The Washington Post
Theatreby David Mamet
If theatre were a religion, explains David Mamet in his opening chapter, “many of the observations and suggestions in this book might be heretical.” As always, Mamet delivers on his promise: in Theatre, the acclaimed author of Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow calls for nothing less than the death of the director and the end of acting theory. For… See more details below
If theatre were a religion, explains David Mamet in his opening chapter, “many of the observations and suggestions in this book might be heretical.” As always, Mamet delivers on his promise: in Theatre, the acclaimed author of Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow calls for nothing less than the death of the director and the end of acting theory. For Mamet, either actors are good or they are non-actors, and good actors generally work best without the interference of a director, however well-intentioned. Issue plays, political correctness, method actors, impossible directions, Stanislavksy, and elitists all fall under Mamet’s critical gaze. To students, teachers, and directors who crave a blast of fresh air in a world that can be insular and fearful of change, Theatre throws down a gauntlet that challenges everyone to do better, including Mamet himself.
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The greenroom is that common room between the street and the stage. In coming backstage, one enters the greenroom first. I've heard, over the years, several derivations of the term: The original room was painted green, or was constructed by a man named Green. None are convincing.
Early nineteenth-century British novels refer to the greenroom in a country house. They mean by this that transitional space known in New England as the mudroom. This mudroom in old farmhouses (including my own) allowed the farmer, hunter, outdoorsman to divest himself of those accoutrements that were needed on the land but inappropriate in the house. Mine, in Vermont, was filled, according to the seasons, with fishing rods, snowshoes, muddy boots, firearms, longbows, skis, skates, a snow shovel, a maul, the walls covered with hooks bearing all sorts of coats and caps, and on the floor a wooden drying rack covered with gloves, gaiters, sweaters.
In Vermont, the mudroom; in England, the greenroom, where one knocked off the grass, grain, and green of the field. On the farm, the greenroom was the space between the farm and the home; in the theatre, it rests between the sacred and the profane.
Many of the observations and suggestions in this book might be considered heretical.
That is, if the theatre were a religion. But, though its origins are linked with religion, the theatre as an art is a profession, and, in its appearance as show business, is something of a racket.
This book is a compilation and a distillation of those thoughts and attendant practices I have used in my forty years in the professional theatre. They are the rules by which I function as an artist and by which I have been able to make a living.
Faced with a difficult medical decision, we are most comforted to hear the physician endorse one of the choices by saying, "This is what I would do if it were my own child."
The ideas herein, similarly, are what I would (and do) tell my own children and my students. I will gladly test their practicality and practicability against anyone willing to put his particular philosophy to a practical test.
Of what might such a test consist? The ability to motivate an actor to perform an action simply and unself-consciously; to involve an audience; and, at a somewhat more abstract level, to communicate a directorial or literary vision to a designer such that his designs will serve the show.
Finally, I am suggesting and describing a way of thinking about the drama (analysis) and of communicating the subsequent conclusions using language and vocabulary (direction).
Impracticable theory is an impediment to both art and sustenance, and benefits no one save the intellectual to whom theatrical thought is an abstract and enjoyable exercise. But the point of the theatre is to give the audience enjoyment, and it is my experience that to do so, the practitioner is going to have to learn discipline.
This is primarily a discipline of thought and speech. Its overriding principle is never to consider or to suggest that which is impossible to accomplish.
As a young student I abhorred direction and instruction that was incapable of being done. I still do. It called for a collusion between the student and the teacher-director: "I will pretend to an approximation of what I think you want if you will refrain from criticizing me."
The theatre does not need more teachers or more directors; it needs more writers and actors, and both come from the same applicant pool: those who are affronted, bemused, fascinated, or saddened by the infinite variety of human interaction, which always bodes so promising and usually ends so ill.
This applicant pool is interested in the truth, and they love to act and write.
Here follow certain thoughts about these people and the audience that craves their productions.
Excerpted from Theatre by .
Copyright © 2010 by David Mamet.
Published in 2010 by Faber and Faber, Inc..
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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