If you haven’t taken acting classes before, or even if it’s a been a while since you have, these books are a great way to invigorate the mind about the art form. Keep these acting technique books on your shelf to read over the years and let the ideas sink in. They also make a perfect gift for the actor in your life. Click on the titles or pictures to check them out.
Acting Technique Books
This is a great portrait of Meisner at work. If you’re unfamiliar with Meisner and his technique of bringing out truthful acting, this is a great intro. “Acting is living truthfully under the given imaginary circumstances.” Sanford Meisner was one of the best known and beloved teachers of acting in the country. This book follows one of his acting classes for fifteen months, beginning with the most rudimentary exercises and ending with affecting and polished scenes from contemporary American plays.
Respect for Acting is Hagen’s blueprint for the actor, her design for “enlightened stage acting.” This classic book has helped generations of actors hone their craft, and its advice is as useful now as it was when it was first published. Hagen draws on her own struggle with the techniques of acting as well as her decades of teaching experience to break down the areas in which actors can work and search for realities in themselves that serve the character and the play. This approach helps actors to be specific in their actions in order to communicate an artistic statement. Hagen’s instructions and examples also guide the aspiring actor through practical problems such as “How do I talk to the audience?” and “How do I stay fresh in a long run?”
A Practical Handbook for the Actor is written for any actor who has ever experienced the frustrations of acting classes that lacked clarity and objectivity, and that failed to provide a dependable set of tools. An actor’s job, the authors state, is to “find a way to live truthfully under the imaginary circumstances of the play.” The ways in which an actor can attain that truth form the substance of this eloquent book.
Stanislavski sought a way to introduce his new style of acting to the world outside of his rehearsal hall. The resulting book is a “mock diary” of an actor describing a series of exercises and rehearsals in which he participates. He details his own emotional and intellectual reactions to each effort, and how his superficial tricks and mannerisms begin to disappear as he increasingly gives over his conscious ego to a faith in the creative power of his subconscious. Rarely has any writer on the theater achieved the sort of lucid and inspired analysis of the acting process as Stanislavski does here, and his introduction of such now-standard concepts as “the unbroken line,” “the magic if,” and the idea of emotional memory has laid the groundwork for much of the great acting of the 20th century. While much excess and nonsense was to follow in the steps of Stanislavski’s writings, his original texts remain invaluable, and surprisingly accessible, to any actor or student of drama.
Stanislavski is considered a master of theatre and often called the “father of the method.” In this, the second installment of his acting technique books (cleverly alphabetically titled An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, Creating a Role) he goes into the external technique an actor must use to become a character.
Like an Actor Prepares, he uses fictional characters based on the actors from the Moscow Art Theatre, with the director, Tortsov (aka Stanislavski) being the one teaching them.
Creating a Role is the culmination of Stanislavski’s masterful trilogy on the art of acting. An Actor Prepares focused on the inner training of an actor’s imagination. Building a Character detailed how the actor’s body and voice could be tuned for the great roles he might fill.
This third volume examines the development of a character from the viewpoint of three widely contrasting plays: Griboyedov’s Woe from Wit, Shakespeare’s Othello, and Gogol’s The Inspector General. Building on the first two books, Stanislavski demonstrates how a fully realized character is born in three stages: “studying it; establishing the life of the role; putting it into physical form.”
A master actor who’s appeared in an enormous number of films, starring with everyone from Nicholson to Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine is uniquely qualified to provide his view of making movies. This new revised and expanded edition features great photos throughout, with chapters on: Preparation, In Front of the Camera Before You Shoot, The Take, Characters, Directors, On Being a Star, and much more.
Here is Stella Adler’s comprehensive and practical guide to the technique that has made her one of the world’s most acclaimed teachers of acting. The Technique of Acting is a working text for today: a dynamic exploration of the techniques that have profoundly influenced such outstanding actors as Marion Brando, Robert De Niro, and Warren Beatty. Complete with exercises and examples taken directly from Stella Adler’s celebrated classes, this book takes the actor through a full course of instruction designed to develop superb mastery of body, speech, mind, and emotion. It offers an approach that will provide the actor with incomparable confidence, style, and authenticity.
Michael Chekhov, nephew to the Russian playwright and student of Stanislavski, left Russia and his mentor behind to pursue a career as an actor, director, and teacher in Europe and America. While he was an early advocate of Stanislavski, Chekhov differed from the great teacher in important respects, particularly in his insistence on the use of imagination as opposed to memory in creating a role. (In a famous anecdote, Chekhov once performed a “sense memory” exercise in which he broke down over the tragic death of his aunt. When complimented on the truthfulness of his emotion, he admitted that his “aunt” was entirely imaginary.) One of Chekhov’s innovations of technique is the “psychological gesture,” in which a repeated external action leads to an internal revelation. Due to his insistence on the importance of the physical rather than the simply intellectual, Chekhov’s book is as focused on following its series of exercises as it is in study; acting, he would remind us, is always fundamentally a verb. For actors who feel “hemmed in” by an insistence on “feeling” a part or in drawing from their own experiences to feed a role, Chekhov’s focus on the primal and limitless nature of imagination is tremendously liberating.
Acting Technique Books Conclusion
There are many schools of thought for modern acting, but most come from Stanislavski, so it’s a great idea to read all of these books and take the parts that resonate with you and leave what doesn’t. Now no book on it’s own can teach you to act. You have to get in a class and learn by doing, but these are excellent tools to further and deepen your technique and understanding of the art form. Now grab these books today to add to your ‘acting library’ to come back to again and again.
Got a great acting technique book that you love and recommend? Tell us about it in the comments section.