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The Actor and the Target

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  584 ratings  ·  51 reviews

“Acting is a reflex, a mechanism for development and survival. . . . It isn’t ‘second nature,’ it is ‘first nature.’”—Declan Donnellan
This immensely popular and ever-practical book on acting takes a scalpel to the heart of actors’ persistent fears, helping them to release their talent on stage. It is straightforward and unpretentious, with a spirit of artistic and persona
Paperback, 300 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Theatre Communications Group (first published January 1st 2000)
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Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books about acting and is as valuable for the director as it is the actor. This is not a book for beginners. It's primarily a book about how to break through blockage in rehearsal and performance. It's very heady and assumes a thorough understanding of acting and the foundation work needed to prepare for rehearsals, but it is also incredibly smart and inspiring. This is a must-read for every professional actor, director and teacher of acting/directing. ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really great way to think about acting, but even better when considered as a directing book. The tools he outlines in the book are great to contextualize relationship, stakes, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of fear (the number one cause of a bad performance is fear that you'll give a bad performance). The few exercises he touches on are really useful for fixing some of the most common problems I see in all levels of performance, and help actors clarify for themselves why they are there, what t ...more
Dylan Zucati
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I hate reading books about acting because they get so academic and technical; as if there is one way to act, one way to be truthful with a text. The Actor and the Target forces you to get out of your head and recognize that everything you need to act has always been in front of you. It’s like a manual for coaching actors to just act goddamnit. For those it matters to, Nick O’Leary told me to read this book; like most things having to do with theatre, he was right.
Cameron Krogh Stone
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Read this book if you want to understand life, and how tightly humans and nature are interlinked. Read it to see some of these connections more clearly. Read it to pay better attention to your surroundings. Read it to focus on what’s most important. Read it to forget your inner dialogue, your ego and self-consciousness. Read it to better understand the human condition, and the existential need to perform.
Read it, if you want to understand what it takes to act, and direct actors.
The most enligh
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Great. Compatible with training at the SITI Company and the Esper Studio.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Truthfully, this book about getting out of one's head is counterintuitively over-written. So much of it, however, is brilliant that I'm giving it 5 stars all the same. ...more
Daniel Summerstay
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: acting
This book would have been a pleasure to read even without the brilliant acting insights; the style is positively delightful. Donellan has written the book such that you don't need to try or concentrate to understand the wisdom inside (In fact, not to do so would have gone against the book's very philosophy). ...more
Brandon Broughton
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
A wonderful and insightful read on the nature of acting, and how acting is interwoven into our everyday lives. This book isn't just for the actor, it's for any thinking individual. ...more
Samuel Wharton
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
From finishing my acting Degree I was determined to continue reading, and exploring other ideas for the rest of my career in order to develop. This may be on your reading list for your degree. To this I would suggest reading it again once you finish because it is so easy to follow and not too dense.
If it wasn’t on your reading list, as soon as you finish your course (or during your course) read it! It is one of the best books to begin expanding your knowledge. If you’re thinking about acting as
Amber Hooper
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-for-school
I read this for a class and never, ever in a million years would have picked it up otherwise. I am not an actor, and I am not interested in pursuing acting at all besides maybe auditioning for a show before I leave college. If I had experience acting before and had plans to pursue acting in the future, I think this book would have been much more helpful and relatable, but for me it wasn't really either of those things. ...more
Hannah Warren
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a great read! From an actors perspective, this isn't for a beginner. As a whole, Donnellan's advice can be a bit lofty for someone who is new to the craft. However, as a teacher and director of beginner high school students, I found great pieces of advice and exercises that can be modified for students of all levels. In particular, his writing about the stakes of a scene is proving to be quite useful. I highly recommend this book for all actors and directors. ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
This book was thrust upon me, so perhaps my negative thoughts spur from that- but I personally think, in spite of some good ideas, the book is too long and too convoluted. Sometimes it really is best to not overcomplicate, as that allows for ease and focus on the other. What it promotes is good, but at the same time, just a tad counter-intuitive for me.
Anusha Paul
Feb 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
I read this book for class. Never would have read it otherwise. The format of the book is confusing and not engaging. It would be a good book for an experienced actor looking to improve, but not for a beginner.
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not many acting books share knowledge for the stage and everyday life. Pleasant time reading this; simple and straightforward writing allowed me to read it in one day.
P.S. The last paragraph of the book is something everyone (not just actors) needs to remember...
Claire Fry
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I will read and reread this book my whole life. There are so many parts of this book that I feel don’t affect me now will affect me later. So so rich and yet so simple. A must for any actor’s bookshelf.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-hated
Got some good points, but after about halfway through it becomes redundant. Worth reading, but could have probably been about 100 pages.
Hanna Bondarewska
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great guidance for the actors

