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25 Books on Acting That Every Actor Must Read and Why
An Academic Route Towards Academy Awards
Whether you are just entering your career as a working actor or are a master possessing vast acting knowledge, your performance can always be improved with additional learning. These suggested books on acting are for aspiring actors from great actors, detailing the best techniques, acting classes, and questions to ask if you are just starting out. They act as a great supplement for acting classes or purely for personal enrichment.
Whether a film or voice actor, certain methods are tried and true; below, I will list several of the best acting books to study as you embark on your journey to enriching your acting career. Armed with guiding practices and in-depth theory, your next performance, whether in front of an audience or a screen, is sure to be great!
1. "Respect for Acting" by Uta Hagen
Aspiring actors should first pay their respect to the craft, through the 1978 textbook "Respect for Acting" by Uta Hagen. Hagen's technique is to base the student on thoroughly observing daily life. Arguably the best practices are from acting books written by other actors, and this actor and teacher is no exception.
Leading the reader through different common issues, Uta Hagen poses problems for her students to solve. For example, she asks, "How do I talk to the audience?" and "How do I stay fresh in the long run?" The five main lessons of miss Hagen's credo are substitution, transference, specificity, authenticity, and preparation. These exercises center on observing human behavior, performance with certain enhancing props, and exercising rehearsal to the point of fluency.
2. "Audition" by Michael Shurtleff
Before the great role comes the greater audition. Michael Shurtleff's "Audition" can help new actors overcome fear and begin to master this art. An actor and former casting director, Shurtleff's acting technique centers on a 12-step guide to self promotion.
He asks practical questions to help his amateur actors prepare for their auditions as well as callbacks. In simplest terms, the casting director lists methods relating to building relationships, managing conflict, harnessing personal histories, using the humor and irony of life, investigating opposites, competition, new discoveries, the importance of today, finding one's place, game-playing, and retaining a sense of mystery.
Additionally, prompting questions and key action words include "Where is love present in this scene?" and "What is your emotional attachment to this place?" when analyzing a scene. Through harnessing dedicated self marketing, this invaluable advice helps actors get their feet in the first and most important door: that of their casting directors.
3. "An Actor Prepares" by Constantin Stanislavski
An old and established read, Constantin Stanislavski's book "An Actor Prepares" is sure to help you do just that. A famed student of theater, Stanislavski's methods involve documenting the experiences of an acting group while they learn with an acting teacher.
This fascinating and detailed book helps pupils master their craft through creative inspiration, this practice was the start of what is now called "method acting." This guide is chock-full of helpful exercises that focus on periods of relaxation and intense concentration.
Using practices of physicalization and sensory work, the student can unlock innovative creativity through what might first seem like rudimentary exercises. This humorous and highly imaginative manual lays a framework for many great acting practices to come.
4. "Improvisation for the Theatre" by Viola Spolin
A great actor uses their great voice and personal creativity, especially when they aren't told what to say. That's where "Improvisation for the Theatre" by Viola Spolin comes in to help. Whether is comes from embellished script analysis or thinking on your toes during a performance, exercising improvisation to delivering creative and polished scenes.
Drawing on the actor's personal experimentation and creativity, this work is a mainstay of today's comedy practice as well as a staple to contemporary American plays. Spolin's practice is based on acting exercises and theatre games that help the actor to begin acting without inhibitions to create spontaneous and effective improvisations. This book will ground you and keep you present in your practice.
5."On Acting" by Stanford Meisner
Stanford Meisner's "On Acting" is considered a masterclass of professional techniques for actors. This seminal work is regarded as a classic by professionals for its pursuit of honesty. Measure's study involves creating a space of authenticity within the made-believe realm of acting.
These practice are guided by a belief that a great performance first comes from a will to live truthfully. Meisner documents the practices of several of the students studying under him, encapsulating his practice with the quote, "Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances." Eventually, under this training, a scene comprised of imaginary circumstances could become indistinguishable from reality. Your authenticity is what will best cultivate affecting and polished scenes that connect personally with your audience.
