There is a time and place for practicing acting. Now is neither the time nor the place. Now is the time to read. Reading acting books and practicing are like two sides of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You need both for the sandwich to be what it’s meant to be: a work of delicious art.
If ever you’ve wondered what good books there are for actors, here’s your guide to some that have really helped me develop as an actor.
Each one of the following pieces of acting theory and knowledge are good in their own way, let’s take a look.
1. The Stanislavski System by Sonia Moore
This 96-page book is for people just starting out and professional actors. It has so many techniques that are good to be reminded of, even if you’ve been acting for years. Stanislavski is considered to be one of the founders of the modern acting technique, focusing on the beauty of living truthfully while on stage. He explores this idea and others like the “Magic If”, imagination, given circumstances, and many others throughout this book. There are even improv exercises listed that you can do by yourself and with others in various chapters. One of the ideas Sonia Moore explores that has really helped me, is the idea of knowing your character’s super objective when developing your role. The great things about knowing your character’s super objective is that it helps tie together why your character does what he does in each scene.
2. Respect For Acting by Uta Hagan
Another book I recommend for the beginner and experienced actor is this 226-page book by Uta Hagan. Hagan, being influenced by the teachings of Stanislavski, as the best of us are, wrote this gem as an easy to read guide for living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. She goes in depth to discovering what it means to be awake and aware of life once more, really exploring the five senses and how that helps us critically as actors. She also writes about sense and emotional memory, things that seem easy to grasp at first, but once you try you realise it takes a bit more practice. What I really loved about Uta’s book was that similar to Sonia Moore’s book about Stanislavski’s technique, it is precise and to the point, showing you how actions are what we do as actors, and how knowing and pursuing our character’s objective is the most important thing we can do.
3. Acting In Film by Michael Caine
This one is such a fun read. Michael Caine writes this 163-page book in such a naturally comical way that it felt like I was simply hearing him speak. This book is definitely for actors with a bit more experience who want to go into film as the title suggests. It doesn’t talk about acting theory as much as helpful things to know on a film set. That being said, there are also many things it has that are valuable for the theatre actor as well. He gives many fun stories of mistakes he made on set and throughout the whole book he is simply realistic, which comes off in a very fun yet practical way. Along with fantastic tips of what to do on and off set, he also dives into what it looks like to be physically and emotionally consistent in a scene and just how powerful it is to simply listen. I recommend it even if for just the humour that it contains.
4. The New Business Of Acting: How To Build A Career In A Changing Landscape by Brad Lemack
This book by Brad Lemack touches less on acting theory and more on what steps you need to take to make it in the industry by promoting yourself. It is great for actors because it shows the art of getting a job, something that isn’t usually focused on. One editorial reviews of the book put it this way: “This is first and foremost not a sequel to Brad Lemack's 2002 book. The new book concentrates on the changing landscape, the tremendous changes in technology that have opened up and are now available to today's blossoming actor.” --BroadwayWorld.com.
5. Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner
This particular 250-page book best describes Meisner’s approach to acting and his philosophy about the art. The format was different than I expected, being in the form of dialogue, carefully depicting the interactions between Meisner and his students in his New York acting workshop. The book shows Meisner’s technique through the instructions and lessons he gives his students and the comments he makes to his assistant Scott Roberts. Influenced by the teachings of Stanislavski, Meisner stresses the importance of listening and reacting in a scene throughout the book. Published in 1987, the book was listed in backstage.com’s top six best acting books coming in at number two.
With each book is a different glimpse and perspective into the complex craft known as the acting process. I encourage reading each one and trying the different techniques and tips out for yourself to see which ones work for you. With theory as well as practical application, the development of becoming a disciplined actor draws ever-closer.