My 13 Acting Bibles

There are a few books that I return to over and over, year after year, that always inspire and help my acting career. Either helping with my technique and portrayal of a character, or my approach to the business itself, these books never let me down. These are my acting bibles. It always amazes me that I can read a book two years later and can learn something completely different from the first time around.

So, if you are an actor person or are just starting out on your acting journey, put these on your reading list:

My acting bibles

1. Dallas Travers- The Tao of Show Business

This is a recent acquisition but instrumental in the construction of a solid career. Dallas is such an inspirational person and can make every hurdle into an opportunity. Some of the best, most helpful, and USEFUL career advice, all in a tiny book!

2. Richard Brestoff- The Camera Smart Actor

This was a lucky find at the Goodwill of all places. Best dollar I ever spent. This breaks down camera acting better than any other book I’ve read (except maybe for #6 or 7). Brestoff takes you on a fictional narrative that guides you through how to be professional on set, and make the best technical choices for your performance. This is a great investment.

3. Nancy Bishop- Secrets from the Casting Couch

Another great one for navigating the business of acting. She takes you through the techniques of auditioning from the perspective of a casting director. If you are in the trenches of the business, this book will help you through them.

4. Anne Bogart- And then you Act

Anne Bogart is an amazing voice in the theater and I always put down her books feeling utterly inspired. This book and her Director Prepares should be read by any performing artist.

5. Michael Checkov- To the Actor

This is a great book to explore character through physicality. It can be pretty dense, but yields pretty great rewards. Let go of any traditional concepts of character and dig in (pun intended)!

6. Steve Carlson- Hitting Your Mark

This is like a beginner’s guide to camera acting. All the nuts and bolts broken out so you can see and understand them. The second half focuses on the actual life of an actor, which ain’t always pretty. I have read this book at least three times and can’t wait to read it again.

7. Michael Cain- Acting In Film

Who doesn’t love Michael Cain? This is this acting legend’s advice from his long career. Humorous, frank, and full of anecdotes and tips. A must read.

8. Basil Hoffman- Cold Reading and How to be Good at it

Cold reading is scary. This book breaks cold reading down and makes it manageable. It’s a short book, so take and hour or two and study up on your cold reading skills.

9. Jon Jory- Tips: Ideas for Actors

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mr. Jory and he practices what he preaches. The book consists of short, single page tips on process, and practical advice in rehearsal and performance. All theater actors, especially students, should own this book.

10. David Mamet- True and False

Not everybody likes Mr. Mamet. And not everyone likes this book. I love it and love how bold he is in talking about theater and craft. If you want to shake things up, give this one a go.

11. Michael Shurtleff- Audition

How do you book gigs? You audition. It may be the hardest thing actors ever have to do (besides their taxes), so you should be well educated on how to make the most of them. These simple steps have helped generations of actors and is another necessity for every actors library

Important Additions:

12. Bonnie Gillespie- Self Management for Actors

This has become the unofficial bible for managing yourself. It definietely merits several reads though as it is dense with info, yet Bonnie’s writing style is fun and engaging. This is a must for your acting library.

13. Steven Pressfield- The War of Art

I have read this over and over and over again. The book is essential for anyone in a creative profession. This gets to the heart of the mindset battle we all face as artists. I also recommend his books, Turning Pro, and The Warrior Ethos.

Whew, got all that? Take them one at a time and let yourself be open to any ideas or advice that strikes you as you read. Those are the things you need to hear in this moment, and will inform your work right now.

Get reading!!


  • Comment
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Stumbleupon
  • Email
  • Comments

    1. Margaret Layne

      I recommend Simon Callow’s “Being An Actor” and William Redfield’s “Letters To a Young Actor” (an account of his experience as a young man working with Richard Burton in HAMLET) as well. They’re on my “Bible” list!

    2. jessicamartin

      Margaret- I’ve read almost all of Simon Callow’s books and he definitely verbose. Being An Actor was my favorite of his. I need to read the Redfield book though!

      Elias- Hitting Your Mark is a very popular name, didn’t you know 😉

    3. mattshimkus

      Hi, Jessica.
      I got turned on to this post by David Hogan, and I just want to say a quick “Thanks” for putting these books out there. I’m constantly in search for more quality reading material (especially USEFUL reading material) about the business, craft, and process of acting.

      Also, you were fantastic in “Double Indemnity”. I caught a mid-week matinee late in the Seattle run, and was really blown away. Congratulations on such strong work!

      Matt Shimkus


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *