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Arts & Entertainment

Purpose of Drama

David Mamet

Lesson time 12:22 min

Trying to understand drama? Look no further than everyday life. David teaches you how to recognize drama at its best—when it seeks to simply entertain, not teach.

David Mamet
Teaches Dramatic Writing
The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.
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The purpose of drama. That's a really, really good question. That's a really good question. There's an old-- I'm Jewish. My people have only been Jewish about 5,000-6,000 years, so we're kind of getting used to it. So there's an old joke about there's an international flight, and this terrorist breaks in with a submachine gun. And he says, OK, who's a Jew? And a little old guy at the back says, that's a really interesting question. So that's kind of how I feel about drama. I think the purpose of drama is to define the clan. And the reason I think this is I have been watching a lot of football games lately. And also my Chicago Cubs finally won after 108 years in the best ballgame anyone's ever seen. And I realized that what these sports rooting does is it defines the clan. Not just Green Bay versus Atlanta, but football fans. The fans get together. They get to scream at the referee. You evil swine, are you blind, blah, blah, blah. But they're united in their love of the rules. Because if there weren't any rules, the guy would just come out with brass knuckles and bang and get the ball over the-- So they're united, and that which unites the clan is the rules. Drama has rules. We're given a premise. The hero wants something, to find the cause of the plague on Thebes or to free the Jews or to establish civil rights or to fly the Atlantic. We get it. We're going to follow his or her journey until the end. And the end is going to be surprising and inevitable, just like in a great football game. The perfect game is the last game of the World Series. It comes down to the final three seconds, and then they have to call it off because the field's no good. Or the Green Bay's playing, and the guy kicks the final field goal. They have to call it back because it was a time out. That's the perfect-- our consciousness is freed We're relieved of the burden of our consciousness. So one way we've always done this is through getting into trouble. That's what human beings do. With the sex and drugs, booze, sports, and drama. So here's what happens. The end of the day, what do we human beings do? We gather around the campfire. That's what human beings always do at the end of the day. Today the campfire is called a computer or a television, whatever. We may not sit in the same place. But watching the young people today, while they're watching they're all talking to each other around the campfire. Did you see that? Drama goes back to the beginning of civilization around the campfire, where the tribe comes together and they say, my God, did you see what blah-blah did with that mountain lion today? And the other guy says, I'll tell you one better than that. When I was young-- and we tell stories that unite the tribe. We reinforce our tribal unity. We say, this is how we do things here. And w...

Write great drama

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Thoughtful, thought-provoking and with a great philosophy beneath it which is just walk through that door. Lessons are fine but doing is better.

Mr. Mamet is an excellent instructor. I am a novelist and was inspired by his teachings. Please thank him for sharing his expertise through Masterclass.

Very wise. I may watch this one a second time.

The message I needed most was cutting what needs to be cut to make the story better. I'm at a place in my own story where I need to do exactly that.



I have to say that the purpose of drama is a very personal experience. There is no 'absolute' preach about the role of drama in our society - And what I mean by that is, there is a book called ''The philosophy of masterpieces.'' where many famous philosophers study the purpose of art in our lives. Many of those philosophers don't think the same. What you want to do with your art is YOUR decision. What you want to see and what you want to bring to the world is your decision. That can be an echo to the tribe. Maybe a tribe doesn't want to go deep, but maybe there is another tribe that is in search of that deepness and is all in about self reflection. For me ART and CINEMA is not just an entertainment, it has a deeper purpose for humans. This is where you can draw a beautiful line between auteur cinema and industrial cinema. Hollywood is in 'the tribe' of entertainment and making money. It follows a recipe. There is actually a different recipes for every genre of movies. Now, is that really creating? Is that being a genius and a master in your art? The greatest artists of our world are the ones on took part of society, defies the statue quo and shattered the 'rules'. Go deeper. For me Cinema is sacred. It's an art. A true masterpiece, stays with you. The art of cinema is sacred it is not just an object to consume. You know what tribe you are..

Jacinta L.

I don't know how I feel about this. Maybe I need to understand Mamet's definition on the word "entertainment". The movies that I can still recall or have been profoundly touched by are the ones that did more than just entertain. I don't think the purpose of drama is to teach, but the ones I enjoy watching are those that have shown me something, about myself, and/or about the world.

Jared B.

I love this lesson. It's true that most films that push an overtly virtuous message or political scheme come off very cheap and middling at best. I think back to some of my favorite films in the past couple months, such as The Gentlemen, Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Magnolia. They aren't films that push anything on you, they simply are entertaining. Surprising, but inevitable.

A fellow student

I really liked his emphasis on drama to entertain, not to teach, preach or inform. I am used to writing nonfiction, and find myself trapped in reality and real-world expectations/limitations. I am excited to delve into drama through Mamet's lens because I feel like in focusing on entertainment, I'll free myself of reality a bit and of my tendency to always be teaching a lesson in what I write. This is boring, I've realized, and you'll lose readers/audiences.

Robb G.

He hit it on the head, a big part of entertaining someone in storytelling is to sell them snake oil. Make something up! The weirder and more fantastically impossible it is, the better it is.

Myriam B.

This class really got my attention when David started talking about how drama is not about cautionary tales and instruction and trying to reform or put forward moral or social causes. YES. Thank you. This is what has been bugging me for so long about recent TV and movies but I've not been able to put my finger on it. I do not want to pay money to get into a cinema so that someone can tell me how I should be thinking about the world and society. Political correctness has really pervaded drama during the last 20 years and it just makes for boring stuff.

Beth P.

I'm having a hard time figuring out how this relates to writing, drama or teaching.

Dale U.

Second lesson and I'm loving this. Mamet's teaching style is very engaging and entertaining and is already delivering insight into writing that goes beyond just books.

Ivette D.

I love this lesson. It is damn simple. We always want to make things happen to teach or should I say I do... AND I feel relieved of the burden - only because I inadvertently learn something when I watch a play or drama doesn't mean that I have to come from that place as a writer. THANK YOU Mamet!

Kelli W.

I enjoyed the simplicity of the concept, pure entertainment. It is very difficult to unpack one's thoughts and stay the course of entertainment.