The holiday season is upon us, and whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope they’re happy. It’s also a gift-giving season for many, so I thought this might be a good time for my list of favorite theatre books. If you’ve taken class with me I’ve likely mentioned these before.
As I type, I realize none of these books are in what I’d call traditional book form. Most are told through interviews and smaller “sound bites” that weave a clear narrative while allowing you to read in either short bursts, if that’s your thing, or full chapters.
While many of these books may focus on musical theatre, I promise they have tons of great insight for all actors and theatre lovers. Most of the musical actors interviewed also have successful careers in plays, film, and TV.
This list is by no means complete. I have many more favorites to talk about, but let’s start with ten. Here goes…
Free for All: Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told
by Kenneth Turan and Joseph Papp
A fascinating history of The Public Theater and the people who made it. It starts with a chapter on Papp’s life before launching into interviews with him and dozens of people he worked with over the years. Actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and donors. An extraordinary collection of talent. What show at the Public had so many audience members walking out that Papp carpeted the stairs to soften the blow for the actors? Read the book and find out!
The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America
by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois
Another book told through interviews. This time with playwright Tony Kushner and the many people associated with Angels in America from its development at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco to the most recent West End production that came to Broadway. Stunning insight into the creative process of what is arguably THE great American play, and loaded with great acting advice throughout.
Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies
by Ted Chapin
Much like the Angels book, but how the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies came to be. The updated version explores more recent productions and recordings.
More Sondheim. I love Sondheim.
Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim
by D.T. Max
Candid conversations with Sondheim in the years before his death. The book also touches on the creation of Here We Are, his last musical which is currently premiering at The Shed in NYC.
Nothing Like A Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater
by Eddie Shapiro
The title says it all. Interviews with some of the most successful women in musical theatre from Elaine Stritch to Audra McDonald. An entertaining read and full of valuable information, including how to take care of yourself in this business.
A Wonderful Guy: Conversations with the Great Men of Musical Theater
by Eddie Shapiro
Interviews with the men from Joel Grey to Jonathan Groff. Again, highly entertaining, and these conversations go well beyond musicals. Writer Shapiro knows and loves theatre. It shows in his questions, and his subjects respond by opening up in unexpected ways.
On my reading list is the newest edition…
Here’s to the Ladies: Conversations with More of the Great Women of Musical Theater
by Eddie Shapiro
Just came out this fall and I can’t wait to sit down with it. Moving on…
The Stage Actor’s Handbook
by Michael Kostroff and Julie Garnye
It would take a lifetime in the theatre to learn what Kostroff and Garnye have put into this book.
“A definitive guide for professionals and aspiring professionals alike, this book details best practices on everything from rehearsal demeanor to backstage etiquette.”
By the same author…
Audition Psych 101: A Refreshing Approach to the Dreaded Process
by Michael Kostroff
I’ve taken Michael’s in-person workshop on the audition process and the mental gymnastics we unnecessarily put ourselves through. I’ve booked some big jobs using what I learned from Michael, and now he’s put it all in book form.
Finally…you know any TBG blog about theatre books will include this, and for good reason…
An Actor’s Companion
by Seth Barrish
Not a notetaker? Seth’s done that for you! The Barrow Group tools in one simple and easy-to-read book. Every teacher at TBG goes through a year-long training program, and during that time we dig into this book page by page. My copy is all marked up with notes and I still review it on a regular basis.
Where to buy?
These books are available almost everywhere, including The Drama Book Shop just a couple blocks north of The Barrow Group. Last I checked they had all these titles in stock and so much more. An Actor’s Companion is also available at the front desk of the TBG space. Enjoy!
Upcoming classes with Edward include the 2-Week Beginner Acting Intensive starting 1/8, Beginner Acting Class II: Getting Specific starting 1/17, Beginner Acting Class III: On-Going Scene Study starting 1/26, and Beginner Acting Class I: The Basics starting 1/26.
Edward Stanley has been a member of the Barrow Group community since 2012. He’s worked as an actor and spokesperson in theatre, television, commercials, industrials, voiceover, and print for over thirty years. During his ten years in Los Angeles, he worked primarily in television, with roles on Modern Family, Hot in Cleveland, The Comeback, and Desperate Housewives, among others. Edward has performed extensively on stage in his hometown of Boston, working with SpeakEasy Stage, Provincetown Rep, Boston Lyric Opera, and the Charles Playhouse, and spent two seasons in nearly twenty productions with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Recent credits include Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra with the Virginia Shakespeare Festival, Zach in A Chorus Line at the Ivoryton Playhouse, and Duncan in Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. Edward holds a BFA in Theatre from Adelphi University, where he has also served on the adjunct theatre faculty. He earned his MFA in Acting from the University of Alabama and has studied with the National Theatre Studio in London.