In this excerpt of his book “True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor” David Mamet is discussing the importance of habitual behavior in relation to success in theatre and our daily lives.
In my opinion, he does this in a very mechanical kind of way, matching certain places (e.g. “rehearsal”, “home” and “the stage”) with certain activities (e.g. “work”, “reflection” and “action”). This might work as a technique of creating places of concentration and inspiration for some people, but will definitely not work for everyone; therefore Mamet shouldn’t be stating it as a generally applicable formula for successful acting and theatre.
Another deficiency of his theory is that he solely takes into account the technical part of theatre, giving immense importance to qualities such as bounteous punctuality and knowing your lines by heart. I do believe in the importance of these practices, seeing as they support the development of meaningful theatre, but by no means are they responsible for its creation. Being on time and knowing your lines will create space and time for you to settle in, calm down, concentrate and forget the troubles of your private life. Being structured and organized will enable you to be genuine and emotional on stage.
These character traits create room for the truly important aspects of theatre and thereby characterize a responsible actor. It will simplify and facilitate the procedure of rehearsal, saving time and making the process more efficient. However, an individual that has no talent and passion for acting, won’t develop into a ‘good’ actor merely by being early for rehearsal and knowing all of his lines perfectly. The reason why these traits are relevant to me is because they emphasize the role of an actor not only as an individual but also as a member of an ensemble. Knowing your lines and being on time demonstrates professionalism and respect towards your colleagues.
Mamet mentions the importance of habits that are more spiritual though as well, such as cultivating a “love of skill” or “the habit of mutuality” or “the habit of truth” in one self. Depending on your definition of theatre, cultivating these habits can affect your theatre positively. This applies when your goal of producing theatre is to improve conditions in the world in a greater sense and wanting your audience to leave your production with a positive feeling or determination to change/improve conditions they live in.
Another thing Mamet discusses in this excerpt is the role of an actor to society, his true occupation being that of a philosopher and his task being telling the truth – even in “the moment when the audience would rather not hear it”. This supports my view of theatre, which is that theatre should be having an educating and awakening effect on its audience – on society.