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On-camera and voice over representation: Stars, The Agency







Show must go on

If theatre is the mirror to society, relationships and the human condition, nothing could be more relevant than Arnaud d’Usseau & James Gow’s 1946 play Deep Are the Roots in light of recent racial tensions in North American society.

Deep Are the Roots, in three acts, was performed in the same year it was written on Broadway and directed by Elia Kazan. It was received with controversial reviews for its subject matter, still relevant today in the U.S.A.

Forty three years later and ten years after the Iranian revolution, the same play “Risheha Amighand” opened in Theatre Sangladj, Tehran, in Persian. I played the part of Nevi Langdon, the white teenage daughter of senator Langdon, who falls in love with the black house servant's son upon his return from Europe in military uniform. Their love, within the story, symbolizes the need for serious change in North America and everything that is wrong with racism.

While in 1946 Deep Are the Roots was controversial for its inherent subject matter, in 1989 Tehran it was for the actors’ costumes and attire. Since headscarves had become compulsory after the revolution, how could we possibly present a believable piece of theatre if we could not stay truthful to the period we were to represent and reproduce? How could we possibly achieve this without reproducing the appearance of American women in the 1940s? How could we possibly by-pass wearing headscarves? Could we achieve this at all?

The cast involved seven actors and four actresses. If we could use tailor-made costumes and authentic-looking wigs, the restrictions placed on us would not interfere with the recreation of a senator’s mansion in America’s Deep South.

After months of rehearsals and consultation with professional designers (such as the veteran makeup artist Maheen Meehan), the decision was taken to seek the approval of the authorities in order to be the first theatrical group to use wigs on stage after the 1979 revolution and therefore fulfill both purposes: keep the authorities happy and stay faithful to the original feel and look of the play.

To our surprise, this authorization was indeed granted shortly before opening night which was an exciting and a well-attended evening of theatre critics and industry professionals.  

How far are you willing to go in the name of art? 

The usual pre-show announcements were made (there were no cell phones at that time) including asking audience members not to take photographs.

During the scene pictured (the only photograph left of that production), a sensitive exchange between two sisters who might represent change and tolerance in society, I noticed a flash aimed at us. During intermission, I mentioned this backstage. We had noticed that a rather big and bright flash was going off during the show. We thought it was a theatre critic taking photos of opening night.

When acting becomes a risky affair

Day two was accompanied by the same excitement that is typical of a full production (actors getting ready in the green room, more fittings and adjustments post opening, flowers delivered backstage, etc.).  I noticed a group had gathered in one of the green rooms, whispering. They didn’t want me to see. The flash I had noticed the night before was that of the photo that appeared the next morning in the conservative paper “resalat”. In it, along with the big black cross across our faces, the writer was warning people to “wake up and see what in the name of theatre was being served” to the people who had been “sacrificing martyrs for our sake and safety”. In “return”, we were parading on the sage looking like “whores” much like the ones from the Shah’s time.

Going on stage after this article was completely up to us. It was becoming a risky affair. We gathered, discussed, and decided to continue with the show.  

Show must go on

To run or not to run? That is the question with which we were faced. Like a cliffhanger at the end of a bad soap opera. 

Day twenty three had some more unexpected excitement in store for us. This time, a group of five thugs had shown up with cold weapons in the lobby with the intention to intimidate us and stop the show. The long-time theatre caretaker was the liaison between us, backstage, front-of-house, the box office and audience members. He warned us. We gathered again and, this time, female our director (Massi Taghipour) asked everyone to vote. The question was: Should we or should we not continue with the run? I was touched by some of the responses: that, though everyone was alright continuing the run at all costs, what if someone attacked one of us during the show? Would the rest of the cast keep quiet? Not interfere? React?

Curiously, all of our male cast members remarked that they could not picture themselves being indifferent should any one of us be under attack of any kind. Therefore, it was decided that, despite all the hard work and good intentions, faced with intimidation and threat, we should not go ahead with the production knowing that those who were threatening us were indeed in the lobby and had announced their presence and intentions.  

Since I was routinely the youngest member of any cast in those days, in this production too, everyone seemed to be very protective of me and wanted to see me safe. Therefore, they had my guests -who had already arrived in the lobby- pick me up from the back alley connected to our stage door and take me away in their jeep before any announcements were made to a full house of eager audience members.

Sadly, the show was cancelled and tickets refunded.

Questions that still remain are:

What happens when authoritarian regimes have conflicted views on art?

What should an artist do under such circumstances? Stay and “fight” or leave the country?

How much should artists risk for their craft?

Does art truly flourish under oppression?

And, the biggest question that remains when you think of becoming an actor is: Are you an actor for a season or for a lifetime?  

Photo: Resalat newspaper 



Image copyright: Is your image yours at all times?

What happens when your image is used without your permission?

This portrait was spotted in a "cheesy" art gallery at a mall in Dubai. We don't know who the artist is or how they obtained an image of my face. What we do know is that this image is most likely from the western style film "tighe aftab" shot in 1990 in Isfahan, Iran, in which I played the part of a Kurdish girl. 



Here is a shot from the actual feature shot in 1990 with the late Jahangir Forouhar:



Is it legal to use someone else's face in a painting without their knowledge or permission?



So you think you want to be a freelance VO director?

