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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009 8 years ago

Smooth talker

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

Patricia Delorey has 30 minutes to rest her Harvard-trained voice before breaking into her 5:30 p.m. rehearsal. As evidenced by the nearby wooden telescope prop, Delorey, the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s resident voice, speech and dialect coach, is in the middle of rehearsing “The Life of Galileo,” which opens Dec. 11.

Now in her seventh season at the Asolo Rep, Delorey not only trains the voices of the theater’s conservatory students; she also coaches the Rep’s company actors, which makes her the only conservatory faculty member to work with both students and professional actors. She says watching this transition is her favorite part of the job.

“Next Monday I start preparing the conservatory for ‘Blue/Orange,’” Delorey says. “Or is it Tuesday?”
“It’s Tuesday,” a passing stage manager confirms.

“Tuesday, right,” Delorey says, tightening her ponytail, playfully dismissing the fact that Thanksgiving is in two days.

“Holidays,” she laughs. “What are those?”

A graduate of the Moscow Art Theatre and the American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University, Delorey holds two master’s degrees — one in voice and speech and one in dramatic art. She’s also a certified Fitzmaurice Voicework Teacher, a vocal production technique developed by British voice, speech and verse-speaking doyen Catherine Fitzmaurice.

“There are these sort of gurus of voice: Linklater, Patsy Rodenberg, Cicely Berry,” Delorey rattles off nonchalantly. “Usually, you train under one of them if you want to work in the field.”

Delorey, as you might suspect, has perfectly crisp diction. Though she’s a Boston native, you’d never know it by her accent, which is void of any regional dialect, the result of nine years of voice-and-speech training in cities from Austin, Texas, to Bologna, Italy. Words such as “cah” (instead of “car”) only surface when Delorey is really exhausted or really laid back.

In season, her days are long and full. She starts her mornings at 9 a.m. with three hours of teaching, followed by individual one-on-one sessions with professional actors, followed by evening rehearsals with both conservatory students and Rep actors.

The consummate professional, Delorey’s job is rooted in subtleties, nuances and sticky technicalities, the difference between a long vowel sound and a short vowel sound, a percussive consonant and a sustained consonant.

“The nature of my work has a certain side of it that leans toward perfection,” says Delorey, a full-time Sarasota resident who spends her summers in England working with students from Texas State University in a study abroad program with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Delorey, like her profession, coaches from both sides of her brain, marrying artistic impulses with intellectual sensibilities. When she takes risks, they’re calculated. For example, last season when she and third-year conservatory student Ghafir Akbar were rehearsing “Blur,” they decided to pitch the director on the idea of giving Akbar, cast as a doctor in the play, an Indian dialect. After hours of research and rehearsals, they presented the dialect, and the director loved it.

“Most directors are willing to listen if you’re willing to do the work,” Delorey says.

One of the biggest misconceptions, says Delorey, is the notion that voice-and-speech coaches can conjure up any dialect from any city on the spot. Some scripts require hours of research. Delorey will often listen to native speakers before breaking into rehearsals. If that’s not possible, she’ll study materials — written and recorded — compiled by dialecticians around the country.

“Audiences tend to overlook auditory elements,” Delorey says. “They tend to notice the things they can see. They can see that we have a lighting designer and a costumer. But, from my point of view, we hear plays as much as we see them.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]

• Don’t ask Patricia Delorey to pinpoint your accent. Just because she spends all day honing and correcting dialects doesn’t mean she wants to play guess-where-I’m-from with friends and acquaintances. “I take my work very seriously,” Delorey says. “It’s not a party trick.”
• According to Delorey, the “i/e” substitute is the hardest pronunciation quirk to correct. To help correct actors who say “win” instead of “when,” or “pin” instead of “pen,” Delorey will ask them to circle similarly pronounced words in their script.
• To develop a strong middle “o” sound, voice-and-speech coaches use the expression, “God’s honest hotdog.” However, according to Delorey, the middle “o” sound is slowly morphing into an “ah” sound — i.e.: “Gahd’s ah-nest hotdog.”

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