About a year ago, I met up with two dozen friends from various locales to spend a long weekend in a gigantic cabin in the Tennessee mountains. (And visit Dollywood, naturally, because I cannot be that close to glitter and wigs and not make a pilgrimage.) A fair amount of these friends were Southern, and their sweet lovely accents made their way into my brain by the end of the weekend, so that I was drawling and exclaiming things with "y'all"s every five minutes or so. I blame this mostly on a heightened sensitivity to spoken words from theater- I'm forever listening for/to accents, for idiosyncratic speech patterns and dialects, and so forth. A terrible side effect of those years in a college theater program is that I'll immediately pick up on someone's speech pattern and start to mirror it without thinking, which leads to...
Awkward Moments in Communication!
When I was working at a theater in Minneapolis, a large portion of my weekend afternoons was spent answering the box office phone. You zone out quite a bit when conducting the same conversation ("which night? how many tickets? are you a member? do you have any accessible-seating needs?") over and over, so my brain was obviously not working at full capacity. My boss was named Jennifer, and has just popped in to the office to say goodbye before leaving for the day.
The phone rings, and as I answer, a woman in a super-thick Australian accent says "Allo, this is Jennifer!". Naturally, I "allo, Jennifer!" her right back, with the thickest, worst faux-Aussie affectation known to man. Except this was not Boss Jennifer, I realized, as she paused for a moment and then went on to make her reservation with me. It was simply an Australian woman with an unusual accent and she heard me grab onto that accent and now she thinks I'm mocking her.
A particular compulsion borne of years of theater involvement is to never, ever act inconsistently with a character once you've begun to act as them. "Make a choice and support it", our acting teachers would always remind us. "Don't back down from your choices!"
I spent the next interminable six minutes or so on the phone with Down Under Jennifer sounding like a ridiculous ass, desperately trying not to let my crappy accent slip as I got her tickets ready for an upcoming show.
When she was but a wee thing, a close friend of mine did the same thing that all slightly insane actor-types do: she took a social situation in which she was certain to never, ever see some people again and became a different character for the duration of that situation. Except, in this case, it completely backfired.
She was on a plane, and decided to pose as a British au pair. (She was in high school, if that's any sort of explanation.) This might have been just a fun 90-minute interlude, except her plane was re-routed due to inclement weather, and what was a temporary character very rapidly became a massive pain in the ass. As she was no longer landing in her destination city, she had to make alternate travel plans with three handicaps:
1) she was too young to rent a car
2) this occurred pre-cell phone and wifi, so all communication had to take place via public pay phone with all the other re-routed passengers waiting in line behind her
3) SHE WAS PRETENDING TO BE BRITISH.
And so, like any good actor following the established rules of Never Break Character and Stick To Your Choices, she stuck with the accent for hours and hours. She called her ride and her family from the pay phone, spoke in the same British accent she'd used on the plane, and simply ignored their confusion as to why the hell she was talking like that. Travel plans were made which involved her getting a ride with another stranded passenger who was able to rent a car and drop her off in a city about an hour away, which meant that she was stuck being English in a car with a stranger for what I imagine was a long, awkward hour.