University Scholar Tanera Marshall: teaching students to speak
The University Scholars Program, now in its 29th year, honors faculty members for superior research and teaching, along with great promise for future achievements. The award provides $10,000 a year for three years.
Tanera Marshall, who teaches voice in UIC’s acting program, is known among film and TV pros as a dialect coach.
She trained actress Marion Cotillard to speak with a Polish accent in “The Immigrant,” which opened the Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 10.
She coaches the Australian stars of NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and the British actors in a new ABC series, “Betrayal.” She worked on “Divergent,” a feature set in Chicago that opens next year.
But dialect, which Marshall initiated at UIC after joining the faculty in 2005, is just one aspect of the voice curriculum. She’s also expanding the voice curriculum from three courses to six — more on par with other BFA acting programs, Marshall says.
Marshall will teach a dialect method she’s been developing that she says is “particularly physical.” The goal is to give students the tools with which to learn “any accent at any time.”
Marshall says voice training is based on “freeing the breath,” or releasing tension from muscles in the throat, shoulders, jaw and tongue.
“Tension obstructs the flow of air and the flow of impulses that have thoughts and feelings attached to them,” Marshall said. “Good actors are actually experiencing the things that they’re playing for the audience. And to be open to having those experiences, we need to release tension.”
Marshall also teaches “mechanical things” like vocal variety, volume, rate of speech and articulation. In advanced courses, students apply these techniques to dramatic dialogue, as in Shakespeare.
“How do you stay relaxed when you’re an angry king shouting at the heavens in the rain? Practice,” she said.
For two years before the recent restructuring of the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, Marshall chaired the Department of Performing Arts (now the School of Theatre and Music) while continuing to teach. She returned to full-time teaching now that each school in the college is led by a director.
“I’m able to let classes echo in me much longer, and make them better the next time I teach them,” she said. “And I’m more available to my students.”
When not teaching or coaching, Marshall is building a resource for actors to learn Native American dialects. She visits tribes often depicted in film or TV and records their voices.
“Eventually I will analyze those recordings phonetically, and create instructional materials based on my analysis. That’s a lifetime project,” she said.