‘Heresy and common sense for the actor’ is the heading of True & False by David Mamet. This book is 127 pages of compelling thinking and pragmatic philosophy on the craft of being an actor and for me a prompt of self-liberation. I feel I can finally become free from limits that had been lingering in my psyche and behavior for so long in regards to acting. Enough of being a rule follower. Enough of being afraid of colouring outside the lines.
At last, it is time for heresy and common sense. Heresy for breaking the status quo and conventions. Common sense for being true to who I am. Of course, easier said than done but unless I go on in the pursuit of self-work and expression, I’ll remain stuck in self-imposed prejudice and the syndrome of fulfilling formal acting training in order to be an actor and, in Mamet’s words, ‘ please the casting director, the agent, the critic and so progress’. ” But progress to what?” he asks. Personally, the best progress I can make in my own pursuit of acting is to live it as a sport as Mamet suggests and ‘like sports the study of acting in the main consists of getting out of one’s own way, and in learning to deal with uncertainty and being comfortable being uncomfortable.’
I’m learning to see my discomfort in performing monologues, self -tape for castings and being out of comfort zone situations as natural phenomena for self-knowledge and connectedness with myself and others. What better progress is there to make in order to feel I am an actor? I’m learning to be true and simple, to speak to the point despite being frightened. According to Mamet, Stanislavski got it wrong. The Method got it wrong. The challenge for the actor is not to ‘recapitulate’ or to ‘undergo the supposed trials of the character’. Acting requires immediacy and courage, not intellectuality. The challenge for the actor is to speak out, to stand straight, to respond quickly irrespective of what one feels to be right, ‘adding nothing, denying nothing, and without the intent to manipulate anyone’. By that, Mamet means oneself, their colleagues and the audience. In doing so, one creates the habit of giving up control and say the words bravely and truthfully to oneself, their fellows and the audience. It goes without saying that dedication to self-improvement compels progress and funny voices in one’s head that say ‘I am a fraud, I am no good, I was terrible’ are unhelpful. Mamet adds that they are ‘obeisance to an outside or internalized authority- they are a plea to that authority for pity for your helpless state.’
Well, feeling helpless is unhelpful. That’s all there is to it. I’d rather keep on learning, improving, varying and nourishing my dedication to acting instead of giving in to authority and conventions. I will never please either myself or others in every aspect of performance but I’m keeping my wits. The matter of the fact is I didn’t go to drama school. My training has been through self-work and the work of Kristin Linklater, Nikki Flacks, and Kate Maravan to name a few. Along the way, I’ve been learning to dismiss the mainstream drama school model and paving my way for acting. Even if it means on my own projects. Mamet acknowledges that although more frightening ” it is not less productive to go your own way, to form your own theatre company, to write and stage your own plays, to make your own films” He adds that there’s greater chance to reach an audience by “striking out on your own than by submitting to the industrial model of the school and studio.”
Mamet’s True & False has been an eye-opener for me. I’m replacing the industrial model with my self-work while I’m learning to think well of my own process, of what I have to say and saying it better.