Fabulous way to practice acting and define the ways to see through the characters yes, to see the targets and let them affect
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's been said a lot already, but this is the best book you will ever read on acting. ...more
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Practical, humble, brilliant. The most useful book for actors I’ve read.
Kaleigh Howland
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: acting
Bryan Kuchar
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is basically the equivalent to the bible for an actor.
Hayley Haggerty
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
find your target. find it.

Seriously though, this book was extremely helpful when looking for a new acting method, especially when it comes to Shakespeare. Thanks!
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ongoing-read
The best, most practical acting book thus far that I've read. Like writer's block, actors can also feel blocked during the rehearsal process and performance. But this book really helped put to rest a lot of my misconceptions of how to approach the acting process and helped to free me from the things that used to block me. ...more
Kaysy Ostrom
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Note: I am a theatre student and a complete theatre nerd to the MAX. I love acting and the art of acting is completely and utterly fascinating to me. This is a MUST read for anyone interested in being an actor. It's my favorite text I've had to read for my theatre classes thus far. It's not so much a "how to act" book, like Meisner and Stanislavski, its more of a "how do a revitalize my work" and "what do I do if I feel blocked and unproductive" book, as feeling that way is inevitable at times. ...more
May 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is one of the better acting books I have read, and I have read most of them. Acting books are always hard as acting can not be learned from a book. Declan Donnellan has some great insight into common blocks actors have.

His information is not new. His comments about the target is what Meisner refers to as your partner. What is great is how Donnellan words things and breaks down common ideas and rewords ideas to show what the actor should be focused on.
Nov 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Theatre actors who tend to beat themselves up
This book was written to encourage actors to take the pressure off themselves and just be as open as possible on a stage. Everything you need to play a role already exists! There are impulses coming at you constantly! I read most of this just before playing Mary Warren in "The Crucible" and had perhaps the most relaxed and fulfilling theatre experience I've ever had. This book was not the sole reason for that, but it was a large part of it. ...more
Sep 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I found this essential reading during two rehearsal processes and thesis work on personal ownership of one's role and the practical application of that ownership both in rehearsal and performance. Donnellan's text is clear and crisp, addressing the problems that often plague a frightened actor and providing a simplification of one's thinking that allows for an outside, active experience while playing. ...more
Laura Beth
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you do not read any other books on acting . . . read this one, please. Skip all the Meisner and Adler stuff, read this one and it will put you in the game and help you find yourself and your voice without having to think too terribly hard about the "existential" of the more complex methods . . . not to say this book presents an easy path, but it is a doable, intuitive one.

Read it, actors. Read it--and discover
Sarah Kei
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The book is a great resource and I recommend it to anyone who has interest in acting. The content is extremely valuable and it's worth reading over and over again. Donnellan does use some round about ways of describing things so it can be initially hard to understand. Other than that, the book is interesting and wonderfully put! ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A very complicated acting method for the beginner actor. Donnellan's concept is very abstract and hold a very free thinking approach to development. I think he held some brilliant ideas and points, while some of his other points seemed iconoclastic.
Overall it is a resourceful tool, one I will definitely revisit.
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