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David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing

April 2, 2018

A well-written script with compelling characters on a worthwhile journey … it’s what all actors are looking for. Unfortunately, excellent scripts are not so easy to come by–nor are quality, challenging roles for that matter. If you’re an actor who is willing and able to venture into the realm of writing your own material, you may be interested in Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Mamet’s MasterClass. With an online course, he’s ready to let others in on his dramatic writing secrets, share his personal process, and discuss the best mindset to have when putting a pen to paper.

Mamet is a playwright, screenwriter, author, and director, but he takes on the role of an instructor with a 26-lesson plan delving into topics like mining your imagination and life experiences for story ideas; offering guidance for structuring plots; sharing insights as to what informs and motivates dialogue; shedding a light on how to recognize unnecessary narration; and revealing three things that every scene must contain. The class includes a downloadable workbook, lesson recaps, and supplemental materials. Students can also upload videos to receive feedback from the class. Mamet will critique select student work.

“How do you teach people about drama?” Mamet asks. “You cannot learn how to write drama without writing plays, putting it on in front of an audience, and getting humiliated,” he answers soberly. Indeed, Mamet started writing as a child and, for years, learned what does and does not work, but he offers his students hope, saying, “You’ve got to stand being bad if you want to be a writer. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to write anything good.”

Mamet is celebrated for writing Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, American Buffalo, Speed-the-Plow, and Wag the Dog. When it comes to writing, he says, “The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always, ‘What does the protagonist want?’ That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about the theme, it’s not about the ideas, it’s not about the setting, but what the protagonist wants.” And as far as dialogue is concerned, Mamet says, “People may or may not say what they mean … but they always say something designed to get what they want.” Mamet writes with a distinctive style of precisely crafted, street-smart dialogue which is referred to as “Mamet Speak”–featuring a lot of interruptions by others, manipulations, and sentences that trail off. And his dialogue is not only uniquely memorable but often quoted. Almost everyone’s heard his Glengarry Glen Ross quote: “Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers only.”

Students of his class are not only going to learn the craft of writing or catch his contagious appreciation for drama. They’re going to witness his devotion to his calling as a writer. Indeed, Mamet once said, “Having spent too many years in show business, the one thing I see that succeeds is persistence. It’s the person who just ain’t gonna go home. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to go home. This is what I’ll be doing until they put me in jail or in a coffin.”