What are the best acting books to hone your craft? It is widely believed that the best way to learn how to act is by acting. However, there are a myriad of excellent books out there that can help any actor hone their craft and grow in confidence, creativity, and ability.
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” ― Oscar Wilde
Human beings act every day. Existence in and of itself is a sort of theatrical experience if you look at it closely enough. Human interaction is where all acting stems from. After all, acting is reacting. Acting is listening. Acting is less about doing and more about being.
There are many books out there to help actors hone their craft, but below I’ve selected three of what, in my opinion, are the best acting books. These acting books will benefit newbies and seasoned pros alike. For both teachers and students, these acting books will guide readers as they dig deep into what it means to create a character onstage or screen.
Sanford Meisner: On Acting
The first book I would suggest is “Sanford Meisner: On Acting” by Sanford Meisner with Dennis Longwell. Sanford Meisner was one of the most well regarded acting teachers in the world. Students all over the world study the Meisner Method of acting, which he developed.
His book follows one of his acting classes for fifteen months. Throughout these pages Meisner writes with an ease and casual cadence that makes the reader comfortable and engaged. His words jump off the page in such a way that you feel as though you yourself are in his classroom.
A Little More About the Technique
The Meisner Technique centers around the idea of an actor getting out of their own way in order to perform effectively. The goal is to ‘get out of your head’ to truly experience what is going on around you as the character.
In fact, many of the most famous exercises for the Meisner technique are grounded in repetition. Because of this, words become insignificant in comparison to the elemental emotion from which all of the character’s choices stem.
In the Meisner Technique, there is a strong focus on the other actor, listening, and reaching out of oneself to minimize ego and maximize connection. Thus, the work becomes more about the scene and human interaction that takes place within it, rather than the specific choices the speaking actor makes. Therefore, the scene plays in an organic way. Remember: Human interaction is where all acting stems from.
While the ‘Meisner Technique’ itself is certainly not for everyone, the book is one of the best out there and a must-read for actors. It is important to understand all of the different methods and techniques in order to choose the one that resonates the most with you.
The second book is, ‘Audition’ by Michael Shurtleff. This acting book is about so much more than auditions. It is an entire approach to embodying a character, and truly teaches the actor how to dig beyond the surface level of a role, find their own truth, and discover their character’s personality through connection and imagination.
A Little More About the Technique
Michael Shurtleff uses the “12 Guideposts” to help actors find a strong and practical approach to personalizing scripts, creating importance in a scene, listening to their scene partner effectively, and making clear, direct choices.
The “12 Guideposts” are:
- Moment Before
- Communication and Competition
- Find the Events
- Game Playing and Role Playing
- Mystery and Secret
Through the Shurtleff technique, the actor analyzes the script with each of the guideposts in mind, and explores the scenes with different exercises specific to each guidepost. I myself approach each script with the 12 Guideposts in mind, and Michael Shurtleff’s book, Audition, is where most of my teaching and performing methods come from. I truly cannot recommend this book enough.
Too Much is Not Enough: A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood, by Andrew Rannells
The final book I want to suggest is not an acting technique book, but I still found myself learning a lot from it as a young actress just starting out. This book is by actor, Andrew Rannells: “Too Much Is Not Enough : A Memoir of Fumbling Toward Adulthood”. The book is sweet, silly and filled with wonderful essays and anecdotes about what it is like to be a young actor in New York City.
Upon moving to NYC, I found it comforting reading about someone who had gone through so many similar experiences to my own. This book is like chicken soup for the soul for all artists.
These Books are Only the Beginning!
There are obviously many wonderful texts to help one grow as a performer. Yet, in my opinion, these three books are some of the best acting books to help you grow as both a performer AND a person.
I hope that you read these and fly through the pages like I did, yearning for more and anxious to hop onto the closest stage and experiment with the different methods yourself.