Best Acting Books to Enlighten the Actor in YOU
Acting is considered to be a noble pursuit. The role of an actor is to communicate, and consequently, educate. It is a beautiful experience to put yourself in the role of any character and empathizing with it. As performers and artists, it is essential to continue to study and enhance your skill set. Reading books about acting is an excellent way to nurture your abilities.
They can help you learn a myriad of skills, including acting technique, auditioning, and self-marketing, all the things that are important to any actor. Moreover, with books, you can learn the material on your own time and at your convenience. Thanks to the audio book, you no longer need to spend your day leafing through a book. With the right headphones you can even get your reading done while you engage in other activities.
There are hundreds of books available in the market about acting. However, it is not possible to read or go through them all. So, if you had to choose which ones you should read?
To make a choice more comfortable for you, I have compiled a list of ten of the best acting books available in the market. These are the books that are a must-read for any actor, whether they are seasoned professionals or novices.
Table of Contents
- REVIEW OF BEST ACTING BOOKS
- 1. AUDITION: EVERYTHING AN ACTOR NEEDS TO KNOW TO GET THE PART (MICHAEL SHURLEFF)
- 2. SANFORD MEISNER ON ACTING ( SANFORD MEISNER)
- 3. ACTIONS: THE ACTORS' THESAURUS (MARINA CALDERONE)
- 4. AN ACTOR PREPARES (CONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKI)
- 5. RESPECT FOR ACTING (UTA HAGEN)
- 6. STELLA ADLER: THE ART OF ACTING (HOWARD KISSEL)
- 7. THE ACTOR'S ART AND CRAFT: WILLIAM ESPER TEACHES THE MEISNER TECHNIQUE
- 8. IMPROVISATION FOR THE THEATER A HANDBOOK OF TEACHING AND DIRECTING TECHNIQUES (VIOLA SPOLIN)
- 9. TO THE ACTOR: ON THE TECHNIQUE OF ACTING (MICHAEL CHEKHOV)
- 10. STRASBERG'S METHOD AS TAUGHT BY LORRIE HULL
REVIEW OF BEST ACTING BOOKS
1. AUDITION: EVERYTHING AN ACTOR NEEDS TO KNOW TO GET THE PART (MICHAEL SHURLEFF)
Many talented actors don’t get hired, and it’s merely because of one poor audition. It frequently happens in theater as well as in films. This book talks about everything that an actor needs to know to get any role- What to do the moment before, how to use humor, create mystery, develop an intuitive style, how to evaluate the setting, the relationships, and the competition.
The book explains to the reader all the possible situations and predicaments an actor might have to face while auditioning. More importantly, it describes how you can deal with them. It emphasizes the fact that all the training in the world will be of no use if the actor can’t convince the auditors that he can perform the role.
It talks about the twelve guideposts to help an actor use himself well while giving an audition. Ironically, these guideposts are useful in the audition process and for performing in life as well. These guideposts do not deny any of the actor’s previous training; instead, they can help the actor to apply the training to excel at the audition. And they also advise on how to work on and perform the part once the actor gets it.
The information provided in the book is timeless. It is the book to get if you are searching for a book to learn all the in's and out's of auditioning for acting roles. It is perfect and one of the best acting books for aspiring actors who are looking for more information on auditioning. I highly recommend this best acting books for you.
2. SANFORD MEISNER ON ACTING ( SANFORD MEISNER)
The author of this book- Sanford Meisner- was one of the best acting books known by all, and beloved teachers of acting in the country.
This book follows a class of eight men and eight women for 15 months, beginning with the most basic exercises and ending with polished scenes from contemporary American plays. It is written in collaboration with Dennis Longwell, and makes an essential reading for beginners as well as professional actors.
Turning away from the sense-memory exercises (that were common among his colleagues), his teaching focused on a realistic approach to imagination and creativity. Meisner shows little tolerance for self-absorption or striving after a strong emotional effect. Instead, he emphasizes that clarity of purpose and efficient use of the psyche are the actor’s most excellent tools.
Throughout the book, Meisner always empathizes with his students and urges them onward, provoking emotion, laughter, and growing technical mastery from his charges. It is insightful for anyone who wants to act or simply appreciate what acting involves.
Overall, the book is very well- written and understandable, even to a novice actor. Meisner indeed shows his ability to teach and inspire. It is one of the best acting books for every actor.
3. ACTIONS: THE ACTORS' THESAURUS (MARINA CALDERONE)
This book by Marina Calderone can be regarded as a treasure chest for actors to help them develop their creative process. It emphasizes on a widely used rehearsal and performance technique- called Action-ing.
