Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Actor and the Target

Rate this book
“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 personal freedom.

300 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Declan Donnellan

13 books4 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
358 (48%)
4 stars
236 (31%)
3 stars
104 (14%)
2 stars
29 (3%)
1 star
14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews
Profile Image for Mark.
43 reviews1 follower
April 6, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Dan.
3 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2012
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 they're trying to change, and what will happen if they succeed or fail.

For actors, it continues the line of thinking started in something like How to Stop Acting by Harold Guskin: that intellectually trying to create an emotional through-line is a self-defeating task, and there are some much simpler (NOT easier) things to focus on that are exponentially more helpful in creating a live performance. Not really for the total beginner, I think the text would be more useful for someone who already has a solid foundation in the craft. The book spends most of its time dissecting and dismantling common blocks, like "I don't know who I am" or "I don't know what I want."

As an aside, I didn't realize until halfway through that this book was actually originally written in Russian.

Overall, a great book that has fundamentally changed the way I think about scene work.
Profile Image for Dylan Zucati.
173 reviews1 follower
October 5, 2019
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.
November 6, 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 enlightening book on acting I’ve read to date, full of practical exercises as well as life lessons. A bit convoluted at times, but forgive it and push through, the payoff is worth it.
Profile Image for Colin Bruce Anthes.
216 reviews22 followers
June 6, 2017
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.
February 23, 2020
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).
December 13, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Jorge.
14 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2022
El libro cumple muy bien su cometido: Ayudar al actor/actriz con los bloqueos a los que nos enfrentamos en ficción. Da herramientas muy útiles y perspectivas que ayudan a ver esos miedos con unos ojos más claros y amables. En resumen, todo se trata de la atención. ¿Dónde estoy poniendo mi atención?

Por un lado, creo que el libro es muy repetitivo. Pero me imagino si uno lee de vez en cuando un capítulo esta repetición puede ser necesaria para recordar esos fundamentos que propone el libro.

También se me hace rara la traducción de “la Diana” pero no se me ocurriría otra manera de hacerlo. Aún así se entiende, solo hay que hacer el esfuerzo, al principio, de recordar quien es la Diana.
Profile Image for Celia.
11 reviews
February 9, 2022
This book is very helpful for those who have already learnt acting techniques and know the basis of method acting. This book not only helped me to find myself in the process of character development but it will also help me to not block myself in the future.
Profile Image for Annamåd.
54 reviews
February 18, 2021
Jeg må bare si tusen takk til fortid-Annamåd som valgte å kjøpe denne boken, fordi den har vært såå lærerik og interessant og inspirerende, og selv om det tok meg sånn 3 år før jeg ble ferdig med den så har det vært utrolig verdt det.
Profile Image for Phoebe C.
23 reviews3 followers
October 13, 2021
really good for acting/directing/writing. also really good for thinking about what it means to be a person
Profile Image for Kaysy Ostrom.
454 reviews13 followers
December 15, 2015
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. There's lots of quirky anecdotes and digressions that keep it from feeling like a text book but it also has SO many words of wisdom that changed my view on acting completely. Also, I finished reading it on time. Lots of people in my class procrastinated to I'm gonna ace this quiz and that feels goooood :)
Profile Image for primoguitaro.
191 reviews3 followers
July 26, 2021
The Actor and the Target is an inspiring, insightful book. I quickly realized it was not a book meant for beginners, and yet, this is something that offers perspectives on acting I never considered prior to picking this up. Some quotes truly hit me, and several pieces of advice offered I know I will take and use.

The language I also have to comment on. The writing style (I know, I know it's a nonfiction acting book) is hard to read and so this book is one I believe would generally require more time and focus to get through, however, it is definitely worth it. The writing and the chapters are accompanied by examples taken from well-known plays that bring to life what is being said.

Not the best book to start with if you're new to acting and new to reading acting books. I am certain I will be returning to this in the years to come.

june-july 2021 - '58'
August 14, 2020
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 a career or for training, give this a read. Having this as your first read into the field puts you miles ahead and will open your mind and inspire you to want to continue to read into the field.
Profile Image for Dennis.
57 reviews8 followers
August 4, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Tia.
93 reviews35 followers
November 7, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Matt.
237 reviews2 followers
November 11, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Laura Beth.
119 reviews
May 21, 2014
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
Profile Image for Amber Hooper.
156 reviews
January 23, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Hannah Warren.
22 reviews
November 14, 2020
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.
1 review
January 15, 2014
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!
Profile Image for Kristina.
129 reviews9 followers
May 11, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Vida.
5 reviews
July 4, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Nicole.
637 reviews20 followers
May 9, 2018
I have taken copious notes and am eager to put them into use in my own practise. I found the section on verse clearest and the most insightful and wish the rest of the book were more like that but he does make useful point after useful point and I feel like my work could be improved if I’ve absorbed even half of them.
Profile Image for HotEnglishProf.
24 reviews
May 18, 2021
this book has a lot of good advice for the actor. it’s only pitfall is that it’s not highly practical- it lacks exercises that support the technique. you feel enlightened by every chapter, but dull when you return to actually acting. the novel is still very well structured and addresses lots of problems in acting. perhaps i will devise my own exercises based off of its principles...
Profile Image for Tim Gittings.
7 reviews1 follower
October 16, 2007
It is amazing. His whole purpose is to cut-through generalization and get to the meat of specificity and that's exactly what he is able to do. He identifies common blocks and doubts and shines a simple, strong light on them to show what is really happening.
Profile Image for Nick O'leary.
11 reviews9 followers
January 25, 2016
One of the best books on acting (and perhaps human behavior) I have ever read. It is actually useful and applicable to the craft of acting without attempting to reduce the inexplicable and ineffable reality of acting as an art. I consider this a must read.
Profile Image for Veronica.
Author 8 books9 followers
January 14, 2016
It's a really good book for anyone interested in acting, no matter their level. I'd recommend it.
It's a bit fuzzy sometimes but in the end it all ties together, and I feel that it has taught me quite some things. Both about acting and creativity in general.
21 reviews
March 15, 2019
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.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 72 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.