Stanley Kowalski, the antihero of Tennessee Williams' “A Streetcar Named Desire,” is a working-class New Orleans man from a certain part of town. As such, his accent should be what's known as Y'at.
But actor Chad Cunningham, who will play Stanley in the Omaha Community Playhouse's production of “Streetcar,” is from Norfolk, Neb.
Ablan Roblin, a University of Miami theater graduate and local actor/teacher who studied dialects, helped Cunningham master Y'at.
Roblin was born in Mississippi and grew up primarily in New Orleans. His wife's job brought him to Omaha two years ago. He and his son played Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim in the Playhouse production of “A Christmas Carol” last winter.
Roblin said Y'at is the abbreviated version of “Where you at,” the equivalent of a Midwestern “How ya doin'?”
“Y'at is an interesting dialect that is uniquely New Orleans,” Roblin said. “There's a real strong Brooklynese root, with some Southern and African-American twangs, and a little Creole as well. It's a culmination of all those people who live in New Orleans.”
“It's bouillabaisse,” a seafood stew of many ingredients, said Susan Baer Collins, associate artistic director at the Playhouse, who is also known for teaching dialects.
People who live uptown or in the garden district of New Orleans don't have the dialect, Roblin said. Y'at is working-class and strongest in the Irish Channel district close to the docks, where the Stanley Kowalski character is from.
Collins said two common ways to teach dialect are with a phonetic alphabet, spelling out words as they should sound, or with mimickry, listen and repeat.
Roblin said time was too short to teach phonetics, so he worked with Cunningham on the unique sounds of Y'at, how to place words in your mouth, and how to get a natural feel for speaking Y'at.
“New Orleans is such an interesting place,” he said. “There are a lot of cultural influences, there's a lot of class distinction, a lot of poverty and wealth. Because of that, the dialects meld in some situations — like beer and Mardi Gras.”
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