True and False
TRUE AND FALSE
David Mamet. True and False: Heresy and Common Sense For the Actor.
New York: Pantheon Books, 1997 144 pp. Paper $20.00
As might be expected from a playwright who has sometimes been accused of excessively masculine representations of the world, David Mamet's True and False: Heresy and Common Sense For the Actor likens the actor's "work," at various points, to sports (particularly boxing), the implementation of war strategies, and automechanics. Odd as these comparisons may seem at first glance, they make perfect sense in light of what Mamet wants to stress about the craft of acting--its ultimate reliance on action. Mamet's model of acting rejects what he sees as the introspective, interpretative, and self-absorbed exercises of the Stanislavsky "Method" (claiming that it "and the technique of the schools derived from it, is nonsense" ), and instead embraces the pleasures of extroversion, performance, and active will. Like a good general speaking to the troops, Mamet tells the actor to forget about "emotional preparation" (64) and just get out there and do it, insisting that good acting emerges out of courage--the courage required to focus on a clear objective and act simply to achieve that objective. He urges the actor to avoid doing the interpretive job of the playwright, as "The actor is on stage to communicate the play to the audience. That is the beginning and the end of his and her job" (9).
For Mamet, acting is a craft, an art, not a scholarly or academic endeavor, and so the only requirements of an actor, as he sees it, are "a strong voice, superb diction, a supple, well-proportioned body, and a rudimentary understanding of the play" (9). Rather than following the Stanislavsky method of striving to "become" the illusive "character," the actor must seek simply to perform the action of the play as set down by the author. Coaching the actor, as most schools do, to focus her energies on manipulating emotions and banishing anxiety is a goal which Mamet believes is both futile and counterproductive. In fact, he maintains that anxiety is something which should be used in performance. For the actor, anxiety is a good thing, as it makes the actor more courageous and the action (acting) more genuine and powerful. Using his favorite analogy, Mamet advises the actor that, "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" (20).
True and False reveals Mamet's belief that "the actor is, primarily, a philosopher," as the audience comes to the theater to "hear the truth and celebrate it with each other" (102). On one level, the title of this treatise comes from Mamet's distinction between the spontaneous "truth of the moment," which "is another name for what is actually happening between the two people onstage" (20), and the manipulation and falsehood of self-promotion, which often passes for acting. The truth of the moment is always unplanned, and therefore is able to reveal the actor's genuine will, making the performance unique and alive. Too much self-centered emotional preparation, he argues, kills this moment, and yields a false performance. In general, Mamet isn't very fond of acting schools, which he claims center on excessive "preparation," keep actors away from the immediacy of the theater, and teach only to "obey, and obedience in the theatre will get you nowhere" (19). Mamet's mantra--"invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school" (24)--is repeated throughout his text as the key to the presentation of "true" character and worthwhile acting.
Mamet's advice to the actor, and his departure from traditional acting instruction, can be narrowed down to a few key points. First of all, the actor should direct his attention and intentions outward toward the actor who is being addressed, not inward toward the self.
The preparatory "work" of the actor should involve narrowing the scene down to simple actions, finding an objective, and focusing on performing it. That, and the rehearsal of those actions as well as the blocking of the scenes, is the extent of the actor's contribution to the script.
While True and False has nothing kind to say about anything involved with acting as an institution--schools, teachers, Hollywood, talent agents, casting agents, producers, etc.--its extreme point of view is balanced out by the inspiration it offers the actor.
Reminding actors that their craft is worthwhile and respectable, insisting that they resist internalizing the oppressive, paralyzing "false vision" of their roles as actors that institutions can often impose when their authority is resisted, and encouraging actors to go ahead and form their own theater companies, Mamet's advice is thought-provoking and exciting.
ANNETTE J. SADDIK
Eastern Michigan University