I was surprised by how many people asked this question when I told them about an upcoming vocal coaching gig. So let’s break these concepts down!
While there can be a fair amount of crossover, there are commonly two distinct roles for voice and speech coaches in theatre and film: Dialect coaching and Vocal coaching.
Dialect coaching typically (and obviously) refers to teaching an accent or dialect of some kind to actors. This could involve teaching an actor from Kansas to speak like an Italian or a New Yorker, or teaching a Londoner to sound like they are from mid-20th century Chicago.
A dialect designer is a dialect coach who literally designs the spoken soundscape of the play, considering familial and community relationships, socioeconomic status, and other factors that impact how a person speaks.
While many dialect coaches do this global design work without the proper billing of “designer”, other dialect coaches simply provide the specific accents requested by the director without having input into those choices.
Depending on the situation, a dialect coach might also provide vocal coaching for an actor or production, but this is not a given and is not often requested or even permitted.
My blog post How to be your own dialect coach goes into more specific details of the speech elements a dialect coach considers when coaching an actor.
Vocal coaching refers to supporting the actors voices in their uniqueness, and empowering them to fill the space in a way that remains authentic.
This might include providing a thorough vocal warmup/workout to help the actors condition their voices (see my blog post Five things you forgot from your acting voice training for a taste of the work we might do).
Actors are vocal athletes, and often have to yell and scream one moment and then have an intensely intimate moment that they need to make public enough to share with the audience the next. Filling the space in a private moment is a challenging requirement.
Strategies for projecting the voice in a way that sounds natural are typically part of the work, as are techniques for remaining vocally healthy. Vocal stamina, agility, and flexibility are all part of the job.
While accents may not be involved, it is also the role of the vocal coach to help make sure that audience members can understand the words being spoken onstage. Enhancing speech clarity (within the context of character choices) can therefore also be part of the work.
A vocal coach might also be billed as Voice and text coach, which highlights the vocal coach’s role in helping the actor deliver the text in a way that optimally tells the story of the character and the play.
There are many permutations and hybrids of these terms, as different teams will engage with the process in their own way. And some coaches can provide all of the above services, while others specialize in one or two.
If you’d like to experience vocal coaching, hit me up for a session!