Before I make a list of what I believe to be the books that are necessary for all actors,
beginners and otherwise, Iʼd like to give a short history lesson.
On January 31,1899 the world welcomed the twentieth century. The new century saw many unimaginable changes. The electric light, motion pictures, the phonograph, all began the new century. Not only were changes happening in the field of science and medicine, but also in society. Writers began to write about the average person and his strengths and weaknesses. The world of theatre at this time produced such playwrights as Ibsen, Shaw, and Wedekind. Playwrights who were commenting on the world and its changes. Because of all these transformations the craft of acting would also change forever.
In Russia at this time were two men who had more to do with how we think of theatre today than any other. They were the playwright, Anton Chekov, and a young director, Constantine Stanislavsky. Allow me to explain how a playwright influenced, if not instigated, the twentieth centuries approach to acting. Chekov had written a play called “The Seagull.” It was produce and acted by a company educated in the old style of acting. Chekov was so horrified by the over acting and gestured performances he vowed never to write another play or allow “The Seagull” every to be produced again.
The director, Stanislavsky, had recently formed a theatre company of young actors in Moscow named the Moscow Art Theatre. He wish to produce a new kind of theatre. He heard of “The Seagull” and contacted Chekov. After much convincing on Stanislavsky part the two men met. Chekov said he would allow a production of “The Seagull,” but only if Stanislavsky would treat the material in a realistic way. Chekov wanted the actors to perform truthfully. Stanislavsky agreed. He too wanted to approach theatre in a way it had not been tried before.
Stanislavsky knew he had to train his actors in a way that would be totally new to them. He began to form a set of approaches and new rules for his actors. When the play finally opened to a stunned and eventually enthusiastic audience, the world was introduced to a new form of theatre and acting. Stanislavsky continued to perfect this new approach to the end of his life.
In the 1930ʼs another group of young theatre enthusiast form a company in New York City which they called, appropriately, “The Group Theatre.” These young people were dedicated to bringing truthful and realistic theatre to the United States. These people became what I lovingly refer to as, “The Great Guruʼs.” They went to Stanislavsky and his protégées for guidance. All the approaches that exist today are thanks to these artist. A number of the books I recommend are by or about these, Great Guruʼs” (Please look up my article on the great guruʼs.)
I will list the books in a countdown fashion as to the importance in my library, if such a thing is really possible.
Number 10: Jon Joryʼs, “Tips for Actors”
On every page is a new tip for the actor ranging from blocking to inner monologue; from the dramatic choice, to having a dispute with a fellow actor. It is a very practical book and is to be used as such.
Number 9: All three Stanislavsky books.
“An Actor Prepares”
“Creating a Role”
“Building A Character”
This is where it all began. The books are written as a class in progress. Enjoy.
Number 8: Charles McGraw”s, “Acting Is Believing”
This book is worth it if only for the acting lesson apparent in the title. This is the first acting book I ever owned. It was mandatory reading in my acting class at Stella Adlerʼs.
Number 7: Eric Morrisʼs, “No Acting Please”
Ericʼs book and teaching is not for the beginner. It could easily frighten them away. Eric believes the actor needs to challenge himself continuously and, at times, that means no holds barred. Read when ready.
Number 6: Sanford Meisnerʼs, “Sanford Meisner On Acting”
Sanford Meisner was one of the original members of the Group Theatre. He was one of the most beloved and revered teachers. His teaching survives with the teaching of his countless disciples who love and respect what this man stood for.
Number 5: “Strasberg at the Actors Studio”
These are actual taped session in book form of Lee Strasbergʼs classes. Strasberg is one of the most famous of the original Group Theatre alumni. This book I recommend for the more advanced student.
Number 4: Robert Lewisʼs, “Method – or Madness”
Another member of the Group Theatre who ably describes the “method” devised during the early days of the company.
Number 3: Stella Adlerʼs, “The Technique Of Acting”
An excellent book for the beginning actor. Yet another original member of the Group Theatre and my first teacher and the source of my love for the craft of acting. The book is simply written and understandable.
Number 2: Larry Mossʼs, “The Intent to Live”
An amazing book filled with wisdom, wit, and theatre history. The man knows his craft. He has lived it and taught it. The best acting book by a contemporary author.
Number 1: Uta Hagenʼs, “Respect for Acting” and “A Challenge for the Actor”
Uta Hagenʼs books have been my personal Actorʼs Bibles. They are required reading in my classes.
The reason I praise Uta Hagen and Larry Mossʼs books so highly is because they both promote all the tools that are available to the actor. They do not limit the actor to any one approach to the craft. They agree upon the adage, “What is right for the actor is what works for them!” In addition their books are filled with life experiences and how the craft not only affected them, but the lives of many a great talent.
There are many more books out there. All of them worthy of your time. I have over 100 acting books in my collection. In addition, I have 30+ books of monologues and scenes, and over 1000 plays. I have been building my library for a long time.
Finally, do my books have a place on my list? It goes without saying. “Beyond the Moon” and “You got the Job…” make excellent companion pieces to any of the books mentioned above. They also stand on their own. My books are simple in their tone and approach to the craft. At the same time they are vastly informative and insightful. They are known for their clarity.
You cannot learn acting from a book alone. Just as you canʼt learn, for example, ballet or the piano from a book. Learning is in the doing. What books give us is clarity of craft. They enable us to trust our teachers and what they tell us. They imbue us with the courage to dare and risk.
My advice to all is get out your highlighter, sit down with a good acting book, and go to work.
– Adam Hill
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