Mamet to actors: Stay out of school

September 11, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
With David Mamet's latest play, "November," opening this week at the Phoenix Theatre, I was interested in reading the acclaimed playwright's latest words on his art.

What I found in his recent book "True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor" a gauntlet thrown in the face of acting schools and teachers.

Some specifics:

"...the life of the academy, the graduate school, the studio, while charming and comfortable, are as removed from the life (and the job) of the actor as aerobics are from boxing."

"Part of the requirement of a life in the theatre is to stay out of school."

"The Stanislavsky 'Method,' and the technique of the schools derived from it, is nonsense. It is not a technique out of the practice of which on deelops a skill--it is a cult."

"Preoccupation with effect is preoccupation with the self, and not only is it joyless, it's a waste of time."

"Students, of course, do need a place to develop. That place is upon the stage."

There are more specific comments in the book, of course. This is just a taste. (FYI: One of my favorite quote in the book comes in a blurb by Alec Baldwin: "I agee with almost nothing Mr. Mamet saysin this book and encourage you to devour every word.")

Mamet's comments raise tons of questions, including:

--Are we overloaded with acting schools--and with actors? Mamet suggests in the book that these schools are largely a way to keep non-working actors busy. Are they merely a waste of time and money?

--How important is acting training? Having seen plenty of cringe-worthy amateur work, my first thought is: the more training the better. Yet I truly have no idea how trained most actors I see actually are. Is the work itself the best educator?

--If the academy is such a bad place, why have some of the most compelling productions I've seen recently been on college stages?

I'd love to hear from actors, acting teachers, and the theatergoing audience on any or all of the above.

Your thoughts?
ADVERTISEMENT
  • You know, Lou. Like most things in life, I think it all depends on the school and/or the program, and the talent level of the actor. Being one who has generally received all of my training on the stage, my gut response is to agree with Mr. Mamet. However, a few years back, I took some really outstanding senior-level acting courses at IRT (taught by Janet Allen and Risa Brainin who, unfortunately, was only at IRT for a short time), and I've found those to be invaluable to advancing my confidence as an actor. But these were Master classes, we all had to audition, and only the top, (mostly professional) actors in Indy were in these classes (how I managed to slip in is still a mystery - probably a mistake). I know a few non-professional actors in town who have taken some of the lower-level courses at IRT, and, strictly as an observer, I gotta say I've noticed no improvement. But rather than blame that on IRT's program, I'm inclined to blame it on a lack of talent.

    I can tell you of a few performances I've observed locally where certain highly educated (and well-known) actors who were known to embrace certain methods seemed so wrapped up in the method that they missed the whole point of what they were doing, IMHO.

    So I don't think there's a hard and fast rule. I prefer to learn by doing -- but I sure miss those IRT master classes.
  • I loved reading TRUE AND FALSE and found myself agreeing with many of his assertions. I must be point out that not being one of those actors from “…The life of the academy, the graduate school, the studio” it validated my worth as an actor who learned my craft “by doing” and absorbing the work and techniques of actors and directors I have worked with. But I must confess that not having the experience has always been somewhat of a source of regret for me because, like it or not, in this business a respected program gives an actor a huge leg-up in the business. This is not to say that I haven’t studied, because I have. And taught (go figure). Classes, workshops, intensives can be invaluable. So I don’t agree completely that the study of theatre is unnecessary. But it’s a great treatise and I love the Baldwin quote!
  • FYI: Goad, who posted above, stars in Mamet's November at the Phoenix. Opening night is tonight.
  • My friend, Chris, and I will be at the Phoenix tonight! Break a leg, Chuck!

    As to schools for actors and other performance artists...I teach a graduate level storytelling class for the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI. I learn from my students and I learned a lot, and continue to learn, from my own teachers. I get what Mamet is saying about the falseness of the classroom or studio - are my students really prepared to share a story in front of a large group of children, or teenagers, or board members, or senior citizens, if all they have told to is other library school students? - but I do think that formal training can be very useful to a performer, especially in terms of grounding her (or him) in the history, theory, ethics, current practices, and current issues in her craft.

    However, I agree that school is not enough. In fact, it is not even essential. Papa Joe, an oral tradition storyteller based in New Hampshire, says that the way to become a better storyteller is to tell stories more. 'Simple as that.

    He also says that rehearsing a story at home by yourself is all well and good, but it's just practicing. It's not storytelling. The real learning, the real progress, comes from sharing stories with other people and learning from their reactions to your telling.

    Years ago, Indianapolis teller Ken Oguss gave me some useful lessons in how to tell using a microphone, but he said that ultimately a teller is like a pilot, and there is no substitute for logging flight time in front of an audience. Some flights will be more satisfying than others, but you've got to just keep getting up there.

    And yet another professional storyteller, Heather Forest, always tells beginning tellers to plan to still be telling 25 years from now. In other words, don't think you're done after one workshop. Or one master's program. Or whatever.

    I think all this is true of acting, as well.

    As an audience member, I absolutely can tell the difference between the actors who are humbled by the complexity of their craft and committed to continually improving their mastery of it....and the people who are not. However, the two groups do not always divide neatly according to academic training or lack thereof.

