Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet has taken time off from writing plays and films to publish a book of advice to actors "True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor" (Pantheon).
The book's 29 brief, pointed essays amount to a ferocious attack, not only on the Stanislavsky/Strasberg "Method," but on the entire notion of acting schools.
Published this month, the book contains these and many other similar quotes:
* "Emotional memory," "sense memory" and the tenets of the Method back to and including Stanislavsky's trilogy are a lot of hogwash. This "method" does not work; it cannot be practiced; it is, in theory, design, and supposed execution, superogatory -- it is as useless as teaching pilots to flap their arms while in the cockpit in order to increase the lift of the plane.
* If you learn the words by rote, as if they were a phone book, and let them come out of your mouth without your interpretation, the audience will be well served. * The very act of striving to create an emotional state in oneself takes one out of the play. It is the ultimate self-consciousness, and though it may be self-consciousness in the service of an ideal, it is no less boring for that.
* To create this illusion [of a character] the actor has to undergo nothing whatever. He or she is as free of the necessity of "feeling" as the magician is free of the necessity of actually summoning supernormal powers.
* Invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school.
* Part of the requirement of a life in the theatre is to stay out of school. The old joke has the young woman in her bedroom as a visitor at a castle in Transylvania when a vampire appears in the middle of the night. The young lady grabs two spoons off the night table, forms them into a cross, and thrusts them at the vampire, who responds, "Vil gurnisht Helfin," which is Yiddish for "It ain't gonna help." And the same is true of school.
* The actor is on stage to communicate the play to the audience. That is the beginning and the end of his and her job. To do so the actor needs a strong voice, superb diction, a supple, well-proportioned body, and a rudimentary understanding of the play.
* As much as we theatre folk like to think of ourselves as intellectuals, we are not. Ours is not an intellectual profession. All the book learning in the world, all the "ideas," will not enable one to play Hedda Gabler, and all the gab about the "arc of the character" and "I based my performance on. . ." is gibberish. There is no arc of the character; and one can no more base a performance on an idea than one can base a love affair on an idea.
* In life there is no emotional preparation for loss, grief, surprise, betrayal, discovery; and there is none on stage either.
* . . .it is an insult to come backstage and say to the performer, "You were great tonight," only to be told, "No, I was terrible. You should have seen me last week. . ." Any of us who have been so corrected know that it feels like a slap in the face. Reflection would inform the actor that the correct response is "Thank you very much." The audience didn't come to watch a lesson but to see a play. If they enjoyed it, you, the actor, have done your job.
What's your opinion on Mamet's advice? Post your reactions in the Playbill Poll topic of the Playbill On Line's Message Boards.
Mamet's latest production, a bill of one-acts titled The Old Neighborhood, opens on Broadway Nov. 19.
-- By Robert Viagas