Five pros (+1) on six books they turn to
by David King
There are always a few choice theatrebooks I tend to revisit when I'm in the process of creation. As I'm currently writing a play, I recently reread a chapter from Louis E. Catron's The Elements of Playwriting, a practical book on dramatic construction more than anything else. It was a book I once worked with as a tool in a dramaturgy course.
It's funny how a few years can change your perspective. Catron's book wasn't helpful at all on this re-read, and over-emphasizes Aristotle as well as aspects of playwriting that are out-of-date, premise or plot driven, and what should be considered "stageworthy". In the right context, the book is helpful in introducing a writer to playwriting, but as a career evolves it becomes like "Playwriting for Dummies".
There is a graveyard of theatrebooks we've all read which, like Catron's, probably aren't as useful anymore, but while picking up another one in my theatre collection, I realized that most of us must have a favourite we tend to go back to more than others as theatre artists. So why not contact professors and get their faves?
Along with these five, let us know what your own favourite theatre books are in the comments below (you know, that one theatre book you just can't help but to re-visit time and again.) It's always great to share!
Raphael Bendahan, former professor, Concordia University Dept. of Cinema and Labrador's Okalakatiget Society
"The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. It looks more deeply at character in relation to plot than most of the books on drama I've read. Oh those Europeans. They had it heads above American theatre writers for decades, and that richness and insight has paid off in the work of people like Egri. What Egri does is to note the importance of transitions in a character's evolution. He explains how when they're skipped, the work becomes hackneyed melodrama. That kind of clear vision into character development seems to be missing in our screen-obssessed times when 'drama' is often chopped up into two minute scenes or TV segments, in which character is reduced to stereotype."
Amid the hundreds of "how-to" books that have appeared in recent years, there have been very few which attempted to analyze the mysteries of play-construction. This book does that - and its principles are so valid that they apply equally well to the short story, novel and screenplay. Lajos Egri examines a play from the inside out, starting with the heart of any drama: its characters.
Harry Standjofski is a Montreal-based actor, playwright, director, teacher and musician
“First and foremost I read King Lear once a year.
"The book that I go back to often is David Hare's book of essays Writing Left-Handed.
"Other than being one of the best English language dramatists on the planet (maybe ever) that particular book of his is so full of both anecdotes as well as his unique processes. He writes in quite different styles depending on the subject at hand and the book touches on his different approaches to different subjects. He writes about politics and politics in theatre and takes no prisoners from neither the right or left; The anecdotes from productions and his meditation on actors he has worked with are terrific. The book is as laugh out loud funny at times, as entertaining as it is a serious questioning about what it means to be a theatre artist in today's world.”
Kate Bligh, Artistic Director Temenos Theatre and Concordia University Professor
"My favourite theatre book is Impro by Keith Johnstone. Partly because the first chapter is very insightful about the process of learning & teaching (which, of course, he sees as a continuum), and partly because he discusses & explains some of the most fundamental aspects of performing and watching performance with a clarity that I haven't found anywhere else. I go back to this book again and again (and recently had to buy a new copy because I'd forgotten who I had loaned the old one to)."
Keith Johnstone is one of the few internationally recognized authorities in the field of improvisation, great chunks of which he created, including improvisation forms that include Theatresports, Micetro Impro (or Maestro Impro), Gorilla Theatre, and The Life Game.
Steven Lecky, author and Chair of Professional Theatre Program, Dawson College
"None other than [my own]: Vox Method: The Acting Process. Phenomenal!"
Vox Method: The Acting Process (2009) is a revolutionary and exciting training program for actors that never wavers from its belief that ultimate artistic liberty is dependant on a solid grounding in technique. Throughout the book and its accompanying DVD, an extensive and clearly defined acting terminology is developed that greatly facilitates explanation and discussion. Vox Method: The Acting Process demystifies the craft of acting - making it more accessible, comprehensible and concrete.
Gordon McCall, former A.D. Centaur Theatre, Head of Theatre Directing, Purdue University
"My favourite book, other than Shakespeare, that I return to regularly is A Director Prepares: 7 Essays On Art and Theatre, by Anne Bogart. This is a profound discussion of seven essential aspects of human behaviour that relate to all theatre experiences. This book stirs my imagination while keeping me focused on fundamental truths that must be realized in the rehearsal process to achieve best results."
Bogart (directing, Columbia Univ.) is the artistic director of the SITI Company, an ensemble-based theater company that she founded with Tadshi Suzuki. Her book is aimed at the practitioner but has value for the avid theater goer as well. What we see on stage, as a whole, is a culmination of bits and pieces, steps forward and backward, as a work of "art" is created and then presented. In each essay, Bogart discusses one of seven concepts violence, memory, terror, eroticism, stereotype, embarrassment, and resistance that can work as an obstruction or catalyst to this creative process.
Liz Valdez, teacher/director
Liz Valdez, teacher/director
There are many books I return to but I would have to say my own personal favorite is Peter Brook's "The Open Door". It is not a large book, only 144 pages full of inspiring thoughts and insights into theatre and acting. Reading this book reminds me why I do what I do and sparks my curiosity about understanding things further and mostly it excites the learning in me. Peter Brook underlines the many paradoxes that are theatre and puts into words things I already instinctively knew and things I still need to grasp on a deeper level. It is an easy read and yet full of impressions and ideas to question and reflect on as an artist. I absolutely love this book for too many reasons to mentions but I do think that everyone should read it.
Theatre as a word is so vague that it is either meaningless or creates confusion because one person speaks about one aspect and another about something quite different. It is like speaking about life. The word is too big to carry meaning. The essence of theatre is within a mystery called "the present moment".