Our 40 favourite theatre books

3 April 2019

And so the 40th celebrations continue! This list contains 40 theatre books picked by our community as essential reading. We hope you find something to inspire you and if there’s something we’ve missed please let us know.

EDIT: Since this list was originally published, we have added ISTA’s own Adventures in Theatre: The ISTA Method which we think belongs on every drama teacher’s book shelf!

Rejuvenate your theatre practice with practical games, activities and lessons ready to be brought to life in your own classes.

What will you find in the book?

– Articles on ensemble, working internationally, learning through Theatre, directing school productions and making your own work.

– A step by step guide to curriculum planning.

– Sample units of work for primary, middle and high school teachers.

  • – 120 exercises, activities and games to use immediately in your classroom.
  • – A collection of recommended theatre books for your personal use and/or department library.

Buy your copy at the ISTA SHOP TODAY!

Act One by Moss Hart

“Because memoirs teach us what it means to survive and thrive in the arts.”
Carla Weiss, Honorary Life Member, United States of America

Acting With Style by Sabin Epstein and John Harop

“Each chapter, starting with Greek Theatre, moving through various key theatre movements/practices ending with Artaud/Growtoski is practical, puts things into context and inspires teachers and students.”
Sherri Sutton, International School of Geneva, La Chataigneraie, Switzerland

Actor Training by Alison Hodge

“A very comprehensive book on theatre theorists and their working methods.”
Aditee Botsaw, British School of New Delhi, India

An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski

“My 7th grade theatre teacher/mentor introduced me to Stanislavski’s System. He gave the book as ‘end of the year’ gifts. That teacher called me when he retired and that was my first theatre teaching assignment. I still have that copy of the book, I give it as a gift to my graduating IB Theatre students.”
Tina Wojtysiak, American International School Budapest, Hungary

Centre Stage – Creating, Interpreting and Performing Drama by Matthew Clausen

“Great practical resources for a teacher.”
Kate Furguson, International School of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit by Bella Merlin and The Complete Brecht Toolkit by Stephen Unwin

“Great for practical activities and exercises and very easy to digest. Excellent summary at the end of each chapter.”
Rachel Jackson, Overseas School of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson

“Not a specific drama book but it contains some great details for drama teachers.”
Jo Lee, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Directors Craft, A Handbook for Theatre by Katie Mitchell

“Great for Lit Perf. A wonderfully organised resource for teachers of IB.”
Clynt Whittaker, Condordian International School, Bangkok, Thailand

The Director’s Voice, Twenty Interviews by Jason Loewith

“A great insight into different directors’ perspectives, ranging from Elizabeth LeCompte, Julie Taymor, Moises Kaufman, etc.”
Rachel Jackson, Overseas School of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Drama and Theatre Studies by Simon Cooper and Sally Mackey

“It is full of practical ideas to explore the work of a range of contrasting theorists and has really accessible practical ideas for students regarding approaches to performance and production. You can easily adapt the content for GCSE, A level or IB courses.”
Fenella Kelly, ISTA artist, United Kingdom

Drama Games for… series by Jessica Swale

“Series includes… For Classrooms and Wokshops, For Devising, For Rehearsals – and there is also one by Chris Johnston called For Those Who Like To Say No. All in this series are extremely well organised and grouped by skill/learning goal. The explanations are clear and easy to follow and each has a clearly stated aim. These books are great for those days when you can’t play your same old favourites – or you are trying to come up with a new approach to fix a common problem – or when you want students to take over the warm ups in class or rehearsals. My students frequently thumb through them and ask: ‘Can we try this one?’.”
Vicki Close, International School of Prague, Czech Republic

