LivingArts: From Page to Stage

Alright, so you’ve finished your performing arts education and are hungry to learn more. Or maybe you haven’t gone to school and want to jump into the theatre industry with the most knowledgeable and professional approach possible. Or perhaps you are already a successful artist (in all senses of the word but quite possibly still broke) and just want to absorb all the information about theatre you can fit into your brain.  So…now what?

READ.  (That’s it?  That’s your “solution”, Laura? Seriously?) YES, seriously.

It may sound simple, but as a fellow artist who is constantly seeking to educate myself in all areas of theatre and also very aware of my bank account balance, it’s one of the best approaches I’ve ever taken. It’s the one I always go back to. READ. Read plays. Read theatre history books. Read study guides and handbooks. Read books about ALL areas of theatre.  Read literally, anything you can get your hands on (or ears on if you are into audiobooks).

If it feels overwhelming or time consuming, don’t panic. That’s where I come in. I’ve created a list of some of the best theatre books I’ve read, that I believe will help deepen one’s knowledge about theatre and the industry:

1. AUDITION (Michael Shurtleff):

Michael Shurtleff spent many years as a top casting director and is pretty much legen— (wait for it) dary. In fact, his courses on acting have launched HUNDREDS of successful careers. This book is his legacy to his craft and is quite literally an actor’s "How To" bible. Through his “12 Guideposts”, he defines the skills and tasks necessary to train actors in a way that will help them transition successfully from an educational institution into the professional world. He gives the reader clear, active objectives to reach for and articulates what constitutes good, effective acting. It’s an INVALUABLE resource and one which I often keep readily on hand.

2. THE MOVING BODY - Teaching Creative Theatre (Jacques Lecoq, Jean-Gabriel Carasso, Jean Claude Lallias):

Jacques Lecoq was one of the great names of contemporary theatre. He created one of the most original methods of performance. This book includes his unique philosophy of performance, improvisation, mask work, movement, gesture, clowning and more. It is a practical guide to working with body sensation, movement, emotionality, and communication in the theatre. The chapters walk you through several helpful exercises which give you a strong foundation in movement theatre (which, at the moment is rapidly overtaking the mainstream). As far as books on theatrical movement go, I have yet to find one that tops this.

3. THE DIRECTOR’S CRAFT - A Handbook for the Theatre (Katie Mitchell):

This book was written by one of the most adventurous and respected directors working today; Katie Mitchell. She shares and explains the tools she uses to approach her work with actors, production teams, and the text. It’s probably one of the few directing books that clearly breaks down the roles and responsibilities of the directing profession. It offers practical advice on the process, gives food-for-thought, and provides assistance with many common challenges that directors face. If you are looking to become a serious director or need to find a structure to teach directing, this book is a staple. From the books I’ve read so far, it really is the best one out there for prospective directors and truly deserves a place on the shelf.

4. THE BLUNT PLAYWRIGHT (Clem Martini):

Clem Martini is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and novelist and just as the title suggests, this is his very blunt and straightforward guide to playwriting. He provides a practical approach to recognizing and utilizing the fundamental elements of the play all while using his trademark wry humour that makes his writing so entertaining. The book examines dramatic structure, discusses the creative process, explores the nature of characters, and provides a number of writing examples and exercises that are useful for generating text. It is a fun, quick read, but also something which you can refer to again and again during the writing process. I doubt there is any book out there that would give someone interested in writing a play all the basics in one simple, easy to read, informative, well laid out book, but gosh does this come close.

5. TECHNICAL THEATER FOR NONTECHNICAL PEOPLE (Drew Campbell)

This is the most down-to-earth, straightforward book that truly succeeds in helping actors, dancers, playwrights, and directors understand every aspect of a backstage environment. It touches on everything from scenery and props, to lighting and sound, to costumes and stage management. All sides of production are clearly explained (jargon-free!) in straightforward terms and it even includes definitions in an attached glossary. Not only does it discuss traditional and modern elements of technical theatre, it helps bridge the communication gap. Artists will have a concrete tool in communicating with technicians, and technicians will be able to better explain their art to the less technically minded. It is perfect for the backstage beginner as it covers all the essentials in a very comprehensive way.

So, there you have it; now you have some great books to put on your shelf, solid skills to add to your repertoire, and you didn’t even have to take out another loan.