Our approach to speech is through Knight-Thompson Speechwork (KTS). This is a technique developed here at UCI by Dudley Knight and Philip Thompson, our current head of Speech. KTS is taught at numerous actor training programs, and holds ongoing training courses for teachers nationally and internationally. The central principles of our speech work could be grouped into three categories: Utility, Flexibility, and Intelligibility. Acting in accent is a complex task and requires a great deal of analytical and descriptive understanding, but it is also a performance task that must be embodied and integrated with the totality of an actor’s performance skills and sensitivities. We are concerned with developing our students’ ability to perceive and analyze the component parts of an accent, while strengthening the skills that lead to fluent and authentic performance.
We believe that the speech skills taught to actors should have a utility for the actor’s artistic work. These should integrate with the rest of the actor’s skills, and should be taught in such a way as to maximize the actor’s growth rather than the teacher’s convenience. Rather than teaching towards a single pattern of speech, we favor skill training that prioritizes adaptability. In addition to these principles, and flowing directly from them are the goals that arise from particular needs of each acting project. For example, contained within the set of possible patterns of speech activity are the varieties of speech that we would call “accent” or “dialect.”
Actors must constantly adapt the way they speak to the circumstances of the character, language and the world of the production. They must work under a wide range of acoustic conditions, and because language itself is in a constant state of flux there is no constant form of speech that will always meet these needs. This means that training for flexibility in adopting appropriate physical skills, and responsiveness to the needs of the moment is of far greater value than training for conformity to a fixed standard. Our work on accents follows naturally from our initial work on awareness, articulatory skill, and building confidence in fine-tuning the flow of speech. In particular, working through awareness of the physical actions of articulation and encountering all the sounds of human speech equips students to quickly perceive and reproduce the details of an unfamiliar accent.
It’s important to recognize, however, that the pursuit of intelligibility in speech training has often been invoked along with a call for correctness or beauty. We seek to isolate intelligibility, and those skills that promote it as a goal independent of other concerns. In fact, we feel that pursuing ideals of beauty and correctness in speech as though they were the same as intelligibility can seriously interfere with the utility and flexibility of actors’ speech skills. Whatever each role, or each moment might demand, it can be taken as a given that an actor’s speech must be understood by an audience.