Students mimic British blokes and birds

by Lenise Willis

Matt Bounds as Sherlock Holmes, Anjali Kapil as Lady Agatha and Anthony Marino as Dr. Watson in Livestock Players’ The Hound of the Baskervilles. (courtesy photo)

fOR some, simply stepping onstage is pure sweat-inducing intimidation, but having to give a speech or performance in a completely different accent would result in even saltier foreheads. But for these City Arts Drama youth, learning two types of British accents was not only a welcome challenge, but was… simply elementary.

This weekend, thanks to a hired dialogue coach, when City Arts Drama Center’s Livestock Players present The Hound of Baskervilles, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, their voices will have the ring of authenticity.

The show features 10 actors, ranging from 14 to 20 years old, from City Arts’ older youth group.

Director Rosina Whitfield hired dialect coach Ray Collins to teach the young actors how to speak, depending on their character, in either rustic British or proper British accents.

“My philosophy on accents is they have to be perfect or nonexistent,” said Whitfield. In the past, Whitfield has adapted a play’s setting to the United States so that the actors don’t have to learn a new accent.

“I didn’t want to do that to Sherlock Holmes since it’s so British and it’s a big part of the character,” she said.

Collins, who just so happens to be British, spent about 10 hours coaching the youth in their new accents. “He was so much fun to work with,” Whitfield said. “He really, really knows his stuff.”

Collins was brought in early in the rehearsal process so that the students could continue to practice their accents at subsequent rehearsals.

“Some of them picked it up without any problems,” Whitfield said.

“The rustic accent that comes from the Northern part of Devon in Britain was a little tougher than the proper British one because it’s not heard as much, so those kids definitely had a little harder time.”

One such student was Bridget Lavender, 15, who plays the part of the nervous and fumbling housekeeper, Mrs. Barrymore.

“I’ve played around with accents a lot, just joking,” Lavender said.

“But this is the first time I’ve really had to learn one for a play.”

The young actors first learned the common sounds of the accents and then were given examples of the sounds in different words, which they then repeated over and over again until they were comfortable with the pronunciation. After getting the basics, they were then trained one-on one in how to repeat their lines while using their accents.

“It was really embarrassing because the first day I definitely was one of the ones who was struggling the most,” said Lavender, who is also a student at Weaver Academy. “I was having a lot of trouble with it and I just kept laughing.”

Lavender said one helpful exercise was watching some of the movies that Collins’ suggested. She watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and paid close attention to Hagrid’s lines. After each of his lines, Lavender would pause the movie and repeat his lines in the rustic accent.

Joe Wrenn, a 15-year-old Weaver Academy student, also had to learn the rustic accent to play the part of the suspicious butler, Mr. Barrymore. “It’s been really fun, but it’s been kind of difficult to get the accent, but all-in-all it’s been a really good experience,” Wrenn said.

This was also the first time Wrenn had to learn an accent for a performance, and he says it’s definitely something he’d like to try again.

As for the play, Wrenn said he really enjoys it. He’s even been inspired to read the book afterward. “It has some really good humorous moments and then there’s some very serious moments and some ironic moments as well,” Wrenn said.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a suspenseful and humorous mystery based on the detective Sherlock Holmes. The show, based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, slowly unravels the mystery of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a fearsome ghost hound haunting Baskerville Hall on the moors in rural England.

“I feel it’s such a classic,” Whitfield said. “Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic figure I felt the kids of Livestock would really enjoy doing it and learning about it. He was the original mentalist. It’s a great script and it’s a really nice adaptation of the story.”

wanna go?

Livestock Players perform The Hound of the Baskervilles Thursday through Saturday at 8:05 p.m. and Sunday at 2:05 p.m. in the Studio Theatre, located on the first floor of the Greensboro Cultural Center, 200 N. Davie St., Greensboro. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased by calling 272-0160 or visiting