Learning a Maine Dialect

Biddeford Maine, driving through by car

As someone based in Chicago from the Midwest, I can pick out a native Chicagoan’s voice in crowd pretty quickly. Other dialects like a standard Southern accent or a surfer’s Californian dialect are also pretty easy to pick out.

However, Halcyon’s next show Dreams of the Penny Gods takes place in a small town in Maine. Before starting to work on this show, I had no concept of what a Maine dialect should sound like. I assumed like a New Englander, but I’d never been to Maine, so I genuinely wasn’t sure. Lucky for the production, I’m not the dialect coach—plus, both the director, Jenn Adams, and the playwright, Callie Kimball, have roots in Maine (Callie lives there now)!

Halcyon Theatre brought Kendra Kargenian onto the production team as dialect coach to help the actors sound like Maine natives.

(Side note—does anyone know what people from Maine are called? Maine-ers? Maine-iacs? Maine-ians? Google was no help. Extra credit if you comment with the correct answer.)

The dialect coach, Kendra Kargenian, provided video and audio resources for the actors so they could rehearse with the right accent. Check out this clip of a restaurant in Biddeford, Maine to hear some real Maine residents.

HBO’s “Olive Kittridge” mini-series was also set in Maine. Click here for the trailer to hear Frances McDormand’s clipped Maine dialect.

But do you hear the difference? It’s not as nasal as what you tend to hear in the Midwest. Kendra explained that “the dialect lives in the front of the mouth with lots of space in the back. The tongue stays down in the back…”

Try Kendra’s tip on how to get into this accent: “A great way to get into the posture of this dialect is to open your mouth, make a letter C with your hand, and place it next to your ear. Your thumb will rest on your jaw, the index finger’s knuckle will rest in front of your ear, & your index finger will rest under/on the cheekbone. Once you have this position, let your mouth explore the space! Let your tongue move where it might not normally in your mouth. Let the sound come from some place different than you normally do...”

There’s also “the famous Maine ‘R,’” as Jenn calls it. “Instead of saying ‘car,’ you say ‘cah.’” Like a Boston accent, but “sing-songy-er and flatter… like there is a sort of Irish lilt to the way the Maine sound is…”

When you get to the Box Office, order your concessions in a Maine accent, and tell them Claire sent you. I’ll make sure you get a high five.

pictured at top: Driving through Biddeford, ME, photo by Jenn Adams.