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David Mamet, True And False: A GENERATION THAT WOULD LIKE TO STAY IN SCHOOL .

You readers are of a  generation that would like to stay in school. The world is, as usual, a frightening place to enter for all save the precious few impaired by inherited security There was perhaps for a time in this country a fairly secure promise of a career for a small segment of the bourgeoisie, and now even that is gone and good grades and a little family money can no longer assure one of the sinecure in law or medicine. And further, for the player—-that is, for the man or woman who is interested in a career on the stage—-there never was such a security

You will encounter in your travels folks of your own age chose the institutional path, who became the arts administrators rather than the actors, the casting agents rather than the writers. These folks chose to serve an institutional authority in exchange for a paycheque, and these folks are going to be with you for the
. rest of your life, and you actors and writers and people who come up off the street, w ho live without certainty day to day and year to year are going to have to bear with being called children by these institutional types; you will, as Shakespeare tells us, endure “the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes.”

It is not childish to live with uncertainty; to devote oneself to a craft rather than a career, to an idea rather than an institution. It’s courageous and requires a courage of the order that the institutionally co-opted are ill equipped perceive. They are so unequipped to perceive it that they can only call it childish, and so excuse their exploitation of you.

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.

Past vocal and physical training, and the most rudimentary instruction in script analysis—all of. which, by the way can be acquired piecemeal through observation and practice, through personal tutoring, or through a mixture of the above—such acting training will not help you. Formal education for the player is not only useless, but harmful. It. stresses the academic model and denies the primacy of the interchange with the audience.

The audience will teach you how to act and the audience will teach you how to write and to direct, The classroom will teach you how to obey and obedience in the theatre will get you nowhere. It a soothing falsity.

Like the belief of the terminally ill in medicine, the belief of the legitimately frightened in the educational process is a comforting lie.

Young people ask if they . should go to graduate school in the theatre, as they ask if it is a good idea to go to law school to improve their minds. (A question testing the limits, of irony) Alice, when in Wonderland, asked the caterpillar which road she should take…and the caterpillar responded by asking her where she wanted to end up. That’s a question you might ask yourself: If you want to be in the theatre, go into the theatre. If you want to have made a valiant effort to go into the theatre before you go into real estate or: law: school or marry wealth, then perhaps you should stay in school.
The skill of acting is finally a physical skill; it is not a mental exercise, and has nothing whatever to do with the ability to pass a test.

The skill of acting is not the paint-by-numbers ability to amalgamate emotional oases-—-to string them like pearls into a performance (the Method. Nor is it the mastery of syntax (the, academic public speaking model): The skill of acting is like the skill ‘of sport, which is a physical event. And like that endeavor, its difficulty consists to a large extent in being much simpler than it seems Like sports, the study of acting consists in the main of getting out of one’s own way, and in learning to deal with uncertainty and being comfortable being uncomfortable.

Now what do I mean by that? The Method school would teach the actor to prepare a moment, a memory, an emotion for each interchange in the play and to stick to that preparation. This is an error on the order of the basketball coach instructing his team to stick to the plays which they practiced irrespective of what their opponents are doing.

We actors, being human; do not like the unexpected. If we encounter the unexpected onstage in front of people, we are apt to reveal ourselves. And formal academic education and sense memory and emotional memory and creative “interpretation”, and all of these skills which are much more appropriate, finally, to the lectern than to the stage, are ways of concealing the truth of that revelation-—of that moment.

The truth of the moment is another name for what is actually happening between the two people onstage. That interchange is always unplanned, is always taking place, is always fascinating, and it is to the end of concealing that interchange that most acting training is directed.

In my earlier days actors would begin a line by adding their own words, saying “I mean.” Some thought that had personalized the line and made it ‘more real?’ Today we see actors doing the same thing. The actor is given a cue, and he shuffles his feet and blows out in a huff much like a whale, sometimes enunciating a sort -of “phew” and then continues to the assigned line. What does this mean? It means the actor was moved by an unforeseen sensation, emotion, or perception, and, in an effort  to regain what he understood to be a necessary anchor of self-consciousness, he played for time. All of this happened, of course, in the merest fraction of a second, but it did happen.
And it happens all the time, that huff that “I mean” That’s where the scene went. If the actor had simply opened his mouth on cue and spoken even though he felt uncertain, the audience would have been treated to the truth of the moment, to a 1ovely unexpected, unforeseeable beautiful exchange between the two people on stage. They would in effect have witnessed the true lost art of the actor,

Stanislavsky said that the person one is a thousand times more interesting, than the best actor one could become. And when the actor picks up her cue, then speaks out though uncertain, the audience sees” that interesting person. They see true courage, not a portrayal of courage, but true courage. The individual onstage speaks because she is called upon to speak when she has nothing to support her except her self-respect.

When the actual courage of the actor is coupled with the lines of the playwright, the illusion of character is created. When the audience sees the steadfastness of the actress, playing  Joan coupled with the words of  Shaw, they see majesty.  When they see the courage of the actor playing Willy Loman coupled with the words of Arthur Miller, they see anguish. And it is the coup ling of the truth of the actor struggling bravely with uncertainty, with the portrayal made by the dramatist, which, again, creates the illusion of character—the illusion of the character of the king, the murderer, or the saint.

The Method got it wrong. Yes, the actor is undergoing something onstage, but :it is beside the point to have him or her “undergo” the supposed trials of the character upon the stage. The actor has his own trials to undergo, and they are right in front of him They don’t have to be superadded, they exist. His challenge is not to recapitulate, to pretend to the difficulties of the written character; it is to open the mouth, stand straight, and say the words bravely— adding nothing, denying- nothing, and, without the intent, to manipulate anyone: his fellows; the audience,

To learn to do that is to learn to act.

The actor, in learning to be true and simple, in learning to speak to the point despite being frightened, and with no certainty of being understood, creates his own character; he forges character in himself. Onstage. And it is this character which he brings to the audience, and by which the audience is truly moved.

 

 

 

 

 

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