Wednesday, June 5, 2013

#QuoteOfTheMoment: David Mamet on Criticism

So, I was looking through some old stuff from school, when I came upon a printout of an excerpt from David Mamet's A Whore's Profession.  I don't even remember which class this was for -- most likely an acting class I'd taken some time during my last year.  The excerpt had some of Mamet's thoughts on acting, which are quite interesting, but what really caught my eye was a section I hadn't noticed before, of his address to the American Theater Critics Convention.  Having never been a big Mamet fan myself, I was surprised at how much I agreed with some of his points.

If you've read this blog from the beginning, you'll know that I've struggled in the past with not just maintaining a steady stream of output in terms of work, but also struggled with figuring out my place in the theater.  I've always loved to write, and having this blog made me realize how much I also loved to write about theater.  But I also grew up as a performer, and I've come to miss that, too.  As I've grown older, I've come to realize that it doesn't have to be either-or; that doing all of it and not just one aspect can only help better inform me, as a writer and as a performer.

And that's another thing -- learning.  As someone who didn't study theater as their major, who didn't go to an arts school or conservatory program, I've always felt an eager hunger to learn more, and even as a recent graduate, have found myself still learning.  Which is why, I guess, coming across Mamet's words the other day struck a chord in me.  There's so much I still have yet to learn about the theater, and that's what excites me about this particular 'calling,' so to speak -- the work is never done, even as the curtains close.  It's such a rich and layered art form, and I'm constantly reminding myself that it is for these very reasons I decided, 6 years ago, to call this community my home.

With that in mind, here are Mamet's words, for those like me still figuring out their place in the theater:
 If you do not learn your craft, the Theater, and its moral and practical precepts, if you do not make this your constant study, if you do not learn to judge yourselves against a standard of artistic perfection and amend your works day to day in light of that standard, you must be unhappy. 
Just as with the performer, if you trust outside plaudits and support for your own work, you are being controlled.  Your life is not your own.  Just as is evidenced in that sick moment when you have a deadline to make and not a thing in the world to say, and you think not what must I say about that piece, but what would be acceptable, or witty, or nouveau.  
Many of you, as with performers, treat the theater as your personal beat -- your personal amusement and nothing greater than a shooting mark which will enable you to display your expertise.
 My question to you is this:  Would you not be happier as part of the theater?   
If your answer (and it may be hidden in your secret heart) is yes, then treat the theater with love.  We, as members of the community, have the right to demand this of an actor, or director, or writer, or designer, and we have the right to demand it of a critic, for, barring this, the critic in question is not of the theater, but is an exploiter, no matter what title he or she goes by. 
Treat the theater with love and devotion sufficient to learn some of its rudimentary fiats.
 Learn your craft and be part of the theater, for, while you are learning and striving to write better and to write more informedly and to write more in light of a standard of artistic perfection, you are as much a part of the theater as anyone else in it -- now or in antiquity; and while you are not striving to improve and to write informedly and morally and to a purpose, you are a hack and a plaything of your advertisers.
Study acting; it is a fascinating study.  If you are uneducated in its techniques, you are incapable of distinguishing good from bad -- unless you are prepared to fall back on that old saw, 'I know what I like,' or, 'I write for the popular taste of my subscribers,' which is to say, 'for a hypothetical person dumber than I am'; and if that is what you are doing, you are in serious trouble and insulting yourself and the people who read your publication. 
And I say to you: write for yourself, and be and artist. 
Study theater history.  Teach yourself some perspective, so that you are not at the mercy of the current fad, which is another levy of 'I know what I like.'
 Study voice and movement -- learn the difference between the beautiful and the attractive. 
Learn to analyze a script the way a director should and almost none can. 
Make yourself the expert, and let us lay to rest the critic as weather vane and reporter to the public taste, which is  only a fiction in the minds of knaves.
Study the theater.  Your friends will tell you you are making yourself foolish -- that you are wasting your time and no one will appreciate the finer points in any case.  And this is exactly what bad actors say to devoted actors. 
Love the theater and learn about it and strive to improve it and create a new profession for yourselves.  The profession of the 'theater critic' is debauched, but you don't have to be debauched. 
Train yourself for a profession that does not exist.  That is the mark of an artist -- to create something which formerly existed only in his or her heart.


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