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My ten favourite 2012 training books

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I often do round-up reviews of books which relate, to a greater or lesser extent, to training. But they tend – as in last week’s Stage – to be the latest batch of new publications. Several people have asked me to look back and highlight what I think are the best this year – as I see so many and one way or another, usually have my head stuck in a book. So, just in case you’re still looking for Christmas presents, here, in no particular order, is my 2012 top ten list of training books. And by training books I simply mean books from which readers can learn at whatever career (or other) stage they find themselves.

1. Mastering the Audition by Donna Solo-Morettini (Methuen Drama ISBN 9781408160619). The audition process is flawed but it’s the best recruitment process the industry has (yet) come up with, so nervous actors have to find ways of dealing with it. Experienced casting director Solo-Morettini, who has worked at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, LIPA and RCSSD and led seminars for The Stage, really knows her stuff.

2. So You Want to Be In Musicals? by Ruthie Henshall (Nick Hern Books, ISBN 9781848421509.) This experienced, very successful performer takes the reader through the entire process from being a school student with dreams and aspirations, through training, auditioning, rehearsing and performing to working, as well as managing yourself as a freelance business.

3.The No Rules Handbook for Writers by Lisa Goldman (Oberon, ISBN 9781849431118) Feisty, helpful, liberating stuff in which playwright, director and dramaturg Goldman discusses the pros and cons of 40 apparently sensible established rules, such as ‘Write what you know’ and ‘Show don’t tell.’ She then concludes each section with a rule breaker such as ‘Write to discover what you don’t know yet’ and ‘It’s the way you tell ‘em’.

4. The Cambridge Shakespeare Guide by Emma Smith (Cambridge, ISBN 9780521149723 gives a potted, but pretty informative, account of each play and its production history. It could be a useful reference book for someone starting out on Shakespeare studies who hasn’t yet had time to read all the plays – although it should not, of course, be used as a short-cut alternative to reading what Shakespeare actually wrote.

5. Writing Comedy by John Byrne (Bloomsbury, ISBN 1408146453) The fourth edition of this book is both practical and funny. The Stage’s ‘Dear John’ takes you through basic joke writing, comedy routines, different sorts of comedy and then – because this is John Byrne and career management is one of his great strengths – how to organise and develop your career as a comedy writer.

6. Great Moments in the Theatre by Benedict Nightingale (Oberon ISBN 9781849432337) is a terrifically informative read for anyone generally interested in theatre. It recalls many of his own great moments – as former chief theatre critic for The Times – and describes momentous theatre moments before his time – such as the first performance of Iolanthe in 1891. And it’s all gloriously readable and vivid. http://oberonbooks.com/great-moments

7. The Expressive Actor by Michael Lugering (Routledge ISBN 9780415669313) presents a comprehensive training method – bringing together voice, movement and basic acting skills. It’s very specific and very detailed with lots of impressive exercises and diagrams.

8. How Musicals Work and How to Write Your Own by Julian Woolford (Nick Hern Books, ISBN 9781848421752) outlines the creative process from hatching the initial idea and developing a structure for the work, through creating the book, music and lyrics and on to the crucial process of writing. Then comes practical, how-to advice relating to getting a musical produced, generating future productions and sustaining a career.

9. In-Depth Acting by Dee Cannon (Oberon Books ISBN 8781849432320) offers a dynamic, hands-on approach to the Stanislavski technique. And it’s very good at sparing the reader the finer and more abstruse points of Stanislavski theory. You need to know the character you are playing as well as you know yourself and Cannon tells you exactly how to set about achieving that.

10. The Golden Rules of Acting that Nobody Ever Tells You by Andy Nyman (Nick Hern Books, ISBN 9781848422537) Presented in large print with jokey soundbites, occasional speech bubbles and stylised on-page annotation, it covers drama school, auditions, agents, directors, dealing with reviews and various other aspects of living an actor’s life – with wit. And there are interspersed gems such as Michael Caine’s “I’m a skilled professional actor. Whether I have any talent or not is beside the point” and Mark Twain’s “The harder I work the luckier I get.”

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