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Good Books to Read

If you are serious about performing then it’s important to be like a sponge and absorb as much information about the world of the performing arts as you can. For example when it comes to acting, if you asked several actors how they would prepare themselves for a scene where they need to express very raw emotions, probably each actor would give you a different answer, as there are many different acting styles.

Pouring through Stanislavski’s books, “An Actor Prepares”, “Building a Character”, “Creating a role” and “An actors work” will not only be important preparation for any aspiring actor, but also a good place to start when you begin learning about acting. Stanislavski is often cited as one of the first Directors/Teachers to put down on paper his method.

However there are thousands of books about the performing arts so the question is which books will be valuable to your own personal learning.

Our Team have listed below some of their favorite books.

Owen Liggett Recommends

  1. Finding Your Voice – Barbara Houseman with a forward from Kenneth Brannagh. 
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This book really brought into focus the importance of training your voice as a muscle. The exercises given in this book are set out in an incredibly imaginative way. A perfect exercise book for anyone serious about training their voice for the stage. 

A simple, step-by-step manual, written by a Royal Shakespeare Company voice coach, offers everything that actors need to work on their voices. Suitable for actors at all levels, from students and young professionals to established and experienced actors. Drama teachers in schools and committed amateur actors who want to increase their vocal skills and understanding will also find it invaluable.

Barbara Houseman has more than 25 years experience in the theatre. In 1991 she joined the voice department at RSC, becoming Associate Director at the Young Vic six years later. As a freelance she has done voice and text work on several high-profile shows and conducted workshops all over the world.

  1. The Actor and The Target – Declan Donnellan
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I like this book because it really helped in my training as an actor to stop thinking of Acting as being one thing, and gave me a practical approach to start getting better. 

A definitive guide to acting. A revised and updated edition of Declan Donnellan’s international bestseller, a fresh and radical approach to acting by a world-famous director and one of the most successful titles ever published by Nick Hern Books. 

“The Actor and the Target comes from the heart of his own experience. Fear, generalising and other actor’s blocks are dismembered lethally and with infectious relish.” Alan Rickman 

“Brilliantly direct, the ‘target’ equips the actor with keys to unlock the fears and flab of acting. Declan’s insightful voice guides us to the heart of the process; exhilarating to read and more importantly to put into practice.” Joseph Fiennes. 

“Cuts open every generalisation about acting and draws out gleamingly fresh specifics.” Peter Brook

Michael Sharmon Recommends

How To Stop Acting By Harold Guskin

Harold Guskin’s book is a very useful guide for helping actors to break some of their bad habits. With quotes from many famous actors such as Glenn Close, Kevin Kline and Steve Martin. Guskin gives students practical exercises to try, as well as firsthand accounts of Coaching and Training some of the most famous actors in the industry.

Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen

Uta Hagen was a Tony Award winning actress who originated the role of Martha in “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf”. Respect for acting is a wonderfully detailed book with useful practical examples and helpful solutions for actors.

Jan Brink Recommends

True and False by David Mamet.

I enjoyed this book because I came across it quite late and it put into words something that I started to believe as an actor quite a while ago but could never quite articulate. It’s a belief that actors have a job to do, just like doctors, lawyers, teachers or accountants. A problem that crops up quite a lot for me is that people, especially actors, tend to romanticize the theatre, and by extension, acting techniques. They elevate these concepts to an almost spiritual realm, when in reality all you as an actor have to do is say the line. Mamet briefly outlines three things that a good actor needs. The first is a good grasp of text analysis and reasonable control of your body. The third thing is courage. The courage to trust your director and the script. If you can confidently go on stage and do what is expected of you, then you’ve done your job as an actor and there is no need to hide behind excuses like “the script is badly written” or “I wasn’t quite feeling it tonight” or “I didn’t find the character within myself.” A good actor is courageous. This is something I have struggled with for a long time and will do for some time to come, I’m sure, but seeing the words I’ve been thinking laid out in front of me by David Mamet was a huge affirmation in my career as an actor.

Jonathan Daly Recommends

An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski

This is a great book for aspiring actors, seasoned performers, and new beginners, as Stanislavski takes his readers on a journey through a series of acting lessons that build character and the core skills necessary to become an actor as outlined by his system of acting.

In this book we the reader follow, and learn with, the fictional student Kostya in his acting classes, as guided by his teacher Tortsov. Each chapter presents a new area of study that the character learns, and takes the reader on a step by step guide to apply basic to advanced acting techniques. Furthermore its episodic nature allows for the reader to reference and find the desired materials easily, making it a reliable and convenient compendium, and a good companion for any acting student.

I have found this book especially helpful when trying to ground my own practice in a set of specific techniques, and has made me more self-aware as a performer as how to approach a text, a character, and a scene.

Tiffany Leung Recommends

 Dance Anatomy by Jacqui Greene Haas.

Any performers that require high physicality in their work should not only be able to follow choreographed movement or dance steps but they also have to be able to understand how each body part or muscle works; and which part and how their body should be working in order to help to develop the physicality and the strength that they need for the movement or dance. In this book, there are clear instructions and illustrations to explain the placement of your body and muscle, followed up by several exercises that would help you to develop the muscle and the correct alignment. Knowing how your muscles work is essential. It helps muscle building, developing correct alignment and preventing you from injuries. I highly recommend this book to dancers and all performers. Dancers, can go through all of the exercises as part of their basic training and performers, will find the exercises from the book helpful in regard to understanding specific muscle development.

Let us know if you find these books useful or feel free to contact us if you would like to know of other good theatre books related to the performing arts.

By Michael Sharmon

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