I love my job. I love helping directors realise their visions of the way characters speak. I love helping actors to transform themselves by taking on a different accent. But there's a big responsibility involved too. When I'm teaching an accent, I'm very aware that what I'm really teaching is a window into someone's identity. When we're depicting someone from a very different background from ourselves, taking on their linguistic identity is a big deal- we're creating a character that may well take on a wider cultural significance, and shape the way that the public relate to individuals from that social group. We have to ask whether the decisions we're making are reinforcing stereotypes, challenging them or maybe even subverting them. I think my work is at its most exciting when it asks these questions. How to do it well, well that's a bigger subject- I'll blog about it when I have all the answers!
I've always liked Plan B, but his work since the London Riots has been hugely inspiring. He's still asking the real questions that need answers, even now it's now even less popular. And more importantly (for me), he's asking them in his own accent. I live in east London, and the rich and varied tapestry of accents here is amazing and reminds me daily of the beautiful linguistic diversity of London. But these are accents we don't hear much of in mainstream television or theatre- moreso in the last 5 years- but even when we do, what words are given to the characters who speak with modern London (MLE) accents? Usually their stories are violent ones, lawless ones, the ones from the wrong side of the tracks. These are not the vowel sounds that belong to mentors, rule makers, life changers. (Not on TV anyway. We all know that in reality the community centres-the ones that are still open- aren't all staffed by armies of R.P speakers...)
That is why I loved watching Plan B on Project Hackney- hearing him spreading messages of positivity, inspiration and creativity in an accent that is otherwise being tragically typecast. So keep up the good work Plan B, not only because what you're doing is amazing and important, but because all the while, in doing it you're helping to re-shape linguistic stereotypes that are otherwise in danger of getting set in stone.
I'm going to share something he has to say about the London Riots, which asks all of us to think a little harder about the words we choose, and to consider the impact we might have in the public eye. Go and read the full statement, listen to the song, and watch the video here:
"...the word ‘chav’ that means council housed and violent, a derogatory phrase that is openly used by certain sectors of middle England to label and define people from poor backgrounds. It’s a derogatory phrase no different in my opinion to the ones concerning race or sex. The difference is that the papers use it publicly. If they did the same with racial or sexist derogatory terms it would be deemed, and rightly so, as offensive and politically incorrect..."