Actress Nike Doukas will be doing double duty in Pasadena Playhouse’s latest production of KING CHARLES III, previewing on November 8, 2017. Besides taking on the character of ‘Ghost,’ Nike’s accent coaching expertise will be utilized to achieve maximum British effect of the various British characters. Nike was most gracious to take the time to answer my accented inquiries.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Nike!
I have seen you credited as both a ‘dialect coach’ and an ‘accent coach.’ Could you explain the differences, if any, between the two terms ‘dialect’ and ‘accent’?
I so appreciate your question about the difference between a dialect coach and an accent coach! Linguists make a very sharp distinction between the two: A dialect is defined by vocabulary that people use depending on where they come from, for example, in Boston (where I grew up), people say “wicked” to mean “very” (among other things). But the classic “Park the car in Harvard Yard” is an accent, the same vocabulary is used, but pronounced differently. I deal only with pronunciation, and therefore, am an accent coach. For some reason, theater people tend to call what I do a dialect coach, I’m not sure why, but I’m always trying to correct the error.
If I wanted to sound like a Cockney villager, would I come to you with the request to coach me in a Cockney accent? Or in a Cockney dialect?
Come to me for coaching on your Cockney accent – although Cockneys also have a very extensive dialect, which I can research for you, if you want extra help on that. Then I will be your dialect coach.
Any accent you would name as your specialty?
My specialty is British accents, particularly RP, or Received Pronunciation, which is also known as the Queen’s English, and is that very refined sound you hear from the Royals and upper crust. I also specialize in Cockney and Estuary, which is the ever more popular accent, sort of mid-way between RP and Cockney.
In KING CHARLES III, what various accents will we be hearing? Upper-class British? Lower or middle-class British?
We will be using all three in KING CHARLES III. I have also coached about twenty other accents for plays and TV. Boston is one of my favorites, for obvious reasons.
How do you feel about productions that do not incorporate the appropriate accents of the show’s characters?
I feel very strongly about accents in plays. There are certain plays I can’t imagine without an accent, and KING CHARLES III is one of them. As an actor and as a theatre-goer; for me, the accent informs and enriches the play. The sounds people make reflect their emotional, physical selves, the way people make a sounds, informs how they express their point of view. This is not only in terms of the way the sounds are formed in the mouth, but the musicality of the speech, which varies so much from region to region. Think about the way Jimmy Carter’s accent compared to Hilary Clinton’s accent, compared to LBJ’s accent, compared to our current president’s accent informs their speech and personality. When directors try to neutralize accents, or lose them altogether, it makes me feel they don’t really understand the world of the play. I sometimes think they think it’s too hard for the actors and will distance them from their roles. And it is hard work, and can feel distancing. In KING CHARLES III, we are working for a much more expressive musicality, that is very alien to our American ears. Americans tend to make emphasis with volume, not pitch. The Brits are much more versatile with the vocal tools they have; they use volume, pace and most especially pitch, and it makes them much more expressive communicators. It’s why they are so pleasant to listen to! So as Americans in the cast, we have to embrace those changes and make them feel like ourselves, and that takes work. But that’s what actors do! We love taking on different physicalities, different ways of dressing, different ways of thinking. So for a director to say that’s just “too hard,” I say, “It’s our job.” And for the director who says, “It will alienate the audience. I want this to feel universal.” I say, “There is no such thing as a universal accent. Everyone has one. And when audiences recognize themselves, it isn’t because of the accent., It’s because of the shared humanity. The fun and the lesson is recognizing yourself in someone who seems quite different. Fortunately, our director Michael Michetti, feels the accents in this play are of the utmost importance. He and I talk a lot about the story we are telling with the way the actors are sounding. He’s very sensitive to the nuances of sound, and I love that.
Would you consider yourself an actress who loves to teach and coach? Or a teacher/coach who loves to act?
I am something of a typical L.A. actor (and American actor) who does as much acting as possible, and supplements my income with outside work. In my case, I’m an accent coach. I teach accents in class, and I am an acting teacher and coach. I also started directing a few years back, and in fact, will be directing Harold Pinter’s THE HOTHOUSE at Antaeus as soon as KING CHARLES closes. I adore teaching and directing and accent coaching, but I think of myself primarily as an actor. Being an actor informs everything I do as a teacher, coach and director. Specifically as an accent coach, I know how delicate the process of developing a role is, and how alienating it can be to add an accent to the mix. I like to think I am able to help the actors use the accent to get closer to their characters. I often give notes in terms of acting choices. That’s really fun for me. I try to be sensitive as to when an actor can hear a note about accents and when they need to focus on other things.
You’re multi-tasking in KING CHARLES III, first in the role of Ghost and also as the show’s accent coach. Do your two positions overlap? Or do you keep them separate?
In KING CHARLES III, I rarely give notes when I’m acting. Aside from the fact that I don’t want the actors to think I’m listening for their accent when I’m acting with them, I don’t want to be listening for their accent when I’m acting with them! So I spend most of my off-stage time taking notes. This wonderful, warm and talented cast has been absolutely receptive and welcoming of the notes. They make it easy for me.
You were chosen as one of the ten to participate in the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship Program in 2011 led by Olympia Dukakis as your Master Teacher. What was the process in getting to be chosen?
I was a 2011 member of the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship. Each year, the Fellowship selects ten American regional theatre actors to go to the Lunt Fontanne estate in Wisconsin, and study for ten days at their beautifully-kept home in the country. I was nominated by South Coast Repertory Theatre, a theatre where I have worked a lot over the years. It was an absolute honor to be nominated by my friends at SCR, and accepted into the program. Each year they have a different “mentor” leading the group of ten actors, and my year, it was Olympia Dukakis.
What gems of wisdom did Ms. Dukakis share with you?
She is a fiery, passionate, and hugely talented actress. We spent ten days with her thinking about and working on Chekhov plays. She had much to share with us, including her incredible knowledge on the period Chekhov was writing in. She also has a specific way of rehearsing. It was challenging and rewarding to experiment with her way of looking at rehearsal. It was especially rewarding to be among old and new friends in this group, and share war stories, complaints and to appreciate each other’s work. It’s very rare that actors get these kind of working retreats, and are treated so lovingly and lavishly. It made us feel very special, and I recommend it to any actor who’s lucky enough to be asked to be included.
Thank you again, Nike! I look forward to hearing all your wonderful work in CHARLES.
Thank you, Gil, for your interest in me and in KING CHARLES III.
For ticket availability and show schedule through December 3, 2017, log onto www.pasadenaplayhouse.org