Writing about Chicago's Back Room Shakespeare Project, a collective of actors that performs Shakespeare for free in bars, I stumbled on something that sounds comically irrelevant: the world of theatrical dialect coaching. But there is a debate in this world of voice and speech teachers (a.k.a VASTA; don't worry, I'm in deep now) that's been going on for half a century, a debate about the use of one particularly controversial and pervasive theatrical dialect that will change the way you listen at the theater.
I don't go to plays much. I am not an actress. I auditioned once for Romeo and Juliet in high school because they made me because I was fat and funny. I flunked the audition because I couldn't stop laughing at the fact that the word for breast was "dug." What is anything if a breast is a dug? I can't get get a foothold in a universe in which chicks have dugs, I thought. I'm also just a terrible actress. Yesterday I told someone I would meet him for drinks later and he said "OK, so you're not meeting me for drinks."
Samuel Taylor, who co-founded Back Room Shakespeare, thinks that people have a better chance of figuring out what a dug is when they listen to old-timey-talk (my words) if actors are not speaking in this strange dialect variously called Standard American English or Good Speech, which many theater companies impose on their actors. When you hear Julius Caesar in Julius Caesar talking like Doctor Frasier Crane in Frasier, that's an actor trained in Good Speech putting it hard to work.