Part of what fuels Abigail Langham's fascination with the potential of the human voice is its perpetuity. The University of Tennessee vocal coach and acting teacher compares her study of speech and its regional and historical differences to an endless ball of wool. "I feel like I'm never going to get to the end," she says, "and I'm never going to know everything."
The native of Birmingham, England moved to the U.S. last summer and has emerged as a sort of "accent guru" in Knoxville, guiding students at UT and the Clarence Brown Theatre through the process of owning the accents they deliver on-stage. "There's a difference between owning an accent and the accent owning you," she says. "It takes a huge commitment to really learn an accent and to be able to speak in that accent authentically."
The secret to developing a believable, consistent accent, she says, is structured, detailed and focused work . After all, the student is learning more than a new accent. He or she is learning an entirely new system of speech. "Voice work is muscle work," she says, "and if you haven't taken your muscles to the gym and you haven't done the right kind of workout and created these new shapes enough so that they become part of you, then there will be inconsistencies."
But this constant demand for attention, exploration and repetition is part of the fun of discovering new accents. "As long as we're alive," she says, "this will keep unraveling."