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  • Writer's pictureClare Lopez

IMAGINATION: THE ACTOR'S BEST TOOL

Updated: Apr 21

We are living breathing agents of creativity. We are channels for imagination to roam free and uninhibited. And it is our very belief in the imaginary that allows audiences to believe in the stories we tell. And yet, it seems that our most imaginative selves stay locked away after age 10. We choose more practical ways to approach the world because we've been afraid to be seen as silly, or juvenile, or naïve. But the truth is, our most powerful tool as actors lies in our ability to tap into that child-like imagination.


When we get into the acting classroom- we often have to do these WILD exercises. We are asked to pretend to be elephants, or pantomime a tennis game or walk through the space as if the room is filled with water. And it’s fun, and playful, and joyful. And yet, after classes like these, many actors will ask me “What does this have to do with being on a film set?” Like many adult actors, they feel that playing make-believe is for six-year-olds - and serious on-screen acting needs to be about deep script analysis and memory work.


But the truth is, all acting begins with imagination, and creative play. We are required to tap into our most child-like selves to full immerse ourselves in a reality only we can see. That is imagination at work. And I’m not just talking about imagining your scene partner is your mom or endowing your wallet as if your dead father gave it to you- (but those are solid examples of imagination at play).


I want to give some tangible examples where we need to tap into a larger than life creative space that engages our child-like IMAGINATION:


EXAMPLE: THE UNIVERSE

  • On set there is a Dolly Zoom movement, the camera is pushing forward quickly towards you.

  • And at the same time; you as a character are to be standing in front of a window into space, taking in the vast expanse of the universe.

  • You can’t just see the reality of a camera and operator in front of you, your IMAGINATION must be fully engaged in the belief that you are really starting at galaxies and stars. (Which ultimately will only be seen by the audience with the use of CGI)


EXAMPLE: THE DRAGON

  • Your on-set reality is a vast green screen 360 set. And in it is giant puppet like lizard made of foam.

  • Your character must touch and interact with this foam puppet as if it is your dragon. Your best friend who you have trained and raised.

  • This puppet isn’t at all realistic or complete. It won’t have a face or eyes- and it won’t accurately represent the size and scope of its full body. Your job is to connect- and give this puppet a fully fleshed out life. Engage with it as if it has breath, and facial expressions, and eyes that communicate. You’re going to have to IMAGINE the heat of its breath and the texture of its scales to transform the lifeless foam into a living breathing creature whom you love.


EXAMPLE: THE MOUNTAIN

  • On set, you are hanging on the edge of some painted foam and plywood rocks. You are in a safety harness, and some pretty heavy costume. And your real life reality is that you are no more than 3 feet above the ground.

  • You've been tasked with the impossible action of scaling Everest. In an extremely heightened scene of life or death, your character must push through their fear to survive in spite of extreme exhaustion, hypothermia, and grief for your long lost companions who didn't make it.

  • In the real world you are safely harnessed in 3 feet above the ground, surrounded by a crew and a safety team in perfectly air-conditioned studio. But your work as an actor, is to IMAGINE that you are eerily alone. That the only thing standing between you and sudden death is the rope you grip in your hands. You also must take the short 3 foot distance beneath you and imagine that to be the vast, bottomless 20,000 feet of snow and tundra. The danger is palpable. And the obstacles of your environment are as real as the rope you hold. CGI will allow the audience to see the wind and the snow, and the depths of the abyss beneath you, but all you have is you and your imagination to pull you through this moment of crossroads of this moment in time.


This is what I mean when I say that IMAGINATION is a muscle. It is a huge tool that we actors must use to do our jobs. And its not just reserved for silly classroom exercises, or over the top musical theatre. Our imagination is our strongest skill - and yet it is just something we are born with. It's not so much that we ever really loose our ability to imagine, but that we become more inhibited as we grow older. We feel pressured to lock up our imaginations because society demands us to be be practical and productive. So it is our job as actors, to reignite this skill. To let loose our limitations and play. We must take a conscious effort to cultivate our creativity. To take mundane things like driving, and doing dishes and find ways to gamify them - make them playful and adventurous. Even when we can't afford classes, or new headshots, we can always take the time to find play in our lives.





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