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Getting The Most Out Of Your Imagination Part I

March 4, 2015

I begin this post with a social criticism, and a mild rebuke to younger generations who, through no direct fault of their own, were born in a highly virtual age – one where the 3-dimensional world is diminishing in cultural influence, and the virtual world begins its own trek into the future. Where it will lead we truly cannot know. The comments here are for the actor primarily, and for the director and writer secondarily, but for them not far behind. While the context is sociological in nature, the issue here is your performance on stage, screen and television. I love the Modern Age, but…

Having myself been born when my parents could barely afford to buy a black and white television (I don’t think we even had one until I was five or six), raised in a lower-middle class part of town, surrounded by others who, for the most part, were in the same financial situation – we had to ‘make do’ with our ‘play’. Personally, I didn’t get an electronic toy (I think it was a battery-operated fighter jet cockpit that had two or three toots and whistles that offered literally minutes of entertainment value) until I was nine.

My favorite first toy was a Civil War set, with dozens of wonderfully molded Yankees and Confederates drawn in all manner of combat. It even included an Abraham Lincoln figure, several cannon which managed to spring-fire tiny paper wads, a spring-loaded ‘exploding bridge’, some fences, tents and other fabulous odds and ends.  Alone, often in the presence of my mother, father and three older brothers, I played for hours on end. I made hills and mountains with blankets and area rugs, creek beds were creases in an old brown towel, and trees were – well – various vegetation from outside. I became very, very good at war sounds – of every kind.

Keep in mind that my father, who had grown up in abject poverty in Vicksburg, Mississippi and was seven years old in 1920, had witnessed aged, battle-worn amputees and war-wounded Confederate veterans on the streets of that hilly town throughout his youth.  The past was the present, and there was no bionic mitigation for the physically devastated, no antibiotics (his first girlfriend died over a three day weekend from a goiter in her neck that cropped up, and nothing for it) no private phones, no internet, no commercial airplanes and no frozen food. The Birdseye family of Chicago were just getting started on their flash freezing work as commercial compressors were invented. No one had freezers yet, only ice boxes. In the West, much of the ice for these were cut from fresh water lakes in the High Sierras, then railed down to San Francisco and beyond.

My point is this: from the time my Daddy was born to the time I graduated high school there were living Civil War veterans, commercial flight, penicillin, long distance phone, two World Wars, the Polio vaccine, COMPUTERS, THE MOON, and NOW – THE INTERNET, the Hubble telescope, Mars – and Beyond! Historically speaking, every Age has its challenges, disasters, catastrophes and upheavals. The last hundred years have been – in no uncertain terms – phenomenally accelerated in every aspect. It’s as though we were part of an actual time warp.

Still, we adjust. But HOW have we adjusted? I wouldn’t dare to posit the whole of the meaning, disposition and parabolas of the ramifications. But I can observe how it has had an effect upon one of the Arts – that of Acting. And the effects are profound.

Over the course of playing as a child on my own for years, I made pirate ships out of old shoe boxes, sent astronaut figurines into space on a gantry made of stacked, plastic strawberry baskets, fought Germans, Indians, Santa Anna at the Alamo, and British regulars in just about every war there had ever been on the continent. Our neighborhood kids fought wars in holes we dug, lived in villages made of January’s Christmas trees, defended castle walls of hurricane fence, and sailed the Seven Seas in the spindly tree trunks clustered behind my house.

Albert Einstein is famous for having said that “imagination is more important than knowledge”. My mother, sensing early on that I would not qualify as a scientist, once gave me a bookmark with that quote on it. I still have and treasure it. But what does it mean? And what does it mean to you, the actor?

Times have changed, certainly. My folks would be irritated if they had to yell for me to hear their dinner call. I’d be out ‘pretending’ by myself, for hours. Or, I would be with neighborhood kids playing war, or football, or some weird game we’d make up. Parents always have an ear out, but back then they were only marginally worried about something ‘bad’ happening to their children from strangers. What they didn’t do is let me or my brothers have bicycles, because they didn’t want us to get run over by a car. Bicycles, by the way, are much safer than walking across a street, head down, with ear buds at top volume, while texting in the virtual world. That, my friends, is called ‘only a matter of time’.

But okay, there is no getting it back – not even in gated communities. It’s all gone. Gone with the wind, as Margaret Mitchell famously put it. We shall weep together and perhaps, at some point, try to figure out what happened. And, if and why it had to. But for now – we ask ‘what has the change from the actual life to the virtual life brought to the young actor who is feeling the tug, the tow, the desire to act  in television and film’?

Continued in Part II

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