The Magic If

This semester, I’m taking an acting class. It’s the first formal theatre training I’ve undertaken in over two years, and while it definitely has it’s challenges, I’m enjoying it so far.

My instructor has compiled for us various actor performance exercises, and we do about one per week outside of class as homework. The first one involved reading about Stanislavsky’s methodology and doing three of the exercises mentioned in the text. One exercise I chose to do was called “The Magic If.” It’s a pretty simple concept: remember when you were five years old and you’d pretend that the floor was made of lava, or that your dog was a sea monster, or that the staircase was really the side of Mount Everest that you had to scale? “The Magic If” works similarly. The point is to see how you interact with items differently when you change your relationship to them. It’s easiest to explain by describing what I did.

Everything starts with a “What if?” question. My first question was, “What if my shoe was a cat?” Instead of ignoring the worn out boot lying on the floor, it immediately had my attention. I knelt down on the carpet and cooed at it, gingerly extending my hand to pet it. Eventually I held it in my arms, scratching under its chin and sides (or what I imagined to be its chin and sides).

Another one I did was, “What if that bobby pin was a centipede?” Again, the normally ignored object – a stray bobby pin lying on the living room floor – instantly grabbed my attention. I leaped up onto the love seat and felt shivers run through my body as I watched its many legs and antennae squirm. After gathering my courage, I bolted to the kitchen to get a cup and paper with which to capture the thing. Eventually I did, and after I had securely caught it, the exercise ended.

“The Magic If” is a lot of fun, I think for most of the reasons theatre in general is a lot of fun. As adults, we often lose the ability or confidence to play make-believe, to try and see the world in a different way, or to just be silly for the sake of being silly. Theatre lets us re-awaken those parts of ourselves that have been long dormant since middle-school, probably, when self-consciousness takes over. As my instructor has said, “Self-consciousness is never useful. Self-awareness is always useful.”

You can’t really afford to be self-conscious when you’re sitting on the floor, caressing and rubbing your face into your boot, because you look like a crazy person. But that’s another thing about actors; to quote my instructor once more, “Actors are crazy people because we choose to suspend reality. We’re delusional!”

Maybe delusion isn’t all that bad.

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