Imagine that you are playing the role of Hamlet, and have understood the intricate psychology of the character. You are playing out the moment when he kills the King. At that moment, will it be important for you to have a life-size sword in your hand? If you lack one, will you be unable to finish your performance? The answer is Yes. You can kill the King without a sword and you can light a fire without matches. What you need the most while enacting the scene is your imagination.
When some actors have to act opposite or along with an imaginary, unreal, nonexistent object, such as a ghost, they try to delude themselves into thinking that they really see it. They exhaust all their energy and attention on such an effort. However, an experienced actor knows that the point does not lie in the ghost or the object itself, but in how he relates to it. Therefore, he asks himself: What should I do if a ghost appeared before me? Then, he tries to give an honest answer to his own question. This helps him prepare and then probably do justice to the scene.
Imagination is also a useful ability to develop because very often, the script does not detail out all the information an actor needs. Even the director and production team do not always supply the answers. At such times, the actor is required to fill in the blanks by using his imagination. You can take the given circumstances of a character’s situation and invent or create the rest of the details, including the before-time (back-story). Whether it is the start of the scene or a simple entrance, an actor justifies what he is doing by inventing what has happened before this moment.
Here’s another quote by Stanislavski: “Imagination creates what is, what exists, what we know, but fantasy creates what isn’t, what we don’t know, what never was and never will be.”
You should work with imagination actively rather than participating in it passively. For example, suppose an actor has to create a back-story for a character’s entrance. A passive imagination would have the actor enter because he is mad at his nephew for throwing his money away. An active imagination, however, would have the actor open the door searching for his money, and for his nephew, who earlier disposed of the character’s money down a well. In both situations, there is a reason to enter with emotion. The difference between the two is that the actor in the latter scenario has something to do, a way to express his emotion to the audience.
It is very necessary for a good actor to be able to bring to life a variety of imaginary situations with a lot of intensity. You must, as an actor, create these intense imaginary situations so effectively that they urge you to act as if you are actually undergoing what is being imagined. A cold-blooded approach to acting will never work, as you will never be able to feel the intensity of emotions. Take for example your own life. Don’t you react emotionally to so many different situations or do you go through life without ever feeling anything? What is it that brings out this variety of emotions from within you? The many different situations in life you have to deal with.
So, if you want to get the best out of your natural self when acting, you will be required to create such realities in your mind. You must equip yourself with certain specific acting tools and then build upon them so that you can increase the range of your vocabulary. These acting tools will also help you get an insight into each character you play – their dreams, desires, hopes, etc. It is then that your acting will really be to the point, multi-dimensional, unpredictable, and delightfully theatrical!
The more you develop your ability to imagine, the more you arrive at the conclusion that the entire process is not very different from a kind of logical thinking. You slowly begin to realize that your images, even though they are free and flexible, follow almost automatically with some kind of an inner regularity.
Children are always using their imagination when playing games. They are really good at passing their time this way; using their imagination to create characters and stories. Actors can learn from children and just like them create environments for their characters.
At times imagination plays a part even in the back-story. This is because at times the script does not always include the reasoning behind a character’s actions or his past. You as an actor will need to imagine these details and make them clear.
All of us to some extent or another are conditioned by the environment we are raised in. Characters in stories are also like this and the responsibility to portray their past through acting rests with the actor.