Have you heard the story about the girl who lived in a very small town across America and had dreams so big that she decided to pack her bags and move to the Big Apple to build a career as a working actress, just like the other thousands of people who make the same decision every year?
Yeah, you got it. I am "that" girl.
Except I didn't move from another state. I moved all the way from Turkey, Istanbul, and was undoubtedly determined to make it as a foreign actress.
Living in New York and finding acting-related work constantly is already hard. But attempting to do that as a newbie from a faraway country is even harder, especially if you have an accent.
I came to the city when I was 19-years-old to study acting at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. With two gigantic suitcases and a ratty backpack, I carried all my ambitious hopes and wishes. On my very first day at school, there was one main question I had to answer for every single person I a conversation with: "Where are you from?”
At first, I didn't mind. I loved that everyone was interested in getting to know more about my culture and loved my accent.
It wasn't until a few weeks later when one of my teachers told me that I'd only be able to get parts like "The Bond Girl" with an accent like mine. Not that I'd be opposed to that at all, but when I decided to put an ocean between New York and my hometown, I didn't think I'd be limited to one type of role.
Wanting more than that, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the process of learning the American English. I fell asleep and woke up to my American English books and CD's, reading out lout every single night after school or watching millions and billions of tutorials on YouTube. Upon graduation, I learned so many tools at my school and made such progress, that I was able read for American roles and actually get cast! I was also considered for ones that required me to use my own accent. But nothing, no matter how many classes or private coaches you work with, can prepare you for the inevitable hassle of an audition.
In a city like New York that is full of artists who are hungry to create, auditioning can be extremely competitive. And if you're from another country like me, have an accent, and are constantly working on it as well as your acting skills in order to broaden your opportunities as an actor, you know that the word "competitive" is not enough to explain how difficult it is for someone like me to read for an American part and actually get it. Getting used to acting in another language and dropping your accent for a specific role is tricky. It can take a lot of time and patience, but it certainly is not impossible to achieve.
In my four years of auditioning with this challenge, I came up with some ways that helped me with my accent. If you don't want to empty your entire bank account on private dialect coaches, allow me to share these four tips so you don't freak out every time you get a side and feel like you're going to be a hot mess, too.
I know that for most auditions, especially a first read, directors and casting directors don't require you to memorize your sides word for word. But that doesn't work for me. I feel 100% more confident if I memorize everything and focus on my articulation before I even start working on my acting.
One of my teachers at school once told me, "You can't be thinking about your lines if you want to understand a scene. You have to absorb each one of them first and then you can actually start listening to the other person." If I'm reading a part for which I need to perfect my American accent, I'm way more comfortable knowing all the lines instead of just being familiar with them, so that I'm not worried about messing them up.
I'm a huge believer in warming up before I go into the audition room. If any part of your body of your face is stiff, even just a little, you're going to feel it tremendously the minute you get nervous. If you're reading for a part where you have to drop your accent, find specific exercises you enjoy doing that stretch your facial muscles out. There are numerous warming-up tutorials online that you can check out. Make sure you're completely relaxed starting from your arms up until your toes. Seriously, it works.
This method has been working for me since day one. The material you practice with doesn't have to be from a script. It can be from a book you're currently reading, an article, a poem, or anything else. After you warm up your face and your body, you have to make sure the words don't come out mushy and unclear. Whoever is auditioning you wants to understand you first, so relaxing your lips and your tongue is crucial. Additionally, if you want to show the best version of your American accent, you will want to work on your tone, too.
When you start reading the material you choose to study, read some sentences on your high pitch, then low, and keep doing it for a while. You're automatically going to sound more melodic whenever you start reading your lines.
While you're waiting for your audition, always remember that having an accent or coming from another country doesn't make you inadequate or lessen your chances of getting the part. If a director likes you, even your accent comes out or you mess up some of your lines, they're most likely going to call you back. Don't let any distractions or negative thoughts get in your head. Just push yourself to do your best.
Beside all these methods I just talked about, there is one other thing that works for me every single time - Listening to my own heartbeat.
I learned this from my Viewpoints Class, and have been doing it whenever I felt like my heart is racing. Whether you're waiting in the hall or working on your lines before you go in, close your eyes for about 20 seconds, put your hands on your heart, and think to yourself, "I am enough."
Well, this is about it! For those of you reading this, if you're struggling to audition for parts where you need to use a different dialect from yours, I hope you feel less alone. It is a bumpy road for sure, but it is remarkably rewarding at the end of the day, if you keep walking no matter what comes on your way.
Idil Tekeli is an actress and musician living in New York City. Originally from Turkey, Istanbul, she has been living in the city for more than three years. Idil graduated from The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in 2017 and has been cast in numerous short films, web series', and even made an Off-Broadway debut. She also has an article published about one of the parts she landed on Backstage.
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