How to know what literature is it worth investing in, as an actor

Firstly, in my opinion, it IS worth investing in some literature as an actor. ‘Some’ being a pretty important word here, as there are hundreds of acting and performance industry books out there, so it is very important not to get bogged down in reading one after the other and getting confused as to what to follow. The questions are what to invest in, if you are going to take in what any literature is saying, whether it’s going to be worth the money, and if you even have to spend any money.

Below are some of the books I have read, and which I do recommend. But we know that there are as many acting ‘methods’ out there as there are actors; therefore I’m sure a lot of people reading this will not agree what is said in some of these books, but they have helped me and continue to do so, and I have recommended them to others in the past and will do in the future.

The Actor and the Target, by Declan Donnellan.

Current the book I always go back to when I need some fresh advice on how to approach a part or to remind myself what I believe should be done. It’s simple, straightforward and very enlightening, but also shows you how much depth can be done in terms of identifying things that may be relevant to the character, and just how much work can be done to get a fully rounded, alive performance. Very helpful if you need some advice on text analysis. The number one book I would recommend to read.

True and False, by David Mamet.

Cuts through a lot of the bullshit of acting, theatre and the general industry, and really nails how simple it can (and, Mamet says, should) be. Highlights that this is not an easy job, and if you are going to do it, it needs to be tackled head on, and it will be hard, and there are no lifeboats. Not a book that sugar-coats the work or the business, but explains it as a simple craft. And definitely not recommended if you like Stanislavski…

The Actor’s Art and Craft, by William Esper.

Guides you through the Miesner Technique, created and refined by Sandford Miesner at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York. Takes you through the technique as if you were one of the students in his class, a technique closely related to what David Mamet and Declan Donnellan advise in their books.

Year of the King, by Anthony Sher.

Takes you from the first suggestion, all the way through research and rehearsals, right through to into the run of Anthony Sher’s performance of Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. Highlights his research done, decisions made and why; direction received and discussions had during the building of one of the most prominent performances in British theatre in the second half of the 20th century. A standard text for drama students.

Contacts, published by Spotlight.

A list of all people and businesses in the profession, from photographers, agencies, radio companies, drama schools, and many more. And indispensible starting point as a reference to who you need to contact and how, depending on what you want.

The Actor’s Yearbook 2014 (and onwards), published by Methuen Drama

Similar to Spotlight being a directory, but for writing to theatre companies for example, will expand on each entry to provide helpful information on how best to write to people, when, and how they might like applications presented. Very useful if just starting out.

Although I have read many, many more, these are the books I most highly recommend. If you like Stanislavski, of course read his books, but his work’s not my thing so I don’t recommend them here. And also bear in mind that all of these books (Spotlight and The Actor’s Yearbook in the Reference Section) are all available from your library, so you may not have to invest anything at all in this literature.