Last night Chris and I went to see "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the local theatre company here in town. I've loved that play since we read it in high school,* and I totally dug the Marlon Brando/Vivian Leigh movie version. ("Stellaaaaaa!") Excited as I was to see it live for the first time, I was anxious. Kiwi actors and fake U.S. southern accents would be involved. As you no doubt recognize, clever readers, this had the potential for disaster. Most American actors can't do a Southern accent without breaking into full-fledged Hee-Haw mode, for crying out loud.
As it turned out, all of the actors ended up using their regular Kiwi accents. This was a relief and obviously the best decision that the director could make given that 1) inevitably, it would have sounded ridiculous and 2) most of the Kiwi audience would not have understood them. Still, I found myself a little sad -- the play is set during the summer in New Orleans, for crying out loud. You lose the accent, you lose some of the heat. It's hard to explain. (Good play overall, by the way.)
As far as the Kiwi accent goes, it's very cute on most people. Very clipped. I have no trouble understanding it in person or on TV, but when I talk to people on the phone it all falls apart and I ask them to repeat EVERYTHING. It's embarrassing. Kiwis often use the word "wee" instead of "small," which I absolutely adore. (I'm told this is more of a South Island thing, though ...) They also say "Good on him" instead of "Good for him," which is also very fun.
As far as my accent goes, everyone just asks me where I'm from. Initially I thought this meant people didn't recognize I am American, but our Kiwi friends Claire and Fiona informed me that, no, they just don't want to assume I'm American because Canadians get all pissed off when they do this. (Seriously, Canada. Lighten up.)
I should probably acknowledge that my fake Kiwi accent is absolutely horrible, but I'm working on it. My shining accomplishment so far has been discussing the new Sarah Jessica Parker movie, "Six n tha Sutty" with Claire and Fiona, who agreed that I pronounced the title perfectly. (In the interest of full disclosure, each of them was probably on the third glass of wine by the time I broke out the fake accent. That may have influenced their judgment.)
Practice along with me at home! Take all of your "eh" sounds -- as in "yes" -- and change them to "ih" sounds. "Yis." Now take all of your "ih" sounds -- as in "fish" -- and change them to "uh" sounds. "Fush." That's it! You're doing great! "Yis, ah'd lahk some fush." Awesome!
You'll be bungee jumping and herding sheep in no time.
*In retrospect, I am absolutely astounded that Mrs. Peters somehow taught this play without any discussion of what actually happens between Stanley and Blanche -- no doubt adhering to the school district's fervent directive to shield our young minds from any thoughtful critical analysis of adult subjects we were already gossiping about, anyway. Still, mad props to Mrs. Peters for always making us read cool stuff! Best English class ever!