The technique encourages the actor to heighten his or her spontaneity and discourages them from monotonously and automatically replicating a tone. It keeps the actors‘ at the moment’. It enforces a specificity that can enhance the actor’s performance and ensure each moment naturally leading on to the next.
It talks about how concentrating on this technique can be many actors’ way of combining all elements of the character. It allows actors to access their emotions more freely and maintain the essential creative state.
Although the theory discussed in this book has been laid down before, this is the first time a thesaurus has been compiled specifically to facilitate the actors’ work and support this theory.
It also focuses on developing self-confidence to refine their choices continuously. The book is mainly for actors – both professionals and beginners, and those with training or without. It can also be useful for music theater performers or for those who have been performing a play for months and need to reinvent their performance. It can also be used by academic students of drama to deconstruct a script.
4. AN ACTOR PREPARES (CONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKI)
This book is one of the best acting books and the ground-breaking texts by Constantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor and theater practitioner. He was responsible for the naturalistic “method” acting technique.
It is written like a fictional story, from the perspective of a young actor undergoing acting training. It means that the reader can place the relevance of each idea and theory into practical narratives. These narratives can even be an analogy to our personal lives.
As these students are learning through rehearsal, you too, are learning through rehearsal. The story of the characters in the book acts as a parallel or a guideline to the reader’s journey.
The book talks about what is indeed required of an actor, in terms of their experience, and how to express the character by using both technique and allowing instincts to flow freely. It talks about the relationship between the conscious and the sub-conscious when creating a character.
Learning to release the subconscious mind while controlling the conscious is a daunting yet amazing prospect as an actor. The book treats acting with reverence and passion. It acknowledges the fact that some things are out of an actor’s hands.
Stanislavsky analyses the complexities of acting “simple” activities thoroughly. He points to classic plays such as Chekhov’s Ivanov and Sophocles’ Oedipus to show the need for emotion memory.
The book is a classic and provides in-depth, detailed, thoughtful and passionate ideas regarding the art of acting. Instead of just being told the views and the techniques as in a typical guidebook or lecture-style text, his ideas come to life and can be easily translated into the experience of actors everywhere.
5. RESPECT FOR ACTING (UTA HAGEN)
Uta Hagen was a legendary actress and teacher who knew that an actor’s most beautiful work was achieved for love rather than for money. This is one of the best acting books as her Respect for Acting is depicted as blueprint for actors and her design for ‘enlightened stage acting’.
This book has helped scores of actors hone their skills, and the advice in the book is as useful now as it was when it was first came. She draws on her struggle with the techniques of acting and her decades of experience to analyse the areas in which actors can work and search for realities in themselves. This approach allows the actors to be specific in their actions to make an artistic statement.
Hagen’s instructions and examples also guide aspiring actors through practical problems like – “How do I talk to the audience?” and “How do I stay fresh in the long run?”
The book deals with the actor’s concept with himself of herself, and the techniques that set an actor apart physically, verbally and emotionally. It offers specific and detailed work for the actor that covers a wide variety of problems and circumstances.
It also focuses on how to approach the play and identify with the character that the actor will undertake. Additionally, it shares practical thoughts and answers the questions most asked by young actors.
The author’s influence endures in many of today’s most impact stage and screen performances. Needless to say, the book is informative, inspiring and offers some timeless advice to young actors.
6. STELLA ADLER: THE ART OF ACTING (HOWARD KISSEL)
Stella Adler was one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. She was a teacher of acting, and over her long career, she offered her vast acting knowledge to generations of actors.
This book brilliantly encapsulates her decades of experience and teaching in 22 lessons. The author – Howard Kissel – takes tapes, transcriptions, notebooks, and other sources to reconstruct an acting course.
The lessons graduate from the fundamental matters to complex issues of textual analysis and decorum. Though mostly monologues, these lessons include enough exercises and student responses to capture the flavor of Adler’s classes.
This book is especially useful for those preparing for a career in theater and stage performances. Those interested in theater will appreciate Adler’s discussion on modern plays and her belief that acting is a rare and privileged profession. Young actors will benefit from the numerous acting exercises that are sprinkled through the text.
7. THE ACTOR'S ART AND CRAFT: WILLIAM ESPER TEACHES THE MEISNER TECHNIQUE
William Esper, one of the leading teachers of acting, explains and extends Sanford Meisner’s traditional technique. The book offers a clear, concrete and step – by – step method to becoming a creative actor.
Esper worked closely with Meisner for seventeen years and has spent decades formulating this popular program for actor’s training. The result is a rigorous set of exercises that builds a solid foundation of acting skills from the ground up.
It is flexible enough to be applied to any challenge an actor faces, from soap operas to Shakespeare. It is presented as a series of acting classes, with contrived drawn-out examples based on actual events that have occurred in Esper’s courses over his career.