Voice acting is not unlike other forms of acting: It arises from a place of truth and conviction. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, voice can be the sound of the heart’s feelings and emotions. In commercial voice over, if the talent is excited about announcing a new product, their voice will carry that enthusiasm. If you are enthusiastic, your audience will experience that too. If the voice over project calls for a serene and calm voice to promote a yoga or meditation retreat, the voice announcing the retreat will reflect that tranquility. There are many ways to guide the talent to obtain the result your project needs. One path is to give the talent a hint of the type of feeling you ultimately want their voice to carry such as winning the lottery for excitement, reaching a seemingly unlikely goal for perseverance, finding cure for a terminal illness for progress, science and hope. The list goes on. Directing talent is about communicating with them and not dictating to them. Provide them with a clear situational framework to get closer to the text and the result might even be better than you had envisioned.                 Directing a voice over project implies you are familiar with basic acting principles. It signals you are on the same page as the talent you are about to direct and that presumably you speak the same language. Directing with some familiarity of the artistic intricacies involved in the creative process of acting can make all the difference in the outcome of the project. Conversely, taking the text apart, not allowing talent to give a few uninterrupted read-throughs with natural flow and micro-managing to the point of taking a word apart too often can make the talent lose sight of the entirety and purpose of the text at hand and become a mechanical tool that is being used in a non-creative way.        

It is magic when the dance happens because no one is stepping on the other person’s toes. The voice talent becomes nothing but an instrument when direction is approached from a mechanical standpoint and creative freedom is stifled. A successful voice over project will no doubt opt to dance.      



Why I love coaching

 Observing and providing feedback is a passion that has to come from within. Whether coaching language teachers, actors or voice over artists, the combination of coaching a foreign language for a type of performance is an act of love.

The goal of coaching is success, and the coach’s role that of a sounding board and encouraging guide who is both skillful at explaining what s/he wants as well as achieving the desired results.

That’s why I love coaching foreign language projects. It allows me to combine my multilingual skills and keen ear for accents with my theatrical and film background and provide the coaching session a better rounded experience.  After all, if you keep doing what you authentically love, the result can be nothing but success.


Accent coaching for actors


The role of accent coaching in creating a character

Any film set in another country inevitably involves the need for accent coaching whether there are native English speaking actors involved who have to sound convincing in another language (Sir Ben Kingsley in The House of Sand and Fog or Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice) or casting native speakers of the foreign language in question (Persian speaking actors in Argo -commonly referred to as “Farsi”– though this actually is the word used in Persian to refer to the Persian language).  

Ben Affleck’s latest feature film, Argo, tells the story of the beginnings of the Iranian revolution and its impact on the American embassy and its employees in 1979 Tehran. When background artists (aka extras) were in charge of chanting slogans in Persian, it was somewhat believable and those multitude scenes worked. However, in some of the minor speaking parts, Persian and Dari became indistinguishable (for instance, the Canadian ambassador’s housekeeper’s name, Sahar, spoke Dari; yet we were never given any hint throughout the film that she was from Afghanistan and not Iran). The devil is in the details. Or, suddenly, one of the revolutionary guards had a Dari accent instead of a Persian one. The audience member able to tell the difference was left wondering if Hollywood cared about such subtleties as much as the importance of continuity or location-hunting. This is when an accent coach on set becomes of utmost importance because in a sense they are the keepers of continuity in language and speech, not to mention delivery (accent).

In The House of Sand and Fog directed by Vadim Perelman, Sir Ben Kingsley plays the part of Bahrani, the Iranian general who goes to all lengths to maintain the life style and dignity that displacement in the form of exile ensures is stripped away from him.  Sir Kingsley has very few lines or words in Persian (most of his lines require that he speak English with a Persian accent). However, towards the end of the film, he has to utter a word twice when his teenage son is shot. At this point, he is to howl out of grief and despair: “PEsaram! PEsaram!” (“My son! My son!”).  Instead of placing the word stress on the first syllable and potentially continuing to be believable (something a native speaker would do without thinking), the utterance sounded the opposite “pesarAM”, with the weight of the word at the end of the word rather than the beginning.  At that moment, Sir Kingsley’s eternally-revered talent, at all times capable of taking us with him on any journey, from Ghandi to Don Logan, came to a screeching halt. Why? Because we ceased to believe; because if we, the audience, understand, pardon and accept certain necessities for the movie industry to continue existing with its set of standards (having to use a star name to play a part for which native talent exists for financial reasons) we accept it, ride along and even enjoy and applaud the performance with awards.  After all, aren’t actors supposed to challenge themselves? Play parts that are as different as possible from them? Work on acquiring the accent needed to sound convincing in a foreign language? And, aren’t production companies aware that the need to hire seasoned accent coaches to work closely with actors is paramount to the overall success of the project at hand? That it is a part of the filmmaking process that can’t be left behind?

The same is true of The Stoning of Soraya M. How are we to believe the protagonist is indeed a villager who is a native speaker of Persian when she suddenly speaks with a western foreign accent?

Here is the ultimate question: Shouldn’t attention to speech and accent coaching on set be an integral part of building a character, of the film process? If so, why do we see such inconsistencies in Hollywood productions? Just like costume, set and make-up designers are an important part of the filmmaking process, in charge of their field of expertise, we need to ensure an accent coach is present to help actors get closer to the intonation, pronunciation and word stress that will complete their performance  and ultimately benefit the film as a whole. The future of filmmaking might have this prediction in store.


Photo: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicole in Sophie's Choice (1982)