    Hope Baugh
    www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
  • I wish this argument were simpler. In considering this, I find myself in an endless chain of, On the other hand ... statements. As a university-trained actor who did not go into the theatre (my theatre degree has proven to be every bit as practical as my English degree -- although it did give me the right to spell theatre with an re), I can say that the university training system did one thing right by me: It prevented a mediocre actor from going into the theatre. I learned that, as much as I loved the stage, I was neither talented nor driven enough to succeed. I must say that, like Mamet, I found the obsession with the Stanislawski method to be cult-like, and I could never embrace much of the self-obsession required to become an Actor with a capital A. That being said, had I been more talented and focused, I do believe that some of my teachers -- Howard Jensen comes to mind -- certainly could have trained me, with trained being the operative word. I believe that acting requires a lot more training than it does high-level, academic instruction. It is an art of mind, body and heart. Unfortunately, in what seems to be a common theme among academics studying the arts, universities seem to believe that most of what happens on stage originates above the eyebrows or below the belt. By overthinking acting, they often kill it. Their brainy atempts at understanding what lies behind the art often leads to embarrassing results ... on the other hand, it also sometimes leads to wonderful, risky insights and interpretations. Having rambled this far, I guess I would say that I cannot believe that any university program (or any other program, for that matter) ever made a mediocre actor great; on the other hand, I would bet, that on occasion, such programs have sucked the joy and passion out of acting and sent more than a few good actors out the door, across the street and into some other area of academic study.
  • I may have, unwittingly, been onto this concept of Mamet's years ago. A terrible academic student, I used my time at school to be on stage. There I learned and grew, and the subsequent work for professional companies in various small roles for 10 years after leaving school my true training began. As Chuck suggested in an earlier response as an actor who learned my craft “by doing” and absorbing the work and techniques of actors and directors I have worked with this is where I found the most valuable training. Recently working with Peter Amster (directed OUR TOWN at the IRT) was like taking a master class that I got paid to take. I suppose training is useful for pre-existing talent to help identify itself, but like someone recently said....you can put lipstick on a pig, but it will still be a pig.
  • I think that training is a great thing, if you are being trained by people who really know how to teach. I think that sometimes the best teachers are not those who necessarily have been trained by the top facilities, but those who have the ability to bring out the best of what lies inside each particular student/performer. I am sure that everyone who has been trained in theatre has a story about a teacher who has a huge resume and taught them nothing, if you throw musical theatre in the mix you can have teachers that can actually damage voices by trying to force a particular method. In my opinion, the ability to perform is something that you are born with and if you find teachers, directors, workshops,etc. along the way that pull out the best in you and don't try to
  • Let me try this again- for some reason I had something happen when I tried to post, here we go again!

    I think that training is a great thing, if you are being trained by people who really know how to teach. I think that sometimes the best teachers are not those who necessarily have been trained by the top facilities, but those who have the ability to bring out the best of what lies inside each particular student/performer. I am sure that everyone who has been trained in theatre has a story about a teacher who has a huge resume and taught them nothing, if you throw musical theatre in the mix you can have teachers that can actually damage voices by trying to force a particular method. In my opinion, the ability to perform is something that you are born with and if you find teachers, directors, workshops,etc. along the way that pull out the best in you and don't try to make you a brown couch, if you are a blue couch that is the best that you can hope for. For some that might be Juliard and for some that might be your best friend who isn't involved in the theatre, but really knows you and can give you great ideas when you ask them to give their opinion on your newest audition piece. I will have to say that, to me, there is no better triaining than being on the stage with amazing actors and being directed and/or choreographed by top notch talent. I have learned more from that than any of my training in school. Now were those talented folks trained by a particular method???? The story continues..

Post a comment to this blog

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
  1. The $104K to CRC would go toward debts service on $486M of existing debt they already have from other things outside this project. Keystone buys the bonds for 3.8M from CRC, and CRC in turn pays for the parking and site work, and some time later CRC buys them back (with interest) from the projected annual property tax revenue from the entire TIF district (est. $415K / yr. from just this property, plus more from all the other property in the TIF district), which in theory would be about a 10-year term, give-or-take. CRC is basically betting on the future, that property values will increase, driving up the tax revenue to the limit of the annual increase cap on commercial property (I think that's 3%). It should be noted that Keystone can't print money (unlike the Federal Treasury) so commercial property tax can only come from consumers, in this case the apartment renters and consumers of the goods and services offered by the ground floor retailers, and employees in the form of lower non-mandatory compensation items, such as bonuses, benefits, 401K match, etc.

  2. $3B would hurt Lilly's bottom line if there were no insurance or Indemnity Agreement, but there is no way that large an award will be upheld on appeal. What's surprising is that the trial judge refused to reduce it. She must have thought there was evidence of a flagrant, unconscionable coverup and wanted to send a message.

  3. As a self-employed individual, I always saw outrageous price increases every year in a health insurance plan with preexisting condition costs -- something most employed groups never had to worry about. With spouse, I saw ALL Indiana "free market answer" plans' premiums raise 25%-45% each year.

  4. It's not who you chose to build it's how they build it. Architects and engineers decide how and what to use to build. builders just do the work. Architects & engineers still think the tarp over the escalators out at airport will hold for third time when it snows, ice storms.

  5. http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/duke-energy-customers-angry-about-money-for-nothing

ADVERTISEMENT