Since Esper was himself a student of Meisner, this book is a detailed exposition of the work of Sanford Meisner and his method. It encourages actors to be truthful in an artificial setting.
The co-writer, Damon Dimarco was Esper’s former student. He spent over a year observing his mentor teaching first-year actioning students. This book recreates the experience for us, allowing us to see the progression of exercises and how they work in practice.
The book vividly demonstrates that proper training does not constrain or trap the actor’s instincts – instead, it frees them to create characters with truthful and compelling inner lives.
The book is beautifully written and is understandable even by non-actors or people who want to read and get a basic idea about action.
8. IMPROVISATION FOR THE THEATER A HANDBOOK OF TEACHING AND DIRECTING TECHNIQUES (VIOLA SPOLIN)
The author, Viola Spolin, was a drama supervisor and a renowned teacher of acting. In her book, she emphasizes on using the game structure as a basis for theater training.
This method is used to free the child and the so-called amateur from the mechanical and stilted stage behavior. Working primarily with children and neighborhood adults, she was also stimulated by the response of school audiences to her small troupe.
Using the uncomplicated guiding structure labelled Where, Who and What, actors were able to put the full range of spontaneity to work to create fresh material. Involved with the structure and concentrating upon solving a different problem in each exercise, they gradually shed their mechanical behaviorism.
They entered onto the stage freely and naturally, skilled in improvisation techniques and prepared to act demanding roles in written plays.
This book deals with the theory and foundations of teaching and directing theater. It focuses on the outline of workshop exercises. It also presents special comments on children in the theater and directing the formal play for the community theater.
The book is equally useful for professionals, lay actors, and children. It offers a detailed workshop program for schools and community centers and provides insights into the actors’ problems and techniques for solving them. It brings an awareness of the inherent difficulties to the aspiring actor or director.
9. TO THE ACTOR: ON THE TECHNIQUE OF ACTING (MICHAEL CHEKHOV)
Michael Chekhov was an actor, director and a teacher who was determined to develop a clear and accessible acting approach. This book examines the significant points of his training. It considers why and where his techniques are experiencing growth in our contemporary performance environment.
After studying with the great acting teacher Constantine Stanislavski for several years, he concluded that many elements of the Stanislavski method of creating a role were potentially dangerous and unnecessary. Both the men were continually searching for new and improved ways to develop or direct a part.
Chekhov began to design his approach that placed a significant emphasis on imagination and movement. He developed the ‘psychological gesture’ which is a physical movement or gesture which captures the total essence of a character. He also studied with spiritualist Rudolph Steiner. By combining his ideas with Steiner’s and Stanislavski’s, he developed a new approach to performance.
This book explores these ideas and how they successfully apply to the present-day actor. It examines his life and his two major influences – Stanislavski and Steiner. It explores the significant elements of the Chekhov technique and how it differs from Stanislavski’s. It also talks about the people and places that are currently working with and teaching this technique.
Overall, this is one the best acting books for an aspiring actor. It is easy to understand – even for a novice- with some well thought out exercises. If you are an actor looking to improve their craft, then give this book a read.
10. STRASBERG'S METHOD AS TAUGHT BY LORRIE HULL
The author, Lorrie Hull, was on the faculty of the Lee Strasberg Institute for 12 years. Her understanding and presentation of the Strasberg Method were well organized. Reading this book won’t unlock the mystery of the creative process, but if you ever wondered how some of our better actors arrived at their skills, this book will provide some answers.
Hull begins her book with Strasberg’s primary concern; his belief that the actor must be reconditioned to function in a state of relaxation. He believed that tension is an occupational disease of the actor. The book describes relaxation exercises in detail. Hull describes Strasberg cautioning an actor in an exercise class.
It emphasizes that the trick is to find a way to start the creative process. The system is direct and specific. The book deals with concentration and sense memory, the heart of the Strasberg method. He called his way of summoning-up or recalling of the emotion effective memory.
It is one of the critical elements in the Strasberg method. The book does not talk about Strasberg’s personality, the exciting quality of his classes, and his dedication to the actors and the art. The book is a significant contribution to the theater world and to those who knew him and worked with him.
These are the best acting books about acting which are a must-read for any actor. You must keep in mind that there are many other books available, and naturally, you are free to read them as well. However, if you had to choose just a few due to time or cost limitations, then these are the books that you absolutely cannot do anything.
Remember that there is no singular way to act or audition. Different methods suit different people, and you are free to experiment and find your way. However, if you need some inspiration or some tips in general, or a new outlook in your auditions, one of these books would help you.
I hope you’ve found what you were looking for. Happy reading!