Practical aesthetics

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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.[1]


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 want 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, Rose Byrne, Jessica Alba, and Clark Gregg.

See also[edit]

  • 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.


  1. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (October 23, 1997). "A Dramatist's How-To Guide for the Stage-Struck". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2012.


  • Bruder, Melissa, et al. (1986). A Practical Handbook for the Actor. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-74412-8
  • Cohen, Robert (1978). Acting Power. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-87-484408-8
  • Cohen, Robert (2003). Acting Professionally: Raw Facts About Careers in Acting. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-256259-5
  • Mamet, David (1999). True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-77264-2

External links[edit]