This is the third in a series of reflections about David Mamet's controversial yet influential book, ten years after its initial publication. Click here for the previous installment.
Let's set aside, for now, whether or not pursuing a career in acting is a good idea. Mamet assumes that if you are reading his book, you have already chosen a career in acting, and now his goal is to convince you to stay out of school. I find this to be pretty sound advice, and I think it can be extended to include other creative disciplines, including film school, music school, culinary school, etc. Despite the tone of my previous posts, I really do find a lot of good and useful material in True and False , which is probably why the book has stuck with me after all these years.
Although he is certainly not the first to say it, this is where I first encountered the idea that acting "is, finally, a physical skill, not a mental exercise." It is not for intellectuals, but for artists, and there's a difference between the two. An actors' time would be better spent in dance or martial arts training rather than vain attempts at scene study.
Mamet's advice to actors is to get out of your head and act on instinct. Very Kenobian of him. Thinking, examining, and reconsidering all the emotional beats in the play and stringing them together in performance is not nearly as interesting to watch onstage as someone whose attention is outwardly focused on a exterior goal. Assuming you can let go of script analysis and "get out of your own way," acting isn't difficult. Challenging, yes. Worthy and courageous, certainly. But acting is not, nor should it be, difficult.
It occurred to me while I was re-reading that I haven't really met or worked with anyone who professes a reverence for the Stanislavsky Method. I was required to read some Uta Hagen in college, and everyone was real sad when Brando died, but nobody I've worked with actually uses the Method anymore. But the anger and frustration apparent between the lines of True and False leads me to believe that Mamet must be constantly surrounded by "misguided" actors who subscribe to the Method. Otherwise, why would he be compelled to write the book?
Continued in part four of the series...