Drama Worlds: A Framework for Process Drama by Cecily O’Neil

“I love this book because it was my introduction to process drama. O’Neil provides an easily accessible guideline for how to develop a process drama, making connections to improvised theatre and reference to prominent practitioners along the way. I particularly appreciated the exemplar schemes of work where each of the elements of drama is explored, providing connections between ‘Episodes’ and ‘Drama Elements’. The reader is left with a clear, concise approach to developing the dramatic world. I especially loved the ‘Seal Wife’ unit as an excellent example of using a folk story as pre-text for drama. The book identifies the key elements of dramatic structure, contextualises process drama within the realm of theatre and offers practical advice to the teacher. Potential teachers of process drama can look to Drama Worlds as both a practical and theoretical guide.”
Chilla Tamas, American International School Budapest, Hungary

The Empty Space by Peter Brook

“When I first read this book it really captured all those nebulous frustrations I had with theatre (turns out it had a name: Deadly Theatre!) and gave me many ‘Yes!!!’ moments. The way Brook draws influences from others – Brecht and Artaud in particular – in his search for simplicity resonates with me when I create theatre today. To be open to many other styles, in a very messy way, yet boil down to a pure essence, sums up the creative process – making this book a foundation of any theatre creator.”
Kieran Burgess, Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan

50 Great Theatre Directors by Shomit Mitter (Editor)

“Great source for students to become inspired, continue researching and exploring theatre and theorists and practitioners. Easy to read theory.”
Alan Hayes, International School of Brussels, Belgium

The Frantic Assembly Book of Devising by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett

“I started using this book as a teacher when introducing contemporary companies and devising techniques to my IB students. Now the students often reach for it when they are looking for inspiration, trying to remember the details of a certain activity or are in charge of leading an activity or workshop. It is a fantastic resources for IB Collaborative Project. It has (relatively) easy to follow instructions for many Frantic activities and building blocks as well as a great deal of contextual information about how many of their pieces were created.”
Vicki Close, International School of Prague, Czech Republic

Games for Actors and Non Actors by Augusto Boal

“I love this book because it is so user friendly, especially for a drama teacher. You can dip into it and immediately find something useful. It’s the perfect blend in my mind of theory and practice. So many theatre reference books are so weighted down in, well, theory, I feel they are missing the point that theatre is a practice, it is practical, it’s kinetic, not static and this book for me brings his theory to life in an accessible, immediate way.”
Lizzie Hodge, International School of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Ghost Light by Frank Rich

“Because the arts can save us from difficult times and help us make our own families of like-minded souls.”
Carla Weiss, Honorary Life Member, United States of America

The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods by Richard Brestoff

“I really like the way Brestoff introduces the reader to key acting teachers and describes their main methods and ideas. Chapters are very readable and can be easily shared with students. Over the two volumes there is a range of key theorists covered and would surely be a useful addition to any drama department.”
George Fearnehough, International School of Toulouse, France

The Heart of Teaching: Empowering Students in the Performing Arts by Stephan Wangh

“I haven’t read this book in a long time – but many of the questions it posed have stuck with me – and it might be time for a re-read. It is not really a ‘how to teach theatre’ book but more of a discussion or musing on ‘How do I’: – foster creativity and not kill it? – listen or fail to listen to my students? – give feedback to students that they will actually listen to? – navigate the question of power and status in the classroom? – teach and assess creativity? – is that even possible?”
Vicki Close, International School of Prague, Czech Republic

Imagining the Real by David Davis

“When I read this I alternated between being very annoyed and very inspired: it’s a book that makes you question what you know and think about drama teaching. His tone is pretty angry and hectoring at times, and he’s not afraid to shoot a few sacred cows but it’s thought-provoking and lively stuff.”
Corin James, Dulwich College Singapore

In Yer Face Theatre by Aleks Sierz

“As a teacher I discovered this book with my students and it triggered an amazing response. Changed the way I taught theatre with 16-18 year olds for ever.”
Mike Bindon, ISTA trustee, The Netherlands

The Intercultural Performance Handbook by John Martin

“A fantastic resource of practical exercises from theatre traditions all over the world.”
Jodi Sprung-Boyd, SJI International School, Singapore

Living Drama by Bruce Burton

“Very accessible when introducing new practices/traditions and theorists to students. Short chapters.”
Rachel Jackson, Overseas School of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Making Theatre by Joss Bennathan

