The best theatre books

23 authors have picked their favorite books about theatres and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Modernism in Kyiv: Jubilant Experimentation

Modernism in Kyiv: Jubilant Experimentation

By Irena Makaryk, Virlana Tkacz,

Why this book?

This excellent collection of articles by the top connoisseurs of East European art and culture discusses how Ukrainians and Jews created new trends in art and literature in the midst of the revolutionary turmoil Kyiv, then short-lived capital of the Ukrainian People’s Republic and later of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This book proves that avant-garde images and trends emerge from the revolutionary utopianism and the desire to create a universalistic language understandable beyond the ethnic divide and languages.

From the list:

The best books at the intersection of European art, culture, and history

Book cover of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why this book?

A literary biography, Will in the World connects the plots of Shakespeare’s plays and the sentiments of his poems to the writer’s life and career. No one living knows more about Shakespeare than Stephen Greenblatt. His research is solid and impressive. In this book, Greenblatt verges a bit into speculative possibilities. Where, exactly, was Shakespeare living—what was he doing?—during “The Lost Years”? Was the “Shakeshafte” mentioned in a Lancashire document our man, perhaps tutoring as a schoolmaster in a Catholic home? 

Greenblatt carefully points out that he is discussing possibilities, not certainties. But a possibility mentioned too many times by…

From the list:

The best biography books that tell the truth

Book cover of Morality Play

Morality Play

By Barry Unsworth,

Why this book?

Evocative, engaging, and clever, if, on occasion, desperately bleak. This is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of plague in the north of England. Although very well researched the book carries some of the hallmarks of contemporary fiction and so avoids many of the stereotypes (and irritations) of historical novels. Sometimes fiction can be as effective as ‘fact’ in showing the fate of individuals caught up in moments of revolutionary change.
From the list:

The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

Book cover of The Star in the Christmas Play

The Star in the Christmas Play

By Lynne Marie, Lorna Hussey (illustrator),

Why this book?

“I wish I was any animal but a giraffe,” said Raffi. Disappointment melts through this little(or not so little) guy like butter in the sun. When children set up hope for something and it doesn’t work out, they are devastated. Raffi realizes that while he is not suited for some things, he is just the right answer for another. Where there is a will there is a way.

From the list:

The best children’s picture books dealing with emotions and change

Book cover of Violets Are Blue

Violets Are Blue

By Barbara Dee,

Why this book?

Violets are Blue is told from the heart of twelve-year-old Wren. It explores the confusion and heartache that comes from an unexpected divorce, shifting friendships, and a mom’s alarming and erratic behavior. It is an emotional story that uniquely shares life’s messy feelings while gently and thoughtfully introducing the difficult topic of opioid addiction. It also introduces readers to the world of special effects make-up. Violets are Blue is beautiful, complex, and full of heart. Wren’s journey will spark challenging conversations and promote empathy.

From the list:

The best children's books around courage, friendship, and social anxiety

Book cover of Theatre of the Oppressed

Theatre of the Oppressed

By Augusto Boal, Charles A. McBride (translator),

Why this book?

Inspired by Paolo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian dramatist and activist Augusto Boal makes active participants of audiences, staging oppressive interactions and then repeatedly re-staging them as “spect-actors” step up to intervene and remake the interaction. Anyone can join! A stunning synergy of empowering revolutionary theater and improvisational role-playing that has not even begun to be adapted to classrooms. You figure out why. Then figure out how to adapt and bring it on now.
From the list:

The best books to provoke the impresario in every teacher

Book cover of Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare's the Tempest Retold: A Novel

Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare's the Tempest Retold: A Novel

By Margaret Atwood,

Why this book?

The chronology of my Shakespeare-era novels hasn’t reached The Tempest, but I love how this novel features a production of the play—in a prison. The relation of the inmates to their roles and the protagonist’s personal crisis give Prospero and his island new life in a setting also set apart from society. I enjoyed how the characters come to realizations about Shakespeare’s play as they rehearse, the goal of my own novels from a different angle. Many spinoffs from Shakespeare use his plot devices, but Atwood relies on The Tempest for her plot. Each ‘best’ novel here reveals new…

From the list:

The best novels relating to Shakespeare

Book cover of The Chance to Fly

The Chance to Fly

By Ali Stroker,

Why this book?

Another wonderful drama club romance! Thirteen-year-old Nat braves big moves for her passions, which include musical theater, friends, and one certain boy who happens to be one of my favorite literary love interests. Both authors are actors (Stoker the first actress to appear on Broadway in a wheelchair) and the authenticity of their experiences shines through on every page.

From the list:

The best middle grade novels about first love

Book cover of The Shakespeare Stealer

The Shakespeare Stealer

By Gary Blackwood,

Why this book?

Widge is an orphan in Elizabethan England, where orphans are sadly too common. But Widge is unusual. He has a unique talent which he learned from his first master: he knows a secret kind of shorthand. Sold to a dastardly villain who wants to use that talent to steal Shakespeare’s newest play, Widge finds himself in London apprenticing with the theatre company. Will he steal the play or risk his life to be loyal to the only “family” he’s ever known? Inspired by Shakespeare’s Lord Chamberlain's Men – and a very real problem of plays being stolen – there’s plenty…

From the list:

The best middle grade historical novels with exceptional child heroes

Book cover of A History of Japanese Theatre

A History of Japanese Theatre

By Jonah Salz (editor),

Why this book?

For a general overview of Japanese theatre, and more broadly Japanese culture, readers are encouraged to have a look through A History of Japanese Theatre edited by Jonah Salz. This encyclopaedic collection of essays by scholars on Japanese theatre history offers a rich and thorough survey of Japanese theatre for a wide readership. From ancient Noh theatre to Kabuki and Bunraku to modern literary theatre to critical theatre and performance, readers can glean how the performing arts have developed throughout Japanese history. As the book weaves together some of the intellectual concerns and artistic reflections of prominent artists in their…
From the list:

‘The best books on Japanese postwar creative arts in their wider context

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