Several years ago I was working with a life coach to figure out what to do with my myself. When we discussed focusing on acting as my career, he recognized that I had talent, then asked me, “How are you at using your imagination?” The question kind of stumped me. My imagination? I wasn’t in the practice of consciously thinking about using my imagination, but it is one of the most useful tools we employ as actors. Imagine… you have just got engaged. Imagine… your father is dying of cancer. Imagine… you’ve been accused of murder. It is something that the older we get the more we are encouraged to stick to reality and forget about all of that fantasy stuff. “It’s a waste of time.” “Keep your feet on the ground.”
This week I had the honor of teaching twelve 4-6 year olds in a drama camp at Taproot Theatre. I love working with this age, because hopefully you’ve caught them before all the adults have told them they need to grow up and stop playing. This week the kids learned about actors, directors, blocking and rehearsal. They also came up with their own superheroes like Hair Trap Man, Sky Diver, and Night Vision Girl, and together we wrote a play where they saved their friends from Mr. Grump– altogether a pretty great week! But my favorite part of the camp happened almost by accident. On our second day, it was getting towards the end of camp, in a hot room and I could tell they’re little bodies just about couldn’t handle it anymore. So we(the other teacher and I) decided it was time for a little rest. We found a cooler spot, turned down the lights and had the kids find their own space on the floor. I could tell that if they didn’t have something to occupy their minds, it would quickly turn into a losing battle of “Don’t touch” “Stop moving” and “What did I just say?” So I stepped forward and did something I’ve never done before(without hesitation or a apology), I spontaneously told a story, encouraging them to use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks of what everything looked like in our story. To my surprise, off the top of my head I came up with an environment, some characters, a problem, and a way to fix it–some of your basic elements of a story. To my greater surprise, the kids’ attention was captivated and they loved it, even looking forward to that time every day!
I realized I’ve greatly underestimated my ability to improvise and tell stories. And I loved having a chance to just see what my imagination could create. (Six year olds are harsh critics too. They don’t pretend to be interested. They either are or they aren’t.) After a few days of this, I realized I wasn’t running out of material, the possibilities are actually endless. The great thing about imagination is the more you use, the more you have. I’m so thankful for the reminder and can’t wait to look for the opportunities to explore my imagination, not just in acting, but in every day life.