The best books about what life in the theatre is really like

Who am I?

As a brainy, bullied Queer theater kid, I was 14 before I ever saw anyone like myself onstage or onscreen. Then—Wham—in June of 1980 I saw A Chorus Line on Broadway and Fame at the movies. But there weren’t any books that showed the theater life as it was actually lived. When I published my love letter to my high school theater friends in 2004, no one had written a novel about our kind. Today, as someone who’s managed to make a living as a writer-director of musicals, I strive to share the whole truth with the young artists I mentor. 

I wrote...

How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater

By Marc Acito,

Book cover of How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater

What is my book about?

How I Paid for College is just true enough to embarrass my family and just fictional enough to shield me from prosecution. It’s about a teen actor who schemes to steal his college tuition money when his wealthy father refuses to pay for him to study acting at Juilliard. It won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, and has almost been a movie or TV series for nearly 20 years.

“A brilliant, laugh-out-loud novel” - City Magazine, London, “Acito has fantastic narrative chops, writing funny, fast and satisfying chapters…This is a book for mature readers that reminds us what a blast immaturity can be.” - People Magazine

The books I picked & why

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Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History

By Glen Berger,

Book cover of Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History

Why this book?

Everything that can wrong in live theatre happened to Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark—and on the biggest scale possible. How Glen Berger, the only non-rich and famous person on the creative team of The Lion King director Julie Taymor and U2 rockers Bono and The Edge, managed to tell all without being sued is a mystery. Maybe it’s because the fights, failures, and firings are all just another day at work on Broadway—as are the accidents. Every outrageous incident Berger relates I have personally experienced in the musicals I’ve written—from on Broadway to Off-Off-Broadway and around the globe. Reading Song of Spider-Man prepared me for the worst, from producers applying Mafia-style pressure to witnessing an actor plummet to the stage like a dead weight. 

Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway

By Michael Riedel,

Book cover of Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway

Why this book?

As a teacher of History and Musicals at NYU, I’ve seen how theatre students are most interested in the shows they know, which typically means those produced in their lifetime. So I try to meet them where they are and then journey backwards into the past. While Singular Sensation moves forward in time from the 1990s, it shows how the Broadway we know today came to be. And who could resist reading about Patti LuPone throwing a floor lamp out her dressing room window when Andrew Lloyd Webber fired her from Sunset Boulevard? So I hope you’ll come back for more and read Riedel’s equally dishy yet informative Razzle Dazzle, which is about Broadway in the 1970s, when someone could mug you at knifepoint in broad daylight on 42nd Street (and, in my case, did).

Trouble in Mind

By Alice Childress,

Book cover of Trouble in Mind

Why this book?

Like Hamlet says, “The play’s the thing,” so any reading list for theater people should include the reason we’re here in the first place. Alice Childress’s indictment of the degrading condescension inflicted on Black people in the theater by self-proclaimed white allies is as true today as when she wrote it in 1955. That makes me sad and angry, as does the fact it took 66 years for it to finally be produced on Broadway. But it also gives me hope when high-quality work gets recognized. And as a writer who finds the funny in any situation, I love how Childress serves up bitter pills of truth in spoonfuls of honeyed laughs. 

Putting on the Ritz

By Joe Keenan,

Book cover of Putting on the Ritz

Why this book?

Joe Keenan’s madcap farces made me want to write my own. They’re the kind of books that make you laugh so hard you just have to read lines from it to the person sitting next to you (preferably someone you know because strangers on mass transit don’t appreciate that kind of thing). As zany as they are, his novels are rooted in the real, doing-whatever-you-can-to-make-it lives of theater people. So they’re not as far-fetched as you might think. Life in New York City really can be that wildly glamorous. And hilarious.

Unprotected: A Memoir

By Billy Porter,

Book cover of Unprotected: A Memoir

Why this book?

If you’ve ever seen Billy Porter werk the red carpet, you know he doesn’t hold anything back. His memoir is no exception. And while the challenges he’s faced as a Black, Queer person are as unique as his talent, every theatrer-maker can identify with his dreams, his passions, and his disappointments. I so admire his courage in calling out hypocrisy in our business while simultaneously demonstrating the grace to call in for healing. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in theatres, New York State, and Broadway musicals?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about theatres, New York State, and Broadway musicals.

Theatres Explore 52 books about theatres
New York State Explore 424 books about New York State
Broadway Musicals Explore 75 books about Broadway musicals

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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