Updated: Apr 8, 2019
Maybe you've read these, maybe you haven't, but if you can absorb these timeless books as a young actor, your mind will forever be in the right place and your work will be of continuous higher quality!
Books are a source of inspiration, learning, and great reminders! They help open your mind, spark conversation, and ultimately improve your work.
A solid library is immensely powerful as you create a foundation for your craft and prepare for college auditions! So here are the "must read" books for the serious young actor...
Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
Richard Boleslavsky was part of the group that introduced the Stanislavsky method of acting to the United States. He played the lead role in the famous production of A Month In The Country directed by Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theatre, and was also an extremely accomplished director. This is his treatise on acting. It’s a simple and short “must-read” about the SIX FUNDAMENTALS of great acting.
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen
Uta Hagen is one of the most important acting teachers in America, and her book on the craft is written expertly with passion and humor. She is famous for originating the role of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee on Broadway in 1962. As Jack Lemmon wrote, “This extraordinary woman is one of the greatest actresses I have seen in my lifetime, yet she has deliberately made her acting career secondary to teaching and directing others so that they might benefit.” If you really like Respect For Acting and Uta’s style, you can read her other famous book A Challenge for the Actor.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
This is a mindset book, not an acting book, but it’s on the “must read” list for 2 reasons. 1) Schools (and future jobs) want to hire quality people, not just talented artists. These powerful and simple agreements we make with ourselves keep our personal standards high and help us stand out not only in our work but in the world. 2) Juilliard gave it to me as mandatory summer reading before I arrived for my first day of class, and I pass that along to you.
The Actor and the Target by Declan Donnellan
Declan Donnellan is a major gift to actors and the theatre world in general. The book is about keeping the actor's focus on their target as opposed to themselves, which is always powerful. It was introduced to me at Juilliard by my acting teacher and I was surprised I had never heard of it. It is somewhat dense but for someone who’s diving deep into a B.F.A. acting program, it’s a must read. The fourth edition was published in 2018 - I recommend that one.
Playing Shakespeare by John Barton
This is such an interesting book because you feel like you’re a fly on the wall as you read some of the greatest conversations about playing Shakespeare that have ever been recorded. It covers every topic you need to know about how to “play Shakespeare” in the modern era, and it still stands as the authoritative work on the subject. Actors and directors from the Royal Shakespeare Company gathered and video recorded these discussions. So if you're the type of person who prefers to learn via video instead of reading, you can start with this book because there are plenty of long videos on YouTube and that is another way to digest this book.
BONUS (Not a "must read" but a "must have")
Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov is a genius. He wrote Isaac Asimov's Guide to Science, Isaac Asimov's Guide to The Bible and, oh yeah, they named an asteroid after him! While there are many great resources to help uncover Shakespeare’s text, the "must have" (and the one I find most helpful EVERY TIME) is this one. When I was first reading Shakespeare, I wouldn't read it without this book next to me for reference on every scene!