Theatrics for Mystery Entertainers

Have there been as many books written for the theatrical arts as for the mystery ones? I couldn’t say for sure, but there is a huge number of them, making it quite a challenge to know where to begin learning about this subject that is so much at the heart of mystery performance.

Fortunately for all of us, Bill VanGorder (a good friend, mystery entertainer, fellow past-president of the PEA, and — most importantly for this purpose — theatre professional) has put together a helpful list of recommended publications pertaining to acting, directing, and stagecraft. In other words, an excellent place to commence one’s journey!

In no particular order, these include:

  • The Actor at Work, by Robert Benedetti (Prentice-Hall, 1970, and several other publishers since)  If you only read one book in this list, this should be that one: a classic and comprehensive introduction to acting. Now in its 10th edition.
  • No Acting, Please, by Eric Morris & Jane Hotchkis (Ermor Enterprises, 1995)  This is a collection of 125 acting exercises by a sought-after acting coach.
  • Acting Truths and Fictions, By Lawrence Parke (Acting World Books, 1995)  This is a great introduction to acting methods by the man who was LA’s foremost acting coach.
  • A Practical Handbook for the Actor, by Bruder, Cohn, Olnek, Pollack, Previto, & Zigler (Vintage, 1986)  No less than David Mamet called this “the best book on acting written in the last twenty years.”
  • An Actor’s Companion, by Seth Barrish (Theatre Communications Group, 2015)  This provides another well-regarded set of acting tools from an award-winning director and acting teacher.
  • The Art of Coarse Acting, by Michael Green (Limelight Editions, 1964)  This is a fun read about mistakes on stage, with many applications to variety entertainers. Education via poor examples.
  • The Director’s Eye, by John Ahart (Meriwether Publishing, 2001)  This is for both directors and actors, and worth the weight of its 347 pages in gold.
  • Tips: Ideas for Directors, by Jon Jory (Smith and Kraus Books, 2002)  This easily-read compendium of directorial ideas is a treasure for both new and experienced directors.
  • Maximum Entertainment 2.0 :: Director’s Notes for Magicians and Mentalists, by Ken Weber (LKen Weber Productions, 2019)  Arguably the best book of performing technique ever written specifically for mystery entertainers.
  • Technical Theatre for NonTechnical People, by Drew Campbell (Allworth Press, 2016)  Entertainers need to understand lighting, sound, and staging in theatre; this is an excellent place to start.
  • Magic and Showmanship, by Henning Nelms (Dover Publications, 1969)  Although somewhat dated in its presentational recommendations, this is nonetheless a classic text on the performance of magic.
  • The Magic Play, by Sam Sharpe (Magic, 1976)  Of both historical and practical value, this book looks at 100+ years of the use of magic in dramatic plays.
  • Win the Crowd, by Steve Cohen (William Morrow, 2006)  In this entertaining book, “The Millionaires’ Magician” explains how to use your acting skills to enhance influence, charisma, and showmanship.
  • What to Say When … You’re Dying on the Platform, by Lilly Walters (McGraw Hill, 1995)  Arguably the best of Ms. Walters’ many books for the professional speaker, this one focuses on skills for managing your performances in difficult situations.

See also some related suggestions in the Questions to Ask About Performance section.

As many of these books are classics, you may be able to find decent-quality used editions for significantly less than the cost of new ones. is the best place to begin such searches.

… Doug Dyment