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  • Sonya Cooke


We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;—

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

--- Arthur O'Shaughnessy

It is a definite tenant of mine that actors must address the circumstances of their characters. Sanford Meisner famously said, “Acting is Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances,” which I’ve often touted as my primary belief, my golden rule. And yet, recently I have been questioning this word “Imaginary,” especially as it pertains to the world we see around us in our own lives.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” --- Albert Einstein

In my own life, I have witnessed how mere thought has the power to transform circumstances. It feels like turning a corner: the road changes and the horizon is brighter or darker, depending on the thought in mind. My perspective, life-stories, past experience and emotions cloud and color the canvas that is my life. It’s an intricate philosophy and system of faith for some, but it’s also a hypothesis tested by scientists and meta-physicists. Albert Einstein believed that the world in which we live takes place in the mind, that it is “merely an illusion.” In other words, there is nothing experienced outside of us that isn’t filtered through our perspective, thoughts, and feelings. Therefore, WE ARE LIVING IN IMAGINARY CIRCUMSTANCES NOW. They are not “real.” Instead, they are highly processed details that seem real due to redundancy, or “persistence” as Einstein sees it. Therefore, the circumstances of our lives are, in a way, no less imaginary than the circumstances of our characters. The only difference between these sets of circumstances is the fact that they are different! What are the circumstantial differences between yours and your character’s lives? Otherwise, they are of equal value and substance. By considering your life circumstances and relieving them of the burden of REALITY, you are able to let them go, if only for an afternoon or half hour in order to take on the circumstances of your character with more ease and allowance.

As children, we are less overwhelmed with life stories, opinions, social class, race, gender, and nationality … all these qualities, which, amongst many, construct a person’s identity. And, therefore, the still un-formed child is able to throw off his circumstance, as if it were a restrictive blouse hemming in his impulses. But as we age, these aspects of identity crop up and take their toll. They are worn so often and so tightly that they appear to become part of the skin. This patchwork of life experience and conditions does weave a beautiful, complex and interesting personality, but we must not forget that it is merely an outfit, and that our naked human potential lies underneath. By choosing to buckle ourselves into these circumstantial garments every day, we forfeit our innate ability to redefine our lives and forge a new path at any moment. As actors, this strict identity inhibits our imagination and diminishes our belief in the fantasy we are envisioning. When you think you know who you are, it is difficult to imagine any alternatives.

It sounds harsh, but the past is dead, the future doesn’t exist and the present is all in your head, so what are you holding on to?

When it comes time to day-dream what-if situations in your own life or to explore the circumstances and world of your character, let fall the security blanket of identity and his/herstory and respect these new imaginary circumstances. Welcome them in as if they were your kin. Treat them and invest in them as if they were your own. Acting is transformation, which is the movement from one form to another. Then, dear actor, your task is to move from the form of your life and into the life of another, all the while maintaining the essence of you, who is much like that shirtless child, running free.

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