6. "Acting as a Business" by Brian O'Neil
Whether you see yourself in the businesses of theater, or movie making, actors must know how to maneuver their business with poise. Acting as a Business by Brian O'Neil is a study on how to self-promote as an aspiring actor. Now with a revision, O'Neil's newest edition of the successful first book of the same name updates his modern acting practices with internet-savvy tips.
This guidebook, written by the former talent agent, provides insight into the business behind acting and the entertainment industry as a whole. He hinges his book on the belief that actors can be persistent, efficient, and effective when promoting their skills. Practical skills include tips on writing a cover letter, creating a stellar resume, securing an agent, and mastering the landscape of different acting scenes in different cities and cultural hubs.
7. The Actor's Art and Craft by William Esper & Damon DiMarco
In this guide William Esper's teachings expands upon the findings of Sanford Meisner, to unlock one's creative acting potential. Esper builds on existing exercises to construct his plan of exercises. His comprehensive plan seeks to build foundational acting skills, but is fluid enough to be applied to any skill-level.
Generally, the lessons lead actors not to be confined by stuffy guidelines. Rather, they encourage freedom to create characters with honesty and with complex inner lives.
Esper is assisted by his former student, and co-writer, Damon DiMarco. He imagines the experience of teaching first-year students Esper's methods. This journey sees how the exercises would theoretically progress over time, against a fictional class.
8. The Actors Guide to Creating a Character by William Esper and Damon DiMarco
This second book from Esper and DiMarco builds on the foundational practices set in their previous book, The Actor's Art and Craft.
This book follows Esper's second-year course, posed against another, fictional class. Esper again leans on Sanford Meisner's practices. Again, his flexible exercises can be applied to any skill-level of actor.
9. Classically Speaking - Dialects for Actors by Patricia Fletcher
Classically Speaking is a detailed manual into learning Neutral American Speech. This Neutral American speech study involves demonstrating different rhythms, pauses, stresses and other inflections. These lessons are accompanied by audio track sound checks, to ensure the student has the correct pronunciation.
Some speaking styles covered include Classical American, Mid-Atlantic, and Standard British dialects. Speaking styles are accompanied by vocal exercises and practice monologues. A textbook with downloadable audio and e-book are also available.
10. The Unlimited Actor By Nancy Mayans
This step-by-step study is a foundational guide in acting. The Unlimited Actor prepares actors to harness physical, emotional, and mental capabilities. Confidence boosting and character embodiment exercises are sure to enrich your skills.
11. Improv and the Actors Imagination by Robert Z. Grant
Robert Z Grant taps into decades of research as a professional actor to inform this course on improvisational acting. His lessons are set against exercises, games, and practice monologues. These exercises encourage participants to follow their instincts and lean into their imaginations when they act.
12. Shakespeare, Shamans, and Show Biz: An Impolite Guide to Theater History by David Kaplan
In order to become a better theater-maker, it helps to first be informed by the context of theater history. In this imaginative book, Shakespeare, Shamans and Show Biz sees theatre as a shaman's vision, a societal critique and story.
13. The Intent to Live: Achieving Your True Potential as an Actor by Larry Moss
Have you ever wanted to have the illustrious career of Leonardo Dicaprio? Or to possess the emotive depth of Hilary Swank? A good place to start might be to learn from the their teacher: Larry Moss. As an actor and director of countless productions, the benefits of Larry Moss's guidance are invaluable new students.
The Intent to Live serves as a it's own class, teaching students how to infuse character performances with honesty and authenticity. Foundational studies in physicalization and sensory methods are complete with case studies and practice lessons. The book includes exercises from in-depth script analysis to conjuring emotion-on-demand, allowing actors to nail the various situations they might encounter.
Whether you see yourself as a film star, a theatre thespian, or a general lover of the dramatic arts, Moss's book is sure to heighten the imagination, emotions and innovation you bring to a scene.
