I love books. I have about £10,000 worth of them. I’m starting my own library. I love acting books, or I should say that I loved acting books. That’s until I read David Mamet’s True and False in 1998. I first read it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was livid. It made me so mad, the stuff he said. It contradicted everything I’d ever learned about acting, he insulted my hero Stanislavski and suggested that acting wasn’t the complex inner emotional tripe I’d thought it was. I put the book away for the summer, heretic!
When I came back from the Festival, I drove everyone mad. I kept my girlfriend up one night arguing and arguing that an actor doesn’t need belief. (An argument I’ve had on this blog recently too!) I didn’t really know what I was talking about but as my career in the theatre progressed from actor to director, director to lecturer, lecturer to acting coach, it made more and more sense.
On the way, I stopped off in New York and trained in the approach Mamet was suggesting. It made more and more sense, it created more and more tangible results and without the tedious wank that I’d been subjected to as a drama student for many years.
Since then I haven’t been able to enjoy many books on acting. The trouble is that I read something and it no longer sounds like practicable advice – it sounds like nonsense, it sounds like somewhere along the way someone went wrong, and (yes horror of horrors) I think that person was Stanislavski: my hero still. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be lauded. I’m still a huge fan and have huge respect for his work BUT, I think he took a wrong turn. For me, Practical Aesthetics puts acting back on the right track.
I used to love acting books, but now I feel like I’ve had my eyes opened. I’ve been blessed and cursed at the same time.
Mark Westbrook is an acting coach based in Glasgow, Scotland.