The subjective nature of acting means that unlike subjects based in fact, opinion and interpretation are everywhere. When there are no “right” answers you may find that you feel lost, continuously searching for that “correct” method of acting. A correct method of acting doesn’t exist. But what does exist are some choice texts that will help you formulate what works for you and will put you ahead of the curb in any acting course, or the business at large. Being well read is always the sign of an engaged actor, so here there are, my picks for my favourite five books on acting.
EVERY PLAY EVER.
Really. If you want to be taken seriously as an actor, you need to be reading scripts. Although they aren’t books on acting, the symbiosis between playwright and actor may be even greater than that of Actor/Audience in that a good actor needs a good script to create the circumstances in which to act. Nothing is more insulting than showing up for your acting course and having a fellow student say they have never read The Cherry Orchard, The Glass Menagerie, The Crucible (TRUE STORY). Don’t be that person. Know your dramatic lit.
An Actor Prepares- Konstantin Stanislavski.
OK….it is a tough read. It’s poorly translated, it has an odd narrative format, and its old. But, it’s the Bible. All things come from this. If you are going to be an actor of any sort of merit, no matter what method you decide to use, it will have its basis in Stanislavki’s teachings. All the big concepts of action, reaction, listening, circle of focus, given circumstances etc. are herein. The man took us from the hellish depths of melodrama and changed the world of acting forever. Pay him is dues, read it.
Respect for Acting- Uta Hagen
Uta Hagen takes all of the things that may have seemed ethereal in An Actor Prepares and puts them into a context that is instantly relatable and understandable. One of the most lauded actresses of her time, Hagen reads like an encouraging aunt who relays the world of acting with a gentle hand, that then sometimes slaps you upside the head. If there is an individual who can prepare the actor for the realities of rejection and help you build some grit and growth mindset, its Hagen.
Freeing the Natural Voice- Kristin Linklater
Fun story. When first auditioning for my Masters at 22 (FOOL!) I got lost on the campus of Columbia University in NY and could not for the life of me find the correct hall. A lovely woman saw me clearly distressed and offered to walk me to the correct place. We talked, and then as she left to go into the room we had arrived at she introduced herself as Kristin Linklater…(Face crack.) She then proceeded in my audition to use me as the sacrificial lamb for her exercise and I BOMBED so bad that she yelled at me in full voice. (NO! NO! You don’t get another go!!) I have never been more terrified in my life. Her ability to access her instrument was astounding. Freeing the Natural Voice is a master class in breaking down the voice to its basic components and then building it back up into a powerhouse of expression. She’s a master, even if she did make me weep.
The Moving Body- Jacques Leqoc
The body, along with imagination and voice are the triumvirate of acting technique and Jacques approach to movement access self awareness and creativity in a way that is unmatched in actor training. Starting with assessment and then moving through mask, commedia, improvisation, and gesture Leqoc’s techniques form the base on which much of modern theatrical movement is founded. His writings remind you that all the things we use in actor training are applicable elsewhere. "In life I want students to be alive, and on the stage I want them to be artists."
There are so many more books out there that will assist you with your journey into discovering what works for you as an artist, but these five will give you a solid and honest worldview and get you on your way. Don’t stop there. Read, Read, Read, take in all you can, build that toolbox of skills, and above all, have fun.
Acting Coach Scotland