Because it’s the subject in life I’m most passionate about, theatre is nearly the only subject on which I actively seek out and enjoy nonfiction. Some might say I’m just growing up and discovering a more sophisticated taste in books, but fiction is no less refined than nonfiction, and I’d make a list on theatre-related fiction recommendations if I’d read more of it. (Maybe soon!) Regardless of your ideas on the sophistication merit of nonfiction versus fiction, these are five nonfiction books anyone can appreciate, even if nonfiction isn’t your usual gig. For the sake of the less enthusiastic nonfiction readers, I will order this list following a sliding scale of “reads like a novel” to “reads like an essay” and let you decide for yourself where reading will become a chore. I really encourage everyone to try these five books, even if they intimidate you– they’re worth the struggle!
1. Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent by Anthony Rapp
This memoir reads like a novel about the first toddling steps of the musical Rent, and I love it to pieces. As a huge Rent fan, I geeked out over almost every page. You learn about the true stories of real people involved in the original try-outs and OBC of the show, unfolding alongside personal events in Anthony Rapp’s life. Just like the musical, there is equal measure joy, sorrow, and meditation on LGBT+ issues, woven together by hard reality and the drive to connect to others through our passions. If you are a Rent fan, this is absolute required reading. If not, I advise you to read anyway– you may find more to take away than you expected.
2. Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor by Mickey Rapkin
Half history lesson on the famous performing arts camp and half reality show unfolding in its midst, Theater Geek is supremely fun and validating to read. The camp is a haven for those who throw themselves wholeheartedly into their passion for theatre. While high school theatre kids get a bad rap for being dramatic, ambitious, and larger-than-life, Stagedoor Manor welcomes and worships these qualities, and promises unparalleled training and potential fame to the best of the best. Rapkin weaves the perilous history of the little camp that could turned Broadway pipeline with the true dramas of young actors preparing to perform with all they’ve got in the camp’s most demanding productions. A page-turner that keeps you in true suspense while delivering triumphantly, lovingly never-dry history on a camp we’re all too old to attend– but wish we could go to, anyway.
3. The Actor’s Art and Craft: William Esper Teachers the Meisner Technique by William Esper and Damon DiMarco
If you’re looking to learn something about acting, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. The Actor’s Art and Craft is like being a fly on the wall in one of the most incredible acting classrooms in the world. It’s a relatively easy read, with all of the acting advice given in narrative form through a fictionalized re-telling of Esper’s tutelage. It is inspiring and deeply informative, and full of heart in a surprising way. You read this book because it’s interesting on its own and realize you’ve learned more than you bargained for along the way. A fantastic primer on Meisner technique and a shining beacon for anyone interested in the art of acting.
4. The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods by Richard Brestoff
An unconventional read that provides a basic background on the greatest actors and acting teachers in history– essential reading for anyone looking to learn more about acting. Chapters provide history as well as sample lessons on the beliefs of each teacher. The wide sampling of ideas provides ample room for further reading, while also giving readers a basic understanding of many viewpoints on acting. This is a fantastic starting point for those looking to deepen their knowledge of acting as a craft. It is shockingly dense and yet surprisingly easy to read– you could read it in a day if you wanted, though you’d hardly get the full weight of the content if you rushed through it so fast! Take your time with this one and absorb as much as you can. It is well worth it.
5. The Empty Space by Peter Brook
Undoubtedly the most involved read on this list, and yet the shortest. Essentially a set of four essays on theatre as a whole– what it is, and what we do with it. This book provides a vocabulary for feelings about performances I previously had no words for, and lights a way to creating lively and inspiring theatre going forward. Reading it has fundamentally changed my understanding of theatre. If you are passionate about theatre, it is required reading that may shake you to your core.