14. The Art of Acting by Stella Adler
Stella Adler is arguably one of the most influential forces in American Acting. Actors from Robert De Niro to Warren Beatty have credited her guidance. Alder was born in 1901 and studied and with "emotional memories" actor Konstantin Stanislavski before helping found the Group Theater. Her classes went on to rival with Lee Strausberg's, emphasizing focus on personal imagination rather than recollecting emotions from memories.
Adler passed away in 1992 leaving a great impact on the acting world in her path. However, she never published a book of her findings, and this is where The Art of Acting comes in. Meticulously crafted from documentation of Alder's classes, this book accurately depicts the experience of taking a live course under Stella Adler. Here, editor David Merrick derives twenty two lessons from recordings, notes and other documents created by the late teacher.
Lessons include thorough text analysis, monologue readings and other practical exercises. For actors looking to lead their performances with heart, and expand the limits of their creativity onstage, this is the guide for you.
15. Strasberg's Method as Taught By Lorrie Hull: A Practical Guide for Actors, Teachers and Directors
If you are looking for a guide into method acting, you should first look to Lee Strasberg, the "Father of Method Acting in America." Strasberg has directly impacted the styles of classic film stars such as James Dean and Dustin Hoffman. Through his work at the Lee Strasberg Film Institute and the Actors Studio, his teachings have also informed the modern generation. Actors such as Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie and Jack Nicholson also utilize his style of method acting.
Strasberg's technique involves actors pushing beyond the imaginative constraints of "emotional memory" acting, instead inviting them to briefly become the characters they portray through "substitution". This practice dictates that actors need to immerse themselves in the natural environments of their characters, sometimes for prolonged periods. Because actors sometimes live in unfamiliar environments, or might push themselves to mental and physical limits, this practice has garnered some controversy.
However, this book is the ideal introduction to this practice. It safely details Starsberg's teachings in a comprehensible way. It reads easily, with practical and understandable exercises. Hull delicately and expertly guides the way for actors to begin to fully embody their characters.
16. To The Actor: On the Technique of Acting by Michael Checkhov
Many years of theatrical experimentation are consolidated into this book. Michael Checkhov focuses his study on the unconscious creative self, attempting to create an internal richness and experimental hunger within actors. His classic students include Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood, while modern students include Johnny Depp and Anthony Hopkins.
The Russian actor's teachings involve training emotions, being present and mindful in a space, and developing rich characters through different psycho-physical exercises. This book will help strengthen both an actor's mind and body.
17. Actions: The Actors' Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone
Amateurs and masters alike can benefit from the vocabulary lesson of Marina Caldarone's Thesaurus. Knowledge of these "action words: will help elevate training by bringing more literacy to any performance. The author specifically recommends this book for musical theatre performers, actors practicing audition speeches, for those looking to enliven a dry script, or for those who want to enhance a scene they perform often and want to portray in a new, exciting way.
18. The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbuck
A coach who has taught the likes of Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Halle Berry, Ivana Chubbuck has helped launch some of the most successful careers in Hollywood. This Los Angeles Times bestseller gives readers an inside scoop into her effective exercises that help enrich performances.
The Power of the Actor introduces a twelve-part acting technique drawing upon deep introspecting. The lessons cover audition preparation, script analysis and creating complex characters. Chubbuck draws upon the teachings of Stanislavski, Meisner and Hagen, and uses them as a jumping off point. From there, she informs her practice on the idea that actors must use pain to drive a performance forward, rather than sit in that pain. Chubbuck thoroughly dissects classic and contemporary scripts to maximize understanding, while drawing on real-life situations and anecdotes. Whether you are working to create genuine characters, to comprehend scripts, or audition better, this book can help.
19.The Actor and The Target by Declan Donnellan
Declan Donnellan is an actor and entrepreneur with expansive dramatic arts knowledge. His theatre company has staged multiple productions in hundreds of cities. He has knowledge of ever aspect of drama, including acting, directing and theatre techniques. The Actor and Target pinpoints some of his findings on method acting.
