Although acting is not something you learn from a book, here are a few to seriously consider using as a means of theoretical support for practical application. As Stanislavski himself said about true creative acting, “It is the indirect, not the direct influence of the conscious mind upon the subconscious.”
So directly guide your conscious mind to indirectly absorbing these…
1. An Actor’s Work – Stanislavski
This book is the absolute Godfather of all foundations of acting; almost every modern-day naturalist technique came from the Stanislavski System and to this day is widely used among drama schools and private coaching. The Jean Benedetti translation is closer to the Russian composition by Stanislavski himself and preserves its essence and meaning better than any other book. Every single actor should read this book and internalise its blueprint for approaching a script.
2. An Actor’s Work on a Role – Stanislavski
As Stanislavski only ever intended his work to be written as two books instead of three, this issue is the revised edit of “Creating a Role”. As with the previous translations, “Creating a Role” did not contain the essence and terminology of its author’s original intent, so Jean Benedetti worked some magic and gave us this masterpiece. “An Actor’s Work on a Role” is to be used as a follow-up to “An Actor’s Work” as it focuses very heavily on creating a character, as opposed to experiencing and embodiment, like the first. This assumes you can do both already!
3. In Depth Acting – Dee Canon
What I adore about this book is that is gives you a fail-safe blue print to use over and over again, but with the flexibility to really develop your own method and technique. A little bit controversial ranking this book above the greats like Meisner and Chekhov, however, in terms of practicality, which is what one needs from an acting book, it’s perfect. Truly. It almost makes acting look easy… The method here is a practical application of the Stanislavski system, however I would recommend reading both of the books above to fully grasp it as this is bits and pieces of it. Dee is fab.
4. To the Actor – Michael Chekhov
Following this book will create complete body awareness, which is what every actor needs. As the son of a famous playwright (the clue is in the surname!) and a former Stanislavski student himself, Michael developed a more physical approach to acting and concentrated heavily on that element. Whilst I don’t think that a full character can be produced from just one aspect of the work, physicality, it’s a damn perfect standard of it. Reading the book however, is not the key, doing all of the practical exercises is! Enjoy the physical sensations and being centred.
5. On Acting – Sanford Meisner
The total opposite to Michael Chekhov’s approach, Sanford Meisner’s method is absolutely amazing in taking your attention totally off yourself and putting it completely on your partner. It’s just brilliant for spontaneous acting and natural reactions. There has always been a bit of a stigma around the Meisner method because of the difficulty of articulating what it is on paper. The book is a nice summary but absolutely everything will make sense after you’ve been to a repetition class! It’s a practical approach to emotions and expression.
6. Tackling Text and Subtext – Barbara Houseman
I love this book because it fills in any gaps and questions that could arise from the process of finding your character. It’s the perfect handbook to use once you have a better understanding of the main psychotechnique of acting and is a daily practice guide to keeping “match fit”. It also forces you to leave your own rhythmic patterns behind and adopt those that the author has clearly laid out in little clues in the text (PUNCTUATION!). Barbara is just an enigma of a woman, and an extremely generous one at that with the dedication and extensive detailing she has gone into with this book.
7. How to Stop Acting – Harold Guskin
This book gets you out of your head and totally concentrated on what is on the page. The most famous exercise from this book is called “Off the Page” and is perfect for first time readings and finding a way to stop the usual tendencies of assuming when reading new text. It encourages a totally neutral “mental” approach to acting and allows instinct to kick in following your reactions to the text. I wouldn’t say it’s an overall method but it certainly fills in blanks and is great to be used in conduction with a complete psychotechnique.
Hope the above list helps. There is certainly more work that goes into creating a character than could ever be imagined when looking at it from the outside. The greats make it look easy, and the bad also make it look easy. For everyone else, this is the place to work through.