Updated: Sep 28
An often asked question from many beginner actors is "what book do you recommend I read to learn about acting?" Well, there are many great acting books out there on both history and acting theory. What I would say is that these books don't require any sort of acting level prerequisite. The books I am about to mention could (and should) be read by all actors novice or professional. Also, I will be keeping this list short and sweet because I believe these are the best acting books published. When reading acting theory books it is important to realize there is not one set of rules or guidelines. Acting is an art (though some aspects of technique can be categorized by some as science) you must decide what works for you. Take from literature what speaks to you from all who teach and create your own way of working. Use the knowledge you get both from reading and class to form your own unique style of approaching text. So here goes:
1. An Actor Prepares By Constantin Stanislavski
This is the first book in the trilogy of acting books by Constantin Stanislovsky. An Actor Prepares is the diary of a fictional student named Kostya during his first year of training in Stanislavski's system. Stanislavski relates his message with examples. He argues that his system is not a particular method, but a systematic analysis of the 'natural' order of theatrical truth. This book touches on a wide array of topics such as action, imagination, objectives and the subconscious mind. Widely regarded by many as the acting bible, this is a must read for those serious about their training.
2. The Fervent Years By Harold Clurman
Now, before some of you freak out, I am aware this is not an acting theory book. I DONT CARE. It is an incredibly important read because it is a remarkable behind the scenes account of the greatest theater company in American history, The Group Theater. This book is the history of American theater lead by the most influential actors, directors, writers and teachers of our time. The tales will inspire you and make you understand what the theater and the craft meant to those who came before us. I believe all who get involved in a craft (any craft) should understand its history to truly appreciate the art.
3. The Art Of Acting By Stella Adler
Stella Adler is arguably the most influential acting teacher in American history. Stella's approach has an emphasis on the use of the imagination. She believed focusing too much on personal emotions was not a healthy way to approach the art of acting. Over her long career, both in New York and Hollywood, she offered her vast acting knowledge to generations of actors, including Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro. In 1934 she went to Paris and personally studied with Stanislovsky for five weeks. Upon returning to the Group Theater she taught the other members all she had learned, many of whom went on to become notable theatrical directors and acting teachers.
There is a method behind my order of listing these books. Stanislovsky comes first because he is the Godfather of acting as far as we are concerned. Next, the story of The Group Theater to understand the history of the American greats that adopted and taught his work. Third, the most influential teacher to come out of the Group Theater and the only member to have personally studied with Stanislovsky. There are many other good acting books but I am only going to mention one more. I think anyone that reads these four will have a great INTELLECTUAL idea of acting. Yes, just because you read these books won't mean you can actually act. You must take your knowledge form these books, get into a class that works on PLAYS and work LIKE HELL. Ok here is the final book...
4. The Intent To Live By Larry Moss
Let me preface this by saying I am a student of Larry Moss, but that is not why I have this book on the list. Its on the list because it deserves to be. Moss's respect for actors and love of the craft enliven every page, together with examples from a wealth of plays and films, both current and classic, and vivid appreciations of great performances. Let me tell you from personal experience that Larry Moss is the greatest living acting teacher around. His love for plays and artistic impression is unmatched by anyone and I have trained with many great teachers. He is an encyclopedia of theater knowledge. He pushes actors to places they never thought they could go while uplifting and encouraging them.
Well this is my list, hope you guys enjoy it and give these a read. Whether you are starting or are already a working actor these books will only help build on what you already know. You can never know too much. ENJOY
Written By Mershad Torabi