The other night I was watching an episode the new sit-com, Guy’s with Kids. In this particular episode one of the characters is presented with an anniversary gift of a 60 inch flat screen TV. As it is being uncrated he calls his children in to see his gift. The two boys run in and joyfully exclaim, “Wow, a cardboard box.” The next we see the very large cardboard box it has been converted into a space ship.Memories galore! When I was a kid–many moons ago–the discovery of a large box would be a celebratory moment. My brothers and I would make forts, cars, airplanes, sleighs, toboggans, and on and on. We would play with the box for a month or more until it was nothing more than shreds of its former self. I’m sure you have similar memories.
Ah, the imagination of the child who can see beyond appearances into the wonderful world of possibilities. That ability to not only see, but to believe and then to live the adventures created by the imagination.
My mentor, the incredible Rosemary Harris, when asked to define acting replied, “Acting is dress up time in Grandma’s attic.” It took a while for me to register what she meant. It seemed to simple. Could it be that the purity and honesty of a child’s imagination and belief system was all that I needed to become the actor I wanted to be?
Many years have passed since I learned that lesson. Today I understand that it is the foundation, the basic truth of acting, and along with solid craft training it’s the secret to acting excellence.
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
The incredible acting coach, Stella Adler, on the first day of my acting training used the phrase “In your choice lies your talent.” I wondered, as all beginning actors might, where exactly does this magical choice reside? One of the first exercises I did in class involved displaying imagined dry-cleaning that I just retrieved from the cleaners. I was given the simple action of removing the item from the cleaners wrapping and hanging the item up. I was then asked to describe the article. My lack of trust in my imagination became evident when I said it was a jacket that I was going to wear to work. I was told rather harshly to sit down.
I soon learned that the article could have been anything I wanted it to be with an extraordinary history if I had only trusted my imagination. Later that class when I was again asked about my article of clothing I said, “My father’s last words to me were to be sure I picked up his favorite jacket from the cleaners. It is a hideous blue, green, and gray plaid jacket with gold and red threads running through it. He loved this jacket. Later today I will bring his beloved jacket to the funeral home so he can be buried wearing it. I can imagine the smile this would bring to his face…”
When working on a script see your angel (imagination) and set it free.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
Who would have thought a scientist would be an advocate for the imagination? The great Einstein went on to say, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Maybe it is logical to believe a scientist would have an extraordinary imagination. After all, Einstein did influence the world of physics immensely with the equation E=mc2. Was it imagination only that allowed this great mind to conjure this equation? Of course not. It was the cumulative effect of years of study that allowed his imagination to produce the formula.
For any creative person the same is true. An actor must research any character, situation, or environment they are creating before applying their imaginations. To bake a great cake you must understand all the particulars needed to do so. Then, and only then, can you use you imagination developing your masterpiece.
“You cannot depend on your eye when you imagination is out of focus.”
You ask a man who walks into a clothing store what he sees. He replies, “I see shirts and ties and jacket and suites.” As Stella Adler would say that man would make a great bank clerk. An actor must use his imagination and elaborate on all that is around him. I continually teach that there is a magic word in acting and that word is specific. Clarity runs a close second. These two words need to be incorporated in all the actors work.
A few classes after the dry cleaning exercise I was given my first line of dialogue. “I like springtime.” I have never forgotten that priceless piece of prose. Where, a few weeks earlier, I would have practiced “how to say” this gem (i.e. which words should I emphasize), I now knew that that wasn’t what acting was about.
Pages of work went into this simple statement. I could have spent the entire class on describing my scene when asked to tell the class about my reality. The great acting lesson was learned: one line, or a complete play, to a professional, deserves the same consideration. Besides, any exercise that stimulates the imagination is worthwhile.
“He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.”
-Joseph Joubert – French moralist and essayist
In a article written by Douglas Eby titled, Michelle Williams on Acting and Imagination, he writes, “Imagination is central to creative expression.” He goes on to describe the months Michelle Williams spent researching in preparation for her role as Marilyn Monroe. The amount of reading she did to understand this complex person was extensive. The article went on to describe the importance of literature in her life as a person and as an actor.
This gets me to my point: your imagination is dependent on the amount of information stored in your subconscious. Carl Jung developed the concept of Active Imagination as a “meditation technique wherein the contents of one’s unconscious are translated into images, narrative or personified as separate entities.” That information, the content that Jung speaks of, can get there in one of two ways: life experience or education. Self-education is as important as any class you might take. Read!
The Possible’s slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination.
Just as the imagination is vital to the actor’s work so it is to the actor’s career. Use your imagination to set your goals. Don’t be afraid to dream big and do what ever is necessary to make those dreams a reality. The beloved Dr. Seuss once said, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if you only try.
The famed German composer Johann Sebastian Bach was approached one day by an admirer who asked how the master managed to think of all these new tunes. Bach was said to have answered, “I have no need to think them. I have great difficulty not to step on them when I get out of bed in the morning.”
The imagination is a bottomless pit. There is no end to what you can dream.