A few topics covered in The Actor and Target, include mask work and spacial awareness lessons. However the guiding principle is the concept of the "Target." This is a specific focus point that actors direct and guide their performances towards. It poses that even though an actor may be doing the "invisible" work of rehearsing, they should always be ready to perform for the ever-present and watchful eye of the "Target." Specific and strict, Donnellan's technique is for those looking to dive head-first or expand upon their existing knowledge of method acting.
20. Freeing The Natural Voice by Kristen Linklater
Kristen Linklater's 1976 book details techniques for effective vocal expression. Specifically, she teaches students to harness the body and voice as a single, cohesive acting "instrument." Whether involved in a everyday communication or a scene from theatre, this book will help enhance any performance of vocal expression.
The guiding objective of the book is to remove the physical and psychological barriers that restrain vocal capabilities. It also emphasizes the use of imagination to help develop personal voice. It describes vocal mechanics and overcoming obstacles that hinder effective vocal expression. This book covers all vocal bases, beginning with vocal expansion exercises and ending in a guide to in-depth, textual interpretation.
21. A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Bruder and Others
Despite the best intentions, acting books can sometimes bridge on being ambiguous or lacking clear objectives. A Practical Handbook is not plagued by this effect. The authors state that an actor's job is to "find a way to live truthfully under the imaginary circumstances of the play." They ensure this book is a good place to search for that truth.
Written by several professional actors, playwrights and directors, the authors use their conservatory to training to create a clear cut and concise manual. Sections include "Analyzing a Scene", "Physical Action", and "Troubleshooting."
22. The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer
With humor and honesty, Jenna Fischer details the road to acting success in The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide. She chronicles her career, from moving to Los Angeles at 22 to eventually finding success after many significant (and hilarious!) setbacks, and what can help along the way. Fischer details how to network, nail an audition, and look for an agent the right way while blending comical anecdotes with practical tips. Drawing on her experiences from years of struggle, she charitably advises on everything from headshots to callbacks.
23. A Challenge For the Actor by Uta Hagen
A Challenge For the Actor is a bare-bones, straightforward guide to introspecting as an actor. She poses much of her book on nine simple, essential questions. She implores curiosity about the character being portrayed. For instance, she poses to ask, "Who am I?" "What are my given circumstances?" "What are my relationships?" Following is a lesson in how to properly find and explore the answers to each of the nine questions. Covering physical, emotional, and spacial exercises, this book is a helpful foundational study book.
24. A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
A riveting memoir, Bryan Cranston a details his long-running career, from child-acting to career making performances. Starting from his first gig at seven in a United Way commercial, Cranston seems meant to be an actor. However he also details his dissolution with the craft before returning to acting after a career in law-enforcement. Cranston's memoir is funny, raw and deep, proving that the trajectory of an actor's career doesn't have to be strictly linear.
25. Self-Management For Actors: Getting Down to (show) Business by Bonnie Gillespie
While finding representation can be important aspect of finding the best work, here is the second best option. Self-Management For Actors will help actors become their own managers, allowing them to discover the business-side of acting for themselves. Straightforward and comprehensive, this 4th edition covers all avenues of managing a career, including mastering one's acting market, and working in acting hubs like Los Angeles.
Whether you've been an actor for 10 minutes, or you are Robert de Niro, constant improvement is the secret to a long career. Armed with these acting books, you can now be more prepared to either delve deeper into the world of acting or take your first, more confident step! Whether you are experienced or a novice, these manuals will help you navigate the world of acting as a professional performer.
As you follow the journeys of like-minded actors through their education, you may also feel that you have a personal acting coach at your disposal. By providing you with insights into your craft using innovative methods, you can emerge as a more versatile artist. Building a solid knowledge of practical tips will also help you nail that next (or first!) headshot, cover letters, auditions, and eventually career making performances!