To begin at the beginning: for those still thinking about an acting career and those already on the road — books have always been a great source of valuable information for actors, whether it’s the acting craft or the acting business.
Below you will find a list of 5 books every actor must own, or at least have read, on the subject of the acting techniques, with another list dedicated to show business and/or acting in general coming shortly thereafter.
5 Books Every Actor Must Own on Acting Techniques
There are, of course, just too many books out there these days. Some of them are good, and some not so much. I will guarantee you that every person with a passion for this art or job, whatever you name it, will find these reads below extremely enlightening and fulfilling. Label these five (or the whole six) as highly recommended, and enjoy!
The Actor’s Art and Craft
by William Esper and Damon DiMarco
The best book there is right now on the subject of Meisner Technique. William Esper, one of the leading acting teachers of our time, explains and extends Sanford Meisner’s legendary technique, offering a clear, concrete, step-by-step approach to becoming a truly creative actor.
Damon DiMarco has done a great job putting on paper every important word of Esper’s and every exercise used in classes during 1 year period. Be careful though, once you really get into it, you may never like any other type of approach to acting techniques.
“Good acting — real acting is impossible to spot. Do you ever catch talents like Robert Duvall or Kathy Bates acting? No. I defy you to show me where.” – William Esper
The Art of Acting
by Stella Adler
Second on the list of 5 books every actor must own is of course Stella Adler, who is one of the most important teachers of acting, and one of the very few to work personally with Stanislavsky himself.
In this book editor Howard Kissel has taken tapes, transcriptions, notebooks and other sources to reconstruct an acting course in 22 lessons, which turned into one of the best books on acting techniques. Pay attention though: Stella has another older book of hers, Acting with Adler, which — according to Adler herself — you should skip.
“Your talent is in your choice.” – Stella Adler
by S. Loraine Hull
Arguably the best book for Method actors, which very clearly lays out all the ideas of Lee Strasberg’s teachings. It’s an easy read with very understandable exercises that should benefit greatly every Method actor out there who never had a chance to train with the man himself.
Consider this book a Bible of Method acting, as everything you ever wanted to know about this approach is detailed in here; this is the only book you’ll ever need to read on this subject.
“Acting is the most personal of our crafts. The make-up of a human being – his physical, mental and emotional habits – influence his acting to a much greater extent than commonly recognized.” – Lee Strasberg
An Actor Prepares
by Constantin Stanislavski
The most famous acting teacher, the godfather of acting techniques and one of his most popular acting books must be included in this list. In this book, the greatest acting teacher of all time Constantin Stanislavski brings a round of general acting exercises which can easily serve as foundation to every actor’s further training.
These days this book is aimed more at theatre geeks and those interested in where the whole acting technique thing came from, rather than learning a specific approach. Nevertheless, the book is well-translated and is an enjoyable read for any actor with a passion for the craft.
“I have lived a long life, was rich, got poor; seen a lot of the world, had a wonderful family, children, that life has scattered all over the world. I have longed for fame, found it – been honored young and now I am getting old. I know my time on earth is running out. Now ask me wherein we find happiness? It is in knowledge and understanding art and the labor of cognizing it. While learning about oneself, one can learn nature and the meaning of life – We can cognize the soul. There is no happiness above all this.” – Constantin Stanislavski
To the Actor
by Michael Chekhov
Almost every actor can learn a thing or two from another great Russian actor and teacher Michael Chekhov. Chekhov’s book To the Actor teaches a lot about actor’s emotions, being aware in the space, developing your characters and presents some great theatre exercises that served as building blocks for a generation of future teachers.
Chekhov’s simple and practical method — successfully used by professional actors all over the world — trains the actor’s imagination and body to fulfill its potential.
“An actor has to burn inside with an outer ease.” – Michael Chekhov
BONUS: Sanford Meisner on Acting
by Sanford Meisner and Dennis Longwell
This 6th specimen is something I couldn’t resist including on the list of 5 books — it’s yet another Meisner Technique book, and my personal favorite. However, those who have chosen Meisner’s (and Esper’s) teachings as their primary source of inspiration will enjoy this read a great deal.
Every exercise and all the theory from this book has been used in William Esper’s teachings years later, which turned into a better teaching book overall. However, Sanford Meisner on Acting is just an enjoyable, inspirational and enlightening read for every passionate actor out there who can value the golden words of arguably the best acting teacher this world has ever seen.
“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” – Sanford Meisner