Location: Chicago, IL & soon London, UK
I am a dialect/vocal coach working in Chicago theatre and television. Chicago theatres I have worked with include: Steppenwolf, Goodman Theatre, Drury Lane, Porchlight Music Theatre, The Gift Theatre, Timeline Theatre, Remy Bumppo, Windy City Playhouse, Griffin Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, Steep Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, Redtwist Theatre, Eclipse Theatre, and many more.
My TV coaching credits include: The Exorcist (Fox) and Patriot (Amazon Prime). In 2017, I made a video with BuzzFeed called “How to Do 12 Different Accents”, in which I demonstrated and gave tips on 12 accents. The video went viral and has millions of views on YouTube and Facebook.
I also work with non-actors in the area of accent modification coaching. I hold a BFA in Acting from Illinois Wesleyan University. This fall, I will be starting the MFA Voice Studies program at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
On April 6, 2017, a Buzzfeed video called "How to do 12 Different Accents," went viral. This video featured Sammi morphing between 12 different accents and explaining some of the accent's characteristics and qualities.
What can your voice do?
My voice can help others expand their vocal awareness and abilities.
Whether I am teaching an actor a new accent or helping a businesswoman become more comfortable with American speech patterns, I am providing a means for that person to expand what their voice can do. The better people understand their voices and the wider range of possibilities their voices have, the richer and fuller stories and connections become on stage, on screen, and in real life. The best part of my BuzzFeed video going viral was the hundreds of emails I received from people all over the world saying I had made them more curious about the voice.
My voice can also empower. I am legally blind and am therefore part of the blind community and larger disabled community. Because I am a professional voice user, I have been able to speak about my blindness in very public forums such as: BuzzFeed, Great big Story, BBC Radio, and many other news and social media outlets. I am able to show the world a successful, independent person with a disability. I am also able to discuss how my blindness gives me an advantage in my field, as I have developed very attuned hearing. I empower my community by helping to break down the terrible stereotypes that disabled people are helpless, weak, and unable to have careers and full lives.
What is your area or field that you're using your voice in and how did you get into it?
My work as a dialect/vocal coach (currently) mostly consists of teaching accents in theatre, television, workshops, and private one-on-one coaching with actors. I also work with non-actors to learn a Standard American sound to help them connect and communicate more efficiently in American markets.
I started as an actor. I performed in drama camp and school plays as a child. I was accepted to the BFA Acting program at Illinois Wesleyan University, which would help me to become a professional actor.
While at IWU, I fell in love with voice and dialect work via the required classes I took in those areas. I continued on with an independent study, serving as the TA for the dialects class, and dialect coaching a couple of shows during my last semester. When I entered the professional world, I planned to work as an actor and dialect coach. However, after a few years, I lost my passion for acting and continued to connect further with my work as a coach.
In January 2015, I stopped acting to focus on coaching. In April 2016, I quit my office day job to work full-time as a coach. I am about to take the next big step in my career by earning an MFA in Voice Studies. I am hoping to expand my abilities as a coach beyond mostly dialects. Additionally, I am looking to be able to teach at the university level.
Did you have a moment when you realized that you could use your voice to make a difference in that field?
I don’t have one specific moment in mind. It is truly every time my work with an actor or client gives them more confidence, whether it be with their natural voice or their ability to use a different accent.
What keeps you up at night?
My generation’s dependence on textual communication.
When communication is solely done through text messages or social media statuses and comments, we lose the amazing benefits the voice brings to words. A Facebook status lacks tone, emphasis, rhythm, phrasing, and true emotion. Without these elements of the voice, language is not reaching its full potential of expression. Even if we use all caps or emojis to try to give more layers to text, those signifiers will never be able to match the complexity of the voice. Vocal communication also brings a special intangible element - the energy being shared by the people communicating in real time with each other.
I am certainly not opposed to texting and social media, but I fear the ramifications of those outlets becoming my generation’s main form of connection.
What gives you hope?
The Next Generation
While the younger generation is certainly engaged with more social media platforms than I can even name, they also seem to deeply value the power of their voices. I was particularly struck by all of the young people speaking out and using their voices at the March for Our Lives. I have had the pleasure of coaching middle and high school students on a number of occasions, and I am always blown away by their enthusiasm for and their ability with voice work. This is one of the major reasons I want to be able to teach at the university level; I want to help foster the power of young people’s voices for telling stories and making change.
By knowing what your voice can do in this field, what’s the impact you hope to have?
I hope to inspire and cultivate strong connection and understanding between people.
This includes guiding actors to develop strong and dynamic vocal choices for every character they play in order to help the audience connect to the story being told on stage or screen.
This includes providing a means for other professionals to feel as confident as possible with their vocal power and ability in order to best connect with their clients, colleagues, etc.
This includes helping any person, no matter their background, to feel their voice has power.
Beyond using one’s own voice, I also hope to develop people’s skills through listening to and taking in other people’s voices. Communication is not just about vocalizing, it is also about hearing what is being said to you and how it is being said. Only through this full exchange of voice and energy can we truly hope to connect with one another.
Any words to encourage others to use their voice in this world?
Your voice is beautiful and special. Even if you don’t like the sound of your own voice and especially if you feel your voice is not being valued, keep speaking.
Work with vocal professionals to expand your knowledge of the voice, make sure you are using it in the healthiest way possible, and seek to grow the range and possibilities of your voice. In the end though, learn to love the unique qualities of the vocal instrument you have.
Lastly, when I meet new people, I am often asked to identify their accent without being given any background info on them. I really don’t like this game. First of all, it makes me feel like I have to prove my talent and worth as a coach. However, I mostly don’t like it because it forces me to categorize and label voices. I am so much more interested in the idiosyncrasies and uniqueness of each voice I encounter than correctly identifying whether the speaker is from Atlanta or Savanna.
For more information about Sammi Grant, please visit her website: https://www.sammigrant.com/