Practical Aesthetics is an acting technique originally conceived by David Mamet and William H. Macy, based on the teachings of Stanislavsky, Sanford Meisner, and the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. An in-depth description of the technique may be found in A Practical Handbook for the Actor and is also addressed in David Mamet's True and False. Practical Aesthetics is taught by the Atlantic Theater Company's acting school in New York City. The Atlantic Acting School also offers classes in Los Angeles. Other schools offering Practical Aesthetics includes PAA – Practical Aesthetics Australia and ACS – Acting Coach Scotland.
Practical Aesthetics is based on the practice of breaking down a scene using a four-step analysis that entails the following:
1) The "Literal": The essential and most basic description of what is taking place.
2) The "Want": What does one character ultimately wants the other character to say or do.
3) The "Essential Action": An evocative and relevant description of what the actor wants within the scene. It is essential to understand that what the character is doing and what the actor is doing are separate.
4) The "As If": This relates the "essential action" to the actor's own life.
For example: "Essential Action" – To retrieve what is rightfully mine. "As If" – It's as if my girlfriend has taken away my favorite album that I was going to give as a gift. I need to retrieve it because it is mine.
This step is a memory device, a spark to involve the actor in the scene. It helps the actor escape the fiction, find the truth, and apply it elsewhere.
This technique is aimed at making the experience of acting entirely based on the will of the actor. It is in response to "The Method, " which some believe uses more introverted and self-based practices. The Practical Aesthetic asks an actor only to commit his will to the pursuit of an action based on the other actor.
Famous practitioners of Practical Aesthetics include: William H Macy, Felicity Huffman, Scott Parker, Christopher Carley, Rose Byrne, Jessica Alba, Camryn Manheim, Clark Gregg, Kristen Johnston and Eddie Cahill.
- GOTE: This acronym (Goal, Obstacle, Tactics, and Expectation) was devised by Robert Cohen to remind his students of his acting "method" – a method often linked with practical aesthetics.
- Bruder, Melissa (1986). A Practical Handbook for the Actor. Vintage. ISBN 0-394-74412-8
- Cohen, Robert (1984). Acting Power. McGraw-Hill.
- Cohen, Robert (2003). Acting Professionally: Raw Facts About Careers in Acting. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages Edition: 6, Paperback. ISBN 0-07-256259-5
- Mamet, David (1999). True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. Vintage. ISBN 0-679-77264-2