actors are asked to play a role, they sometimes have to speak in accents other than their own which turns out to be quite a challenge. Training actors to speak with a certain accent is what Richard Ryder, Edda Sharpe and Jan Haydn Rowles do for a living. They are the UK’s leading accent & dialect coaches who work with the top theatre producers and directors, as well as television companies, such as HBO, Sky, and Warner Bros.
Sharpe and Haydn have written two highly successful books How to do Accents and How to do Standard English Accents and have coached accents on a great number of productions (for theatre TV and Film) which include Game of Thrones, and the award winning dramas Mrs Biggs and Parade’s End. Ryder, an actor himself in the past, has been training the professional voice user, for over ten years and has worked in the voice departments of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre in London and is currently writing an accent book for actors himself.
The combined experience of coaching accents prompted the three specialists to look into developing a mobile app. The idea behind The Accent Kit app is to provide actors with an affordable resource with accents specific to gender and characters’ playing ages.
The app contains the five essential elements needed to learn an accent — 2 / 3 minutes free speech, foundations (the focal zone and the tone of an accent), vowels (words and sentences), consonants (the key six consonant sounds that can make or break your learning an accent) and practice text.
After the iPhone version of The Accent Kit app had been launched on the market, the co-founders decided to develop an app for Android platform. They turned to us to bring their vision of the product to life. The team included our Android developer Oleksii Shliama, project manager Maksym Chuvpylov, designer Kostya Trundaev and QA specialist Andrey Ogorodov. The result of our work was released in Google Play about two weeks ago.
I had a conversation with Richard Ryder, one of the co-founders of The Accent Kit.
Me: What is accent coaching all about?
Richard: Our work is invisible. It’s about providing all the technical tools in order for the actors to create a character, so that the audience doesn’t hear the accent but the character’s voice.
Actors typically have voice and accent coaching in their training or drama school. When they start working professionally, they have some understanding which allows them to be truthful with the character.
However, most actors don’t have that training. Also some of them are very good at accents but they like to be supported with an accent coach to make sure they are getting it right.
So there is a lot of work for people like me — accent coaching for the theatre, film and television.
Me: How did the idea of the The Accent Kit app come up?
Richard: The idea was to create an app the actor could use if they had an audition tomorrow. Or they were in a rehearsal process and didn’t have an accent coach but would like to get the sense of the accent working for them.
There is some information out there for actors. They can go to websites, listen to people, and buy CDs with five or six accents on them. But there was nothing globally where an actor could actually go and find an accent that was specific to their playing age and their gender.
The Accent Kit has been available for only a couple of months now. We also have a website, which the actors can use to contact us. But it’s The Accent Kit app that is actually the useful thing. The actors can just put the phone in their pocket and find an accent when they need it.
Me: Please tell us a little bit about your team.
Richard: The other two founders were my teachers. We’ve known each other for more than ten years. Two years ago I suggested that we bring all of our skills together and create something effective and really useful for the acting community globally.
Me: Do you have any competitors on the market?
Richard: There is another useful resource where you can buy ten accents in one go. But there is nothing in the world where you can buy the individual accents with all the sounds broken down. So we are the only ones in the world at that moment. If anyone were to create the same thing, it would be too difficult. They would have to spend years collecting the recordings and all the necessary materials.
Me: How do you record the accents?
Richard: We record them personally by going out into the field and finding speakers that have the authentic accent, or we ask friends, or friends of friends to do the same. Once we’ve got the recordings, we edit the recordings to make sure they are perfect for the actor to listen to and to learn.
We are very specific about who we are recording, because the actor is always looking for a concrete example of an accent for a particular play. We like to record actors with the needed accent because they know about the shapes and sounds. When we record ordinary people without any training, they don’t always have quite the same connection to the language and it’s hard for an actor to hear all the key sounds. We have a mixture of actors and non-actors until we get a real accent.
We are aiming to record all English speaking accents of the world, which is a huge task, and will take us a while! Most English actors want American accent as lots of them get work in America. That’s why we are just about to start our American recordings.
Me: What is the most popular accent? Which one is your favourite?
Richard: I love all accents. They are so amazing! The accent is part of a person’s character and personality. I guess a popular English accent would be RP (Received Pronunciation) — a standard English accent.
Me: Why did you choose Yalantis to work with?
Richard: We developed The Accent Kit app for iPhone in London. But when we got to the Android version, the company we worked with was so busy and had no time to work with us. So they suggested that we do some research and that we look into Ukraine, because that’s where brilliant developers are. I researched online and was really interested in the Yalantis website.
I contacted three or four other companies and Yalantis was the only one that responded within 12 hours and answered all the questions that I sent in. There was no question who we were going to go for after doing the research. Yalantis was brilliant all the way through. Every email I wrote was answered immediately, every stage of the process came in on time and the final product, as you can see, is fantastic. I am going to be working with you again.
Me: What are your plans for the future?
Richard: We are going to add more layers to the Accent Store and the first one is going to be North America. After this, we will add other layers of accents from around the world in the next year.
We haven’t done any marketing at all yet, only through our twitter account and word of mouth. We are going to do a massive launch in the new year. We have two conferences, one in New York, the other one in London, where we are going to promote the app to all the global acting communities.
Me: Richard, thank you for this great talk! We wish huge success to The Accent Kit and hope to be working on the project again.