Should You Sing With or Without an Accent?

Outside the Theatre   Should You Sing With or Without an Accent?
 
Mouna R’miki, an actor and dialect coach for The Band’s Visit, shares her wisdom.
Mouna R’miki
Mouna R’miki Monica Simoes
Mouna R’miki
Mouna R’miki Monica Simoes

Who: Mouna R’miki
Outside: The Linda Gross Theater at the Atlantic Theater Company on West 20th Street

Tell me about your involvement with The Band’s Visit.
Mouna R’miki: I am the Arabic language and Egyptian dialect coach for the show. I was also the Arabic language consultant; I adapted some of the text to make it more informal and colloquial.

How did you book this particular job?
MR: I'm an actor, so I have many survival jobs, and one of them is teaching languages. George Abud, who is part of the cast in The Band's Visit and who I had met once before, recommended me to [director] David Cromer.

How long have you been acting?
MR: I actually had a completely different career before this; I’d gone to business school and I worked in marketing in Paris for six years. I was doing a lot of theatre on the side and my goal was always to be an actor, so four years ago I dropped everything and moved to New York to pursue acting.

Where are you from and how many languages do you speak?
MR: I’m originally from Morocco, where we speak French and Arabic. I grew up a little bit all over the place; I was raised in Spain so I’m also fluent in Spanish.

Explain to me your job as a dialect coach? What’s involved?
MR: With The Band’s Visit, I started by breaking down all of the sounds first and making [the cast] understand what the colors and the mechanics of the language are. That was my first task. Then little by little, I had them say their lines with the thickest accent possible while I was behind them, repeating it. During rehearsals I would sit and take notes and whenever I could, I would take them aside and give notes. There are a lot of people giving notes [in the rehearsal room]—musical notes, acting notes—so it’s also about trying to find your place in that system.

And what about singing with an accent? How do you approach that?
MR: We’ve tried everything from the thickest accent to no accent. It gets a little bit tricky because if there’s too much of an accent, the song somehow loses its objective. My goal is to try and find the middle ground—for there to still be a little flare, a little hint [of an accent]. That’s a conversation I’ve been having with the director, the music director, and the composer.

How does being a dialect coach inform your acting?
MR: Being an actor helped me to convey the message [to the cast] in a clearer way. I speak Arabic, but also an actor’s language. So when I try to explain a certain sound or musicality, sometimes I don't even try to explain what is happening in the throat, I use specific images to explain how the sound is traveling, for example. That helped a lot.

This show is about Arabic and Israeli people coming together and finding common ground. I feel like the message of The Band’s Visit is more important now, in light of the country’s divided politics, more than ever, wouldn’t you say?
MR: It's very important. The story is about two different cultures that are—from all the outside points of view and in the media—very antagonistic [toward one another]. This story shows that somehow they're not that different. They speak two different languages but try to find a common ground and have a conversation. For me, this piece shows that there is a silver lining. If these two cultures, that are similar but somehow opposite, manage to have a dialogue then I think there’s hope.

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