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notes from mamet


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damn i'm jealous of the kids in the l.a. atlantic conservatory - they're not only getting this lecture series with mamet, macy, and others, but they're also getting him in their regular classes.

so last night was the mamet class. the man is all charisma, and seems to have an endless supply of energy. one thing is certain - he has a true passion for his beliefs, and loves to teach. he really just couldn't talk fast enough to get out his overflow of ideas. here's some notes:

• analyze the scene like a scientist. be a doctor. a patient comes to the doctor and says 'my foot hurts,' the doctor doesn't say 'but do you like your mother?' leave all that character bullshit behind. it's all distraction, it doesn't help, it's not part of your job. all the necessary details have been provided by the writer.

• theatre is not the province of the intellectual. theatre is the province of the entertainer. juggling is entertaining. learn to do it. learning to analyze juggling is not an entertainment.

• the plot will entertain and engross irrespective of its ability to surprise. this is why we see different productions of the same play - it's not because we're wondering if this time hamlet will live. this is also why the middle school production you saw of peer gynt was better than broadway: because the story got told, and the story was good.

• of a play - do we follow the story absent visual trickery? if not, it's crap. of set and costumes: always ask, are they better than doing the play on a bare stage in street clothes?

• on directors: directors are a construct and are unnecessary. theatre did not begin with directors. there's a story of a guy on a boat grabbing the railings, and he's convincing himself that if he pushes and pulls the railing, he's making the boat sway - that's the director.

• most directors do not direct. they become teachers, schooling the cast on the 'themes,' and the character backstories, which is not directing.

• mamet completely rejects the idea of totalitarian theatre - theatre with a 'purpose,' or that seeks to teach some kind of lesson, ie homophobia is bad, or, black people are people too, or, isn't it awful what was done unto them? it assumes the playwright and/or director is 'better' than the audience.

• totalitarian directors are those who will reject the text as meaningless and take over the role of the writer. - i personally do not find this as much of an affront as mamet does, though it largely describes the many great Crimes Against Shakespeare.

• leaving the text alone, totalitarianists are left to play with the plastic elements of the production - the 'setting.' 'i'm doing 'hamlet,' you'll say, and the first thing the asshole says is 'where are you setting it??' 'in denmark you piece of shit!' re-setting a play invites us to infer a meaning that is neither present nor intended.

when i was at mamet's book signing, there was a girl there - standing in line, who said in a huffy voice 'well, who does he think he is? doe he think he has some sort of monopoly on content?' and i think she did have a bit of a point. but what does she want to do? an all female version of glengarry? a gay version? if you like the play itself, why wouldn't you do it as written? maybe she's never written anything. i shudder to think how terrible a production of 'second' would be if the director made choices that destroy the ambiguities neal and i worked so hard to preserve in the text.

• the definition of modern art is: that which the execution of is inferior to its description. (this reminds me of someone i knew who was in an all male, naked production of macbeth. the description is fine. i don't need to watch it.)

• any director who 'does something interesting with' the text, does not understand the text.

• a good director:
helps the actors understand the mechanics of who wants what from whom.
stages the play to make the relationships between the actors clear.
resists discussion of character and theme, and gets the hell on with it.
follows the first rule of the physician: do no harm.

• someone asked him 'but what if you're asked to show emotion?' and he just about exploded: what we mean when we say to show emotion is to PRETEND. i'm sorry people, but that's it. it's make believe. we can't control our emotions. if we could control our emotions there wouldn't be any psychiatrists, there wouldn't be any sadness, there wouldn't be any anger. it's an impossibility and if you're gonna beat yourself up to try and -feel- something then you are the... (at this point he gestured to the crowd, and all the conservatory kids chimed in unison) SPAWN OF THE DEVIL"

• the play should not be read while sitting around a table at the first rehearsal. it will invaribly suck, and already you've begun rehearsing failure. associate success with the text. figure out the actions first, scene by scene.

• good actors should:
work on your voice
work on your physique
present yourself as a willing applicant to the job. ie, be professional.
memorize without inflection - rehearse correctly and the benefit will show itself: when people see the line come out as it wants to, they will call it talent.
invest in your choice of career.

• when you invest in something you protect it. what's the world's best off-road vehicle? a rented car. make an investment in yourself. feel ownership in your right to be there, doing what you love to do. if you give all of your leisure to something, you'll become an expert at it - so work on the thing you love, dammit!

• have pride in accomplishing a demonstrable skill. no one learns skills anymore. what's at the bottom of the resume? 'special skills?' what's really at the bottom of the resume? "can drive stick." "cockney." these are not skills! learn to juggle, learn anything and have pride in it.

• GOING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL FOR ACTING IS WASTING YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET AS AN ACTOR - YOUR YOUTH.

• train yourself to function without security. train yourself to say without apology or arrogance 'i am an actor. i am a writer. i am a director,' whatever it is.

• the person who doesn't give up will have a career.


2 responses to “notes from mamet”

  1. Blogger Ted Stephens III 

    the one and only thing that scares the living shit in me about mamet is his ideas of graduate school--i made the mistake of reading "true or false" after my first semester of grad school.

    i wish i could say he didn't have a point. but he does. i guess you have to weigh the pros and cons.

    thanks for the notes--the workshops sound awesome.

  2. Blogger j 

    hey ted!

    yeah, i agree - you've gotta weigh it. i know that i needed grad school at the time that i did it. had i just moved straight to new york with only chorus experience i know i would have been swallowed up and would probably have quit. everyone has their path, and really, there's no right way.

    for me, as mamet says, it was my investment. grad school was what gave me the feeling of ownership i needed before tackling new york.

    and eh, grad school is only a couple years. really not that much in the grand scheme of things.

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  • 5: the man of genius


  • 4: blunders & absurdities

  • 3: conservative after dinner

  • 2: what lies below

  • 1: where there is no path


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