• Jeff Thomakos

Top 5 Must-Read Books about Theatre to Read During Quarantine.

Last time, I recommended some great plays to read while we’re all quarantined, alone, and filled with existential angst and an intangible feeling of dread. This time, I want to cover some must-read books to read about acting, theatre, and show business that we can all read while we’re cooped up for the next few weeks.

These are books that I either teach from or have influenced my general philosophy about the craft of acting and show business generally. They are books that have inspired me and I genuinely think that if you haven’t read these books and you are an actor or director or in anyway involved with theatre and film, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Read them. Read them now.

Also, let me just say that there are literally thousands of awesome books about acting. Many of them also inspire me. You probably have quite a few that you’ve read and wish to recommend. Please feel free to do that in the comments. Please, I want to know what books inspire you.

Audition by Michael Shurtleff

This is the book I teach from when I am teaching beginning actors. What I love about this book is that it is as close to a Lego instruction booklet for acting that you can get. There’s some cool stuff in the beginning and the end that is about the practical aspects of an audition and that’s pretty cool. My favorite chapter is Chapter 3 which is only one sentence: “Consistency is the death of good acting.”

But the meat of this book are the 12 Guideposts for Acting which every actor should just have printed and put in their wallet or purse to remember and go over at every audition and rehearsal they ever go to.

So, in essence all you really, really need to read in Audition are the middle 80 pages of it. Read them, memorize them, and live by them in your work.

I teach from this book because it is so short and specific, and it allows me to focus on on-your-feet exercises that complement the bookwork. It just allows me to keep my classes active while still covering the basics of acting.

It’s a must-read book for any actor. If you haven’t read it, you are missing out.

Impro by Keith Johnstone

How do I explain this book and what it has done for me as an actor and theatre practitioner? I can’t. There are no words. It blew my mind. There. There are words, I guess, but my point is that it’s one of the most essential reads in my opinion for anyone who wishes to be in theatre or film or teach theatre or film or just be a teacher or just be a human being.

It was written 40 years ago, but could have been written yesterday. One of the best parts is when it goes on at length about how the education system is designed to suppress spontaneity and individualism and how to free yourself and others to free yourself creatively.

It’s an incredible book. And for a book on acting it’s pretty subversive. I love theatre as revolution and an agent for change and this is one of those baseline books if you’re an actor like me who fancies himself theatre’s answer to Che Guevara. Give it a read.

And speaking of theatrical revolution

The Empty Space by Peter Brook

The Rough, the Holy, The Deadly, and the Immediate: Four types of theatre according to Peter Brook and it is ALWAYS going through my mind as an actor, director, and performer. Every word of this book will blow you away. I want to warn you up front that this book can get quite heady and dense and way up in the stratosphere as far as concepts go, but it’s totally worth working through and once you get it, it will change your approach to theatre for good.

Basically, it says that Deadly Theatre is the kind of theatre that is the way theatre is “Supposed” to be. In other words, rote, by-the-number, commercial affairs where there is little creativity on behalf of the makers of that theatre, all-too-little rehearsal, and a general sense of boredom by the actors and other creators.

The Holy Theatre is the kind of theatre that stives to make the invisible visible.

The Rough Theatre is down to earth, street level theatre.

But the best theatre to strive for is Immediate, theatre that is alive and immediately present to both the actors and the audience.

I can only say that this book changed everything about the way I see performing and probably made me 10 times more insufferable at theatre parties so you should totally read it.

Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players by Jeffrey Sweet

This book is a series of interviews with many people who were involved in the early days of Chicago’s Second City and Compass Players. I love this book because not only is it filled with super funny stories, but it’s also very inspiring.

It’s really a story about how a bunch of kids from The University of Chicago created one of the most renowned theaters in America and one of the most fertile breeding grounds for American Superstars ever.

I have worked in Improv for years and years and truly love Second City and the ideas behind why it exists and continues to exist. My belief is that improv is an essential skill for any actor. I’m not saying all actors have to be comedians but thinking on your feet and being ready for anything? Yeah, you should probably learn that skill if you don’t have it already.

This is truly and amazing story and whenever I’m feeling down or discouraged, I pick up this book to give me motivation.

To The Actor by Michael Chekhov

Ok, to those who know me, this should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever. This book is the single most important book on acting I have ever read.

It not only is full of excellent exercises for the actor to work on and practice, but it is filled with incredible and inspirational theory on what acting is supposed to be, what theatre can be, how we can work towards a mutual goal of making ourselves and others, the best artists we can be.

Whether you agree with his theories or not, there is no arguing the fact that Chekhov was one of the most influential acting theorists ever.

Stanislavski called him his most “brilliant” student.

Meisner Stella Adler, Herbert Berghof, Morris Carnovsky, Harold Clurman, Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg also respected and admired him as a teacher.

He trained actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, and Ingrid Bergman. Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, and Anthony Hopkins have to varying degrees, carried his work even further.

Whether you like this version of it more or the version that was released after, simply called “On the Technique of Acting”, I couldn’t recommend either highly enough. It’s great everyone. Read it and get inspired.

So that’s my 5. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll see you guys later.

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