Imagination & Given Circumstances

Lesson 2:

Imagination & Given Circumstances



Students will demonstrate their ability to use their imagination by exploring given circumstances exercises.


Materials Needed:

Given Circumstances Powerpoint 2.Given Circumstances

Place & Time Cards 2.Time.Place.Objective Card Ideas



As students enter the room, show the first slide on the PowerPoint (Pp) projected on the wall so that students can follow the instructions without any verbal direction.



After all the students are in place, have each student come up to the suitcase and pull out an object and interact with it.  They should follow all impulses and interact with it in the first way that comes into their mind; not think about it.  They aren’t performing – simply interacting.




Trunk Exercise SA p.162: Have students combine concentration and imagination by participating in the following activity as you guide them.

You are in an old attic surrounded by cobwebs.  You see an old trunk in the corner of the attic.  Go to the trunk and open it – what three objects do you pull out and interact with?  What might mean something to you?  One of your possessions? Something you come into contact with often or something that has been tucked away and forgotten?

Reflect on the exercise – what does this have to do with acting?




Explain how Stanislavsky emphasized the use of imagination in performing.  But it must be grounded in what the playwright has given in the text.  I asked you to do homework to get contextual information about your play, character, and setting. Why?  Why do this round-the-table work and not just jump into getting the piece ready?


Pp slide: Actors have to ‘let go’ of their homework – they should ‘forget’ their preparation at the point when it has served its purpose. But you have to do the work first to be able to forget it, right?


Stanislavsky’s system balances theory and practice.  So we do the homework or round-the-table analysis and then we get up on our feet and explore with our physical and spiritual self.  Pp slide: “If our preparatory work is right, the results will take care of themselves.”




Have students take out their notes from the homework assignment.  They should read through them and highlight/underline 2-3 of the most important things they learned in each category (events, relationships, setting).  Have them pair-share these with another actor or their scene partner. 


Directions: Talk with each other about how you can USE this information – what these new things you learned about the play, character, and setting can help you in your acting.  Add thoughts from your discussion to your notes. 




Get students to talk through moving it from their brain to their bodies: How do we move from knowing or learning about the play context to actually being able to perform that context?


Willing suspension of disbelief is needed not just by audience members, but by actors too.  Actors need to take the text given to them and create the world of the play – world of the scene/monologue.


Think about your everyday life…you constantly interact with the environment around you as its physical, psychological, social aspects influence your behavior, personality, feelings, and thoughts.  Characters in a play live in a world created by the playwright, but even more so since they and their world have been created specifically to serve one another.  Your character should develop in relationship to the environment.


Pp slide: Stanislavsky asked actors to think and behave as their characters would logically do in the circumstances of the play.




Guide students through the following activity – coaching them to be specific and detailed – really use their imaginations to see and feel these things.

Closing a Window Exercise SA p.162

Put yourself in front of a window.  You need to close the window.  Play with this – how big is the window?  Is it heavy or light?  Up or down or slide to the side?  Is there a crank handle or a lock/unlock catch?  How does the window close?  Now put some environment into the exercise: a storm has blown in with rain, thunder, and lightening.  There is someone trying to get into the house.  A dust storm is coming. It is below freezing outside.  You were talking to your friend outside and your parents are outside your bedroom where you are grounded.


Reflect on the exercise.  What did you DO to use the environment?  What world did you create?




Pp slide: The specific qualities of the character’s world are called GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES.  These determine most of the choices an actor will make about their performance.  Remember that while the world of the play are the largest component of given circumstances, you do have to keep in mind that the performance space and nature of the performance are just as much given circumstances that affect our performance choices (technical use of body and voice, etc.) – more on that later.

Who – relationship between your character and all the other characters important in the scene (whether physically present or not; a general and a specific relationship with each person)

Where – two main aspects; physical environment and social environment

When – facts plus the implications of manners, values, beliefs, etc.

What – start with the antecedent (or “pre”) action: things that happened in the past that affect the present situation and then move into the main event of the scene.


Pp slide: “The basis of all acting is the experience of ACTION in given circumstances.” Adler




“So let’s test this – let’s see if we can create action in given circumstances in an exercise format before we apply it to our pieces.  Remember we are focusing on the task – not on ourselves.”


Pair students up.  Have the places, times, objectives, etc. for the exercises listed on different slips of paper or cards for students to randomly choose from. They are to create an improvised scene based on the cards they choose.

One given circumstance KS Exercise 4.2 PLACE

Pay limitless attention to your partner and constantly adapt as the other given circumstances (who you are, why you’re here, etc.) are invented as you go along.  Be playful, be open.  Accept what other actor says, adapt to it, and build upon it to maintain a convincing and action-driven scenario.


Two given circumstances KS Exercise 4.3 PLACE and TIME

Now you have to justify your actions as you adapt to your partner.


Environment Influence SA p.162

So think through your pieces’ setting: where are you and how does the environment influence you? (WHERE and WHEN).  Either write out a description of it as if you were writing a travel blog about it or grab a piece of blank paper and draw the setting as if it were a postcard.  Include detail and specifics – you can’t use the given circumstances if they are general and vague.  Submit this work for a grade.  It can be completed as homework if you don’t finish it now.




Glance over shoulders, etc. to ensure they have generated the appropriate work in their journals/logs. Go through the actor’s homework for next class period.



Take your notes and your script home and continue to explore action opportunities.  Read through your scene at least three times each day.  Just read and think about the environment, what just happened and is presently happening, and how you are and how you feel about the other characters in the scene.  Feel free to continue to jot notes on further research, impressions, analysis of the script, character thoughts and connections, etc.


The script and notes come back with you next class period.