10 Books Every Theatre Lover Should Read

In honor of National Book Lovers Day, we put together a list of our Top 10 Books About Theatre for you – complete with recommended shows to enhance your experience!

The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau
Modeled on a technique of physical improvisation that grew out of postmodern dance, The Viewpoints are a set of techniques focusing on movement and gesture, through space and time. A great book that fosters artists to collaborate intuitively, and whose principles can be applied to any kind of creative process – in art, work, or daily life. (See ArtsEmerson’s Machine de Cirque, September 21 – October 2)

The Empty Space by Peter Brook
Peter Brook, one of the most influential stage directors of the 20th century, breaks theatrical performances into four categories: the deadly, the holy, the rough, and the immediate. Using examples from theatre and performance history, Brook analyzes how each kind of theatre affects us by breaking rules, building new expectations, and ultimately having a lasting effect on the audience.  The Empty Space is defined by Brook as “[a]ny space in which theatre takes place.” (See ASP’s Hamlet, October 5 – November 6)

History of the Theatre, 10th Edition by Oscar G. Brocket and Franklin J. Hildy
Considered to be the “bible” of theatre history, this is an essential (and accessible) pick offering the most comprehensive coverage of European, American, Asian, African, and Latin American theatrical traditions throughout history. Complete with over 530 photographs, illustrations, and maps, this widely respected book is an indispensable asset for the theatre dabbler and connoisseur alike. (See Zeitgeist Stage Company’s Eight by Tenn, September 2 – October 8)

Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture by Tracy C. Davis
Using historical evidence as well as personal accounts, Tracy C. Davis examines the reality of conditions for `ordinary’ actresses, their working environments, employment patterns and the reasons why acting continued to be such a popular, though insecure, profession. Firmly grounded in Marxist and feminist theory she looks at representations of women on stage, and the meanings associated with and generated by them. She demonstrates how women were able to make names and lives for themselves in a career often not kind to their gender at a time when women of a certain economic and social class were still expected to remain at home. (See BLO’s Carmen, September 23 – October 2)

The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and Theatre by Laurence Senelick
The first ever published cross-cultural study of crossdressing and theatrical transvestism, Senelick analyzes the history and patterns of crossdressing in performance throughout theatrical history. Senelick discusses the boy actor on the stages of China, England, and Japan; modern-day performers such as David Bowie and Charles Ludlum; and the origins of the male impersonator, each section paired with lavish illustrations and pictures. A must-read for anyone interested in the history of drag, crossdressing, and the performance of gender. (See Company One’s The T Party,  Now – August 13)

Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts by Anna Deavere Smith
The award-winning writer (and performer) of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and Fires in the Mirror offers her wisdom to the new generation of artists, through a series of candid, anecdotal letters addressing many issues, including: artistic integrity, confidence, discipline, networking, self-esteem, fame, failure, and the role of the artist in promoting social change and building diversity. Don’t miss the chance to see Anna Deavere Smith perform her new show about the school-to-prison pipeline in America, Notes from the Field, at the American Repertory Theater, August 20 – September 17.

An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski
Written as the fictional diary of a student named Kostya in his first year of actor training, this autobiographical piece is about mastering the craft of acting, and about stimulating creativity and imagination. Kostya goes through the training which will become known as the Stanislavski System, which addresses many areas of mastering acting skills, including: action, imagination, attention, relaxation, objectives, and more. (See Bad Habit’s A Man of No Importance, Now – August 28)

The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas by Diana Taylor
Taylor’s work, rooted in performance studies, speaks to the importance of performance as a part of the archive, and vice-versa. From plays to official events to grassroots protests, she notes that all types of performance should be taken seriously as a means of storing and transmitting knowledge. Taylor reveals how the repertoire of embodied memory revealed through live performance offers alternative perspectives to those derived from the written archive and can be useful to as a practice of reconsidering written narratives. (See Central Square Theater’s Marjorie Prime, September 8 – October 9)

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical by Stacy Wolf
Working chronologically by decade from the 1940s to present day, Stacy Wolf frames popular Broadway hits such as West Side Story, Cabaret, Phantom of the Opera, In the Heights, and Wicked within the lens of their female characters. Wolf analyzes the shifts in narrative, content, and stage presence of these characters through the changing from of the musical, and dedicated her last two chapters to exploring the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda in Wicked and what it might mean for women in musicals and what they can do. (See The Huntington’s Sunday in the Park with George, September 9 – October 16)

The Cambridge Companion to African-American Theatre by Harvey Young, ed.
This collection of scholarly essays discuss and interrogate the role African-Americans played and still play in the development of popular theatrical culture. Highlights include: “Early black Americans on Broadway,” by Monica Ndounou White; “African American women dramatists, 1930-1960” by Adrienne Macki Braconi; and “Spectacles of whiteness from Adrienne Kennedy to Suzan-Lori Parks” by Faedre Chatard Carpenter. (See SpeakEasy’s The Scottsboro Boys, October 21 – November 26)

List curated by Marissa Friedman and Emma Futhey. #NationalBookLoversDay

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  • kushka53

    And then, after all that new found wisdom, one must read an actual play–in this case, I think “The Importance of Being Ernest” would do nicely.

    • Marissa Friedman

      That happens to be one of my personal favorites!

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