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True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor Paperback – February 22, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To hell with Stanislavsky. To hell with the Method. "The actor is onstage to communicate the play to the audience," says David Mamet. "That is the beginning and the end of his and her job. To do so the actor needs a strong voice, superb diction, a supple, well-proportioned body and a rudimentary understanding of the play." Anything else--"becoming" one's part, "feeling" the character's emotions--devalues the practice of a noble craft and is useless to the play. "The 'work' you do 'on the script' will make no difference," he cautions. "That work has already been done by a person with a different job title than yours. That person is the author."

But True and False does not confine itself to the work done on the actual stage. Its brief essays contain sound advice on how an actor might apply himself or herself to the life of the actor: the proper consideration due the audition process, the selection of parts that one accepts, and so on. Mamet delivers these kernels of wisdom in the taut, no-nonsense prose for which he is justifiably famous, and, ultimately, his core principles are applicable beyond the theater. "Speak up, speak clearly, open yourself out, relax your body, find a simple objective," he instructs. "Practice in these goals is practice in respect for the audience, and without respect for the audience, there is no respect for the theater; there is only self-absorption." Substitute "others" for "the audience" and "life" for "the theater," and could any Taoist say it better? --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Mamet (e.g., Glengarry Glen Ross), considered a foremost contemporary American dramatist by most critics, here offers a bold new approach to acting. Mamet draws on his decades of observing good (and bad) acting to present a slim but intriguing volume of musings. Disdainful of studios, acting schools, and graduate school, he declares, "The classroom will teach you how to obey, and obedience in the theater will get you nowhere." Mamet exhorts actors to show up early, have their lines down cold, and have a single objective for each scene. He contends that overthinking and too much emotional interpretation is not the actor's role. Essential reading for theater collections.?J. Sara Paulk, Coastal Plain Regional Lib., Tifton, Ga.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 127 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (February 22, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679772642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772644
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Mamet's numerous plays include Oleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award), American Buffalo, Speed-the-Plow, Boston Marriage, November, Race and The Anarchist. He wrote the screenplays for such films as The Verdict, The Untouchables and Wag the Dog, and has twice been nominated for an Academy Award. He has written and directed ten films, including Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main, House of Games, Spartan and Redbelt. In addition, he wrote the novels The Village, The Old Religion, Wilson and many books of nonfiction, including Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business; Theatre; Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama and the New York Times bestseller The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. His HBO film Phil Spector, starring Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, aired in 2013 and earned him two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Directing. He was co-creator and executive producer of the CBS television show The Unit and is a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This is a short, blunt and controversial monograph on the business of acting, but in assessing its lessons, one should consider two salient points. First, David Mamet tried unsuccessfully to become an actor, and, second, that as a playwright and director, he necessarily has his own ideas about how his works (and the works of other playwrights) should be produced, and his vision undoubtedly conflicts with actors' ideas about how those works should be realized. In the guise of giving acting advice, he is voicing his strong opinion that all actors' work must necessarily be subordinate to that of the playwright or director, and it recalls Alfred Hitchcock's famous dictum that he regarded actors as cattle. That's not necessarily acting advice, but it is a hierarchical view of roles within a production or a theatre company.

With those points in mind, much of what Mamet has to say about acting is very good advice indeed. It is no secret that the Stanislavski and Strasberg systems of acting often produce academic and/or inward looking performances. Mamet also finds nothing at all to praise in acting schools of any stripe or theory. And as readers familiar with Mamet's plays might expect, when Mamet wants to heap scorn upon an object, he is capable of doing so with cold and hilarious fury. His points about working truthfully in the moment (which he calls acting courageously) and focusing honestly on your partner or the other actors are surely solid. Similarly, his simple advice about how a scene should work and how an actor should understand the scene's objective are rock solid.

In the end, although Mamet skewers both acting schools and theories, he has really espoused a theory of stage performance, albeit one that takes as its guidepost a highly naturalistic and unadorned style.
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Much of this book is taken up with Mamet railing against the Stanislavski System, of which he demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding. For example, he claims that the Method is not practical because you cannot "force" your emotions (those who have read any of Stanislavski's books will recognize that Stanislavski said this exact thing) and you cannot force yourself to believe something you know to be false (if Mamet had read Stanislavski's sections on the "magic if," he would find that Stanislavski also teaches this and has a solution to the problem).

The fact that he calls the Stanislavski System the Stanislavski Method makes me suspect that he is actually thinking of Strasberg's Method, who is often accused of putting too much emphasis on the certain aspects of a System like internal embodiment of the role and many say misunderstood large parts of the Stanislavski system; after Stella Adler studied with Stanislavski and returned to the Group Theatre, she and several other teachers of the 'Method' broke with Strasberg on these issues (including Meisner, who Mamet later studied under, who very strongly disagrees with Strasberg's methods and teaching style and says so very frankly in his book "Sanford Meisner on Acting"). Many of the issues Mamet brings up are fairly common criticisms of Strasberg, especially by Meisner.

When he quits ranting against the Stanislavski System and what he thinks actors need to stop doing and gets down to what he thinks actors SHOULD do, many of his principals are (or, at least, should be) either painfully obvious (such as, our job as actors is to entertain the audience) or of little use to serious actors.
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This book--another fit of didacticism from a writer of highly uneven output--is a bracing experience. Mamet's thoughts are so simplistic, his tone so dogmatic, that he provokes you to define your own thinking more sharply. I therefore recommend the book highly.
I'd like to share one observation, out of the many that this book provoked in me: Mamet's own preference, it seems, is the flat, uninflected acting in most of his films. Compare, for instance, Lindsay Crouse's beautifully emotional work in Sidney Lumet's THE VERDICT with her strangely robotic work in Mamet's HOUSE OF GAMES. The disparity between the two performances--one directed by the Actors Studio-trained Lumet, the other directed by the virulently anti-method Mamet--points up a central, yet unacknowledged, truth: Mamet is advocating a particular style of acting. This style results from the action-oriented approach that he and his followers employ, but it is no more or less a style than that produced by the method techniques he decries. This may seem a minor point, but it is one that he would hotly deny, as he insists that he advocates a technique and not a style.
I should add that the book contains a number of incisive thoughts on ethics and professionalism. So valuable were these that I typed them up and put them on my wall. They kept me sane through a difficult summer with a professional theatre company. The book is worth its price for these alone.
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I first bought this book while hanging out with a fellow actor friend of mine. We got on the NYC subway and started to read the books we'd just bought. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I was shocked, almost dismayed - but, oh so thankful.
I felt the need to share these lines with my friend. He instantly called Mamet a heretic. "How dare he ? Why are you reading this ?" Two months later, I gave him a copy as a gift. I urged him to read it. A week later, he thanked me from the bottom of his heart.
Why am I telling you this long story ? Because this book about smacking you in the face. You'll either appreciate it, or hate Mamet to death for it. But know that it's done with noble intentions.
Actors are taught some truly silly techniques and habits. As a result, we are robbing ourselves of the dignity of what we do. And while Mamet reminds us that this artform was saved by people who basically wanted to make a living at doing "not much", there IS a dignity to it.
I don't think he's seeking an overthrow of everything we hold dear. I think he's trying to teach us the absurdity of some of our actions by being absurd in his repsonses to it. "Stanislavski was a hack" is his call to action, not revolution.
Read this book. Enjoy it with a grain of salt. And claim the dignity to break the silly habits you've learned to take on. I have. And the five friends I've bought this book for haven't stopped thanking me for it.
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