“Has great activities and offers strong structures for devising.”
Andy Burt, French International School, Hong Kong

Morality Play by Barry Unsworth

“It’s a fascinating depiction of early morality plays and the grittiness of a traveling theatre troupe and shows how theatre can reveal the truth. The play’s the thing!”
Carla Weiss, Honorary Life Member, United States of America

Moving Body by Jacques Le Coq

“Great MYP focus, and the sequence of his book builds wonderfully in a classroom environment.”
Clynt Whittaker, Condordian International School, Bangkok, Thailand

Other People’s Shoes by Harriet Walter

“A fabulous biography/reflection on her acting career, very readable and totally unpretentious.”
Jen Tickle, International School of Panama

Playing Commedia by Barry Grantham

“Very good for teaching Commedia dell’Arte but also more generally for introducing students to physicality, improvisation and presence.”
Corin James, Dulwich College Singapore

The Playing is the Thing: Learning the Art of Acting Through Games and Exercises by Anita Jesse

“There are a few activities in here that I really like, especially the ambiguous scripts that I use with my 8th graders to teach them to make every line count. I also like the cross-reference chart at the back so you can see the payoff of each activity.”
Leanne Fulcher, Singapore American School

Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life by Kenneth Gross

“Such a beautiful and fascinating book that explores the cultural context of different forms of puppetry. Profound, thought provoking and enlightening.”
Kate Friend, International School of Lausanne, Switzerland

A Reflective Practitioner’s Guide to (Mis)Adventures in Drama Education by Peter Duffy (Editor)

“Very entertaining and heartening to read about some of the big names in drama education, the mistakes they have made and what they’ve learnt from it. It really encourages me to be more reflective in my practice.”
Corin James, Dulwich College Singapore

Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players by Peter Hall

“The practical breakdown of language as it applies to performance is a master class. The last half of the book is detailed analyses of key passages from Shakespeare’s plays. Great practical advice (and great for English classes as well).”
Todd Welbes, American International School Chennai, India

Stage Lighting Design – A Practical Guide by Neal Fraser

“Great practical resources for a teacher.”
Kate Furguson, International School of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Theatre in Practice: A Student’s Handbook by Annie Sutton and Nick O’Brien

“Has some great practical ideas.”
Mandy Stiebel, British International School Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Theatre of the Absurd by Martin Esslin

“Because it got me through my degree finals!”
Kate Friend, International School of Lausanne, Switzerland

Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theatre by Dymphna Callery

“I love that it talks about learning not just from the neck up but how learning through the body can connect at a much deeper level.”
Anne Drouet, Hong Kong Academy

Why Is That So Funny? A Practical Exploration of Physical Comedy by John Wright

“It’s funny to read, funny to do. Such practical examples and a good theory base for students to explain comedy.”
Cath Rankin, International School Manila, The Philippines

The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau

“I strive for simplicity and purity, and this book armed me with so many weapons with which to blow fuzziness away. The underlying theories of space and time are fabulous enough in their effective simplicity but the detailed practical exercises suggested within the book really mean that creators of theatre are much closer to applying these theories.”
Kieran Burgess, Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan

Year of the King: An Actor’s Diary and Sketchbook by Anthony Sher

“I read the book while at drama school and it simply blew me away. For the first time I got a glimpse into what it was really like to work as a professional actor and to create a character: the frustration, the tedium, the hard work but also the joy a breakthrough can give. It shows that there are never any clear answers and that you rarely reach a point when you can say: ‘I’ve got it now’. Having a professional actor describe that creating a character is a constant process was such a revelation. A must for any drama student.”
Emmy Abrahamson, ISTA staff, Sweden

Young at Art by Christine Hatton and Sarah Lovesy

“A really cheesy title but very interesting in terms of their ideas about the devising process (they call it playbuilding). I’ve found some useful stuff in here about helping students to structure the process.”
Corin James, Dulwich College Singapore