Book Review: Up Late with True and False with David Mamet

As you may have seen in previous posts I’ve been focusing on teaching modern plays this year. So I was curious when I saw a copy of David Mamet’s True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. I began reading it out of curiosity, but found myself nodding along and reading passages aloud to my husband, really appreciating Mamet’s perspective. His basic argument is for simplicity, and forgetting the funny voices, reminding us acting requires two things: “immediacy and courage.”

This is a quick read with short chapters filled with valuable advice for acting students as well as teachers of plays and teachers of actors. I can think of a half dozen former students I would love to send a copy to, and I also have earmarked some quotes to use in class when I teach modern plays as well as Hamlet. In fact, there’s one passage I’m considering adding to my syllabus: “Choose something legitimately interesting to do and concentration is not a problem. Choose something less than interesting and concentration is impossible.”

Below are more nuggets of wisdom for your perusal:

  • “The greatest performances are seldom noticed.”
  • “Do not internalize the industrial model.”
  • “it will not help you onstage to know the history of Denmark.”
  • “What is true, what is false, what is, finally, important?
    It is not a sign of ignorance not to know the answers. But there is great merit in facing the questions.”
  • “The punchline is in the action. Think of it as a suitcase. How do you know what to put in the suitcase? The answer is, you pack for where you want to go.”
  • “What should happen in the rehearsal process? Two things:
    1.The play should be blocked.
    2. The actors should become acquainted with the actions they are going to perform.”
  • “The plane is designed to fly; the pilot is trained to direct it. Likewise, the play is designed, if correctly designed, as a series of incidents in which and through which the protagonist struggles toward his or her goal. It is the job of the actor to show up, and use the lines and his or her will and common sense, to attempt to achieve a goal similar to that of the progranoist, and that is the end of the actor’s job.”
  • “One can read all one wants, and spend eternities in front of a blackboard with a tutor, but one is not going to learn to swim until one gets in the water––at which point the only “theory” which is going to be useful is that which keeps one’s head up. Just so with acting.”


 Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with True and False with David Mamet

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