14 Essential Books for Theatre Students | Playbill

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Back to School 14 Essential Books for Theatre Students

Check out these reads before heading to class this semester.

Get to class! The school year is here, and it’s time for students to pick up academic titles that will help with learning their crafts. Playbill has selected 14 books essential for any budding artist to help narrow down the many choices for incoming theatre majors.

Prep your book list with these titles, arranged in alphabetical order, before you head to the library or the local bookstore. 

An Actor Prepares
By Constantin Stanislavsky
Originally written in the 1930s, this is the one of the first modern day books on performance, and it remains crucial for students to this day. Using a system the performer-director developed on his own, Stanislavsky provides a primer on training, preparation, and technique. Republished in 2011 by Read Books

The Art and Craft of Playwriting
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Featuring interviews with American playwrights Lee Blessing, Marsha Norman, and José Rivera, Hatcher examines what it takes to make a well-written story in the theatre today from character development and setting up a scene to building suspense and getting a character across the stage. Republished in 2000 from Writer’s Digest Books

By Michael Shurtleff
Casting director Michael Shurtleff gives aspiring actors twelve guideposts on how to succeed in the audition process—for students just beginning or seasoned talents trying for a highly sought-after role. Published in 1980 by Bantam.

The Director's Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre
By Katie Mitchell
A step-by-step guide on directing perfect for beginners or those looking for a refresher, Mitchell explains how to helm stage works with a steady hand. In addition, the book looks at challenges directors often face and provides some solutions. Published in 2008 by Routledge.

A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre
By Anne Bogart
In this look at theatre directing, Bogart presents seven aspects of storytelling that can be considered both a partner and an obstacle to success: violence, memory, terror, eroticism, stereotype, embarrassment, and resistance. Published in 2001 by Routledge.

The Dramatic Imagination: Reflections and Speculations on the Art of the Theatre
By Robert Edmond Jones
Jones examines the world of scenic and lighting design and its contributions to the evolution of theatre. The author presents eight essays like “A New Kind of Drama” and “To a Young Stage Designer” that highlight the theatre artist's reflections on how integral set and lights are to the medium. Published in 2004 from Routledge.

The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate
By Peter Brook
This analysis of performance in theatre comes from the mind of one of Royal Shakespeare Company’s co-founders. Looking back at Stanislavsky, the birth of method acting, Brecht, and more, Brook shares how actors can transform a bare stage into a groundbreaking drama. Reprinted in 1995 from Scribner

The Feminist Spectator as Critic
By Jill Dolan
One of the first books to explore the modern woman’s perspective on theatregoing, Dolan writes how important the female eye is to creating influencing drama. This 25th anniversary edition takes a look at how gender equality has progressed in the last quarter century and includes a new introduction, plus an updated bibliography. Published in 2012 from University of Michigan Press

The Playwright's Process: Learning the Craft from Today's Leading Dramatists
By Buzz McLaughlin
Using his own personal experience as a writer and interviews with his contemporaries, McLaughlin explains the whole process of developing a play from a seedling idea to a fully realized piece of drama. Published in 1997 by Back Stage Books

Respect for Acting
By Uta Hagen with Haskel Frankel
One of the fundamental books on performance—from one of the most influential performers of the 20th century—looks at what it takes to be the next great actor. Hagen does this by explaining performance techniques, using detailed scenarios from her time on stage, and exploring dramaturgy. This second edition features a foreword by Tony winner David Hyde Pierce. Published in 2008 by Wiley

The Secret Life of the American Musical 
By Jack Viertel
Using the structure of a Broadway musical itself, the Jujamcyn senior vice president writes about how a show gets made from all angles from the producer to the audience, the performer to the composer. Published in 2016 from Sarah Crichton Books.

The Theatre of Black Americans: A Collection of Critical Essays
Edited by Errol Hill
Looking back through spirituals and the Harlem Renaissance to today, Hill presents a book that explains the American Black theatre movement. Among the writers featured are James Hatch, Shelby Steele, and Ronald Ross. Published in 2000 by Applause.

Stage Lighting Design: The Art, the Craft, the Life
By Richard Pilbrow
Beyond covering the history of the craft, Pilbrow offers hundreds of photos, diagrams, and lighting plots to offer a look at how a stage comes to life. The book is arranged into four sections: Design, History, Life (featuring 14 professional interviews), and Mechanics. Published in 2000 from Design Pr

Theatre of the Unimpressed: In Search of Vital Drama
By Jordan Tannahill
Playwright and director Tannahill explores how a lack of risk-taking leads to the same types of stories being told on stage decade after decade. By talking to artists, critics, theatre lovers, and more, the author presents a roadmap for a 21st-century theatre. Published in 2015 Coach House Books.


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