“Acting for Dummies” is the silliest name for a book on acting (There is one, I checked!) because acting is certainly NOT for dummies. It takes a real education to look natural in front of an audience or camera. As an acting coach, my teaching style consists of a myriad of techniques learned over the years from some very gifted teachers in the industry. This mix is also reflected in my reading list. Between my Kindle and my bedside table, I have perused and read far too many books to list in one article. However, I’d like to recommend six “must haves” for aspiring and working actors alike.
1. "Audition" by Michael Shurtleff
I consider this book to be the “bible” for aspiring actors. If you are just beginning your acting career, this is a great place to start! It covers everything you need to know to get the part. Mr. Shurteff’s twelve infamous guideposts have influenced my own work in developing my simple technique to help actors learn how to direct themselves. From relationships to finding the love and humor in the scene, Shurtelff’s steps will help you nail your audition every time.
2. "Meisner on Acting" by Sanford Meisner
Meisner or Method? That is the question. Well, it may not really be an either/or. It’s often insightful to know both. Although I did not train with Sanford Meisner, I was fortunate enough to study with many teachers, including Wynn Handman, who were Meisner disciples. In this gem, Meisner gives it to you straight on how to live truthfully in the moment under imaginary circumstances. Your library is not complete without this one.
3. "Respect for Acting" by Uta Hagen
Simple and straightforward, Uta Hagen’s profound book has helped generations of actors hone their craft. She introduces series of exercises to help the actor connect to the moment, fellow actors, and the audience. “Who am I?” “What do I want?” and “What is my relationship?” are three of the nine questions explored to define your character’s role specifically. Hagen also includes invaluable advice about stage nerves and how to stay fresh in a long run.
4. "An Actor Prepares" by Constantin Stanislavsky
Funny at times, this book takes the actor through Stanislavsky’s self-developed "system" which helps the actor to master his craft as well as stimulate creativity and imagination. Now referred to as "method acting," "An Actor Prepares" includes a variety of exercises and some autobiographical experiences that focus on relaxation, concentration, and techniques that will help get the actor into character. Emotional memory and the “magic if” explored in his book laid the groundwork for much of the great acting today.
5. "Improvisation for the Theatre" by Viola Spolin
Considered the mother of improvisation, Viola Spolin developed a series of acting exercises and theater games to free the actor’s creativity, allowing play beyond the scene. Many modern improv groups such as Second City utilize Spolin’s techniques. If you want to learn truthful acting and how to be “in the moment,’’ add this to your library to make it complete.
6. "Actions: The Actor's' Thesaurus" by Marina Calderone
Acting means TO DO. Thousands of action words are alphabetized and categorized to help you find what you are doing in every beat. This book will help you play specific actions and get away from making general choices.
So there you have it! Denise’s favorite six top picks no actor should be caught without.
Master your craft, empower yourself, and enjoy the journey.
Denise Simon is an acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years as an actor, teacher, director, and personal talent manager. For 10 years, she was an associate with Fox Albert Management, one of the leading talent management companies in New York, where she managed such clients as Scarlett Johansson, Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”), and Judy Reyes (NBC’s “Scrubs”). Denise has coached hundreds of children and young adults appearing regularly on Broadway and in television and film, as well as educating parents on the business of show business.