Theater of the Mind

Ben Miles

While we wait for the ubiquitous return of live theater in the Southland (Broadway is just now reopening) let us engage in the theater of our minds. After all, imagination is the root of all entertainment; audiences, performers, writers, designers and a myriad of other craftspeople collaborate imaginatively to manifest an array of creations.

Whether it’s reading novels, nonfiction, poetry, play scripts, or screenplays, such activities not only engage our time and provide recreation but also promote and develop our imaginations. And remember, creative thinking is a correlative to critical thinking, which is defined as the objective analysis of an issue in order to form a judgment. And, of course, critical thinking is a cognitive skill that is essential in a purportedly free country and in a democratic political system.

So, where to start? The late actor Burt Reynolds once joyfully recounted how he, his friends and loved ones would read plays together, giving voice to and characterizing various roles.

Try it. From William Shakespeare’s classics, such as “Romeo and Juliet” to Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” to Susie-Lori Parks’s “Topdog/Underdog” to any script of your choice, this sort of role-playing is fun, mentally stimulating and a bonding experience for participants.

As a child my younger sister and I would create our own imaginary scenarios, often derived from storybooks, television programs, movies and live performances. Not only did these activities provide hours of playtime for us, they also embedded memories in us that we, to this day, fondly recall. We even created our own costumes. I remember the two of us transforming little league baseball uniforms into 19th century American Civil War attire.

Creating is a joy, a labor of love. Imagination is a gift that keeps on giving and continues to develop with practice. And enhancement of critical thinking skills is an invaluable bonus of imaginative play. To quote the old Alka-Seltzer ad (from 1971): “Try it! You’ll like it.”

Dr. Ben Miles is the theater writer for the Beachcomber newspaper. He has taught theater arts at California State University, Long Beach; he authored the textbook “Onstage in the Millennial Age,” he is an award-winning actor; and he currently teaches critical thinking skills at West Coast University.


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