Today, as Tortsov was ill, the class was held in his apart ment. He settled us comfort ably in his study. ‘You now know’, he said, ‘that our work begins by intro du cing the magic

“if” into the play and role, and this lifts the actor out of every day life into the world of the imagin a tion. The play, the role, are stories, a series of magic and other “ifs”, Given Circumstances which the author has made up. Genuine “facts”, the normal world, do not exist onstage. The normal world is not art. This by its very nature, needs invent ive ness. And that, in the first instance, is mani fest in the work the author has produced. The actor’s task is to use his creat ive skills to trans form the story of the play into theat rical fact. Our imagin a tion has an enorm ous role to play here. So we ought to spend a little longer on it and become famil iar with its creat ive func tion.’ Tortsov pointed to the walls which were covered with all manner of set

designs. ‘These are all pictures by my favour ite young designer, now dead. He was

very eccent ric. He would make sketches for plays that had not yet been written. Here, for instance, is a sketch for the last act of an unwrit ten play by Chekhov, which he conceived not long before his death. An exped i tion is ice-bound in the terri fy ing, bleak arctic. A large steam ship is hemmed in by float ing blocks of ice. The soot-black funnels stand out in sinis ter fashion against the white back ground. Hard frost. An icy wind stirs up gusts of

snow. As they whirl upwards they take the form of women in shrouds. And here we see the figures of a husband and his wife’s lover, clutch ing each other. Both have fled from life and gone on this exped i tion so they could forget their heart-rending drama. ‘Who could believe that this sketch was made by someone who had never

been outside Moscow? He created an arctic land scape using his obser va tions of nature during winter here, what he knew from stories, from descrip tions in liter at ure and in scientific books, and from photo graphs. The picture was created out of all the mater ial he had collec ted. The domin ant role in this work fell to his imagin a tion.’ Tortsov then took us over to another wall on which a series of land scapes

was hanging. In fact they were repe ti tions of the same theme: some kind of holiday resort, modi fied each time by the artist’s imagin a tion. The same row of beau ti ful houses in a pine forest at differ ent times of the year and the day – in the blazing sun, during storms. Further along, there was the same landscape but with the forest chopped down, replaced by arti fi cial ponds, with newly planted trees of differ ent kinds. The artist amused himself by playing with nature and with people’s lives. In his sketches he built houses and towns, knocked them down, and replanned whole districts and razed moun tains. ‘Look, how beau ti ful! The Kremlin on the seashore!’ someone exclaimed. ‘The artist’s imagin a tion created all this, too.’ ‘And here we have sketches for a non-exist ent play about inter plan et ary

life,’ said Tortsov, leading us to another series of draw ings and water col ours. ‘Here we see a station for machines of some kind which main tain inter planet ary commu nic a tions. See, there’s a huge metal box with large balconies and figures of beau ti ful alien beings. It’s the terminus. It hangs in space. Humans can be seen at its windows, passen gers from Earth. A string of similar termini going up and down, can be seen extend ing into infin ite space. They are held in a state of equi lib rium by the coun ter vail ing attraction of huge magnets. On the horizon are several suns and moons. Their light creates fant astic effects, not visible from earth. To be able to paint such a picture you need to have not just imagin a tion, but also a good sense of fantasy.’ ‘What’s the differ ence between them?’ someone asked. ‘Imagination creates what is, what exists, what we know, but fantasy

creates what isn’t, what we don’t know, what never was and never will be. But perhaps it could be. Who can tell? When popular fantasy created the

magic carpet in fairy-tales, who would have thought that people would soar through the air someday in airplanes? Fantasy knows everything and can do anything. Fantasy, like imagin a tion, is essen tial to a painter.’ ‘And the actor?’ asked Pasha. ‘Why do you think that an actor would need imagin a tion?’ countered

Tortsov. ‘How do you mean, why? To create the magic “if”, the Given

Circumstances,’ replied Pasha. ‘But the author has created them already without any help from us. His

play is fiction.’ Pasha fell silent. ‘Does the dram at ist provide everything the actor needs to know?’ asked

Tortsov. ‘Can you reveal the lives of all the char ac ters in full in a hundred pages or so? Or is there a great deal left unsaid? For example, does the author always tell us in enough detail what happened before the play begins? Do we get an exhaust ive account of what will happen after it is over, or what goes on in the wings from which the char ac ters come and go? The dram at ist is sparing with that kind of comment ary. In the script you get Enter Petrov or Petrov exits. But we cannot enter from a myster i ous void and exit into it without consid er ing the purpose of such move ments. Such actions have no cred ib il ity. We know the other kind of stage direc tions the dram at ist provides: stands, walks about anim atedly, smiles, dies. We are given cryptic descrip tions of char ac ter, such as: a young man of pleas ing appear ance. Smokes a lot. ‘But is that suffi cient to create fully what a char ac ter looks like, his

manner isms, his walk, his personal habits? And what about the dialogue? Are we supposed to learn it by heart and speak it parrot-fashion? ‘And what about all the author’s stage direc tions, the director’s demands,

the moves, the mises-en-scène and the whole produc tion? Is it really enough to remem ber them and carry them out as a formal pattern? ‘Can that really portray the char ac ter, determ ine all the nuances of his

thoughts, feel ings, aspir a tions, and actions? ‘No, all this has to be filled out and given depth by the actor. Only then

can everything given us by the author and the rest of the produc tion team stir the inner most recesses of the heart, in actors and audi ence alike, to life. Only then can the actor begin to live the inner life of the char ac ter, behave in the way the author, the director, and his own living feel ings prescribe. ‘Our most imme di ate source of help here is our imagin a tion, with its

magic “if” and Given Circumstances. It not only tells us what the author, the

director, and the others have not, but it gives life to everything that has been done by the produc tion team, whose creat ive work reaches the audi ence primar ily through the actors’ success. ‘Now, do you under stand how import ant it is for actors to possess a vivid,

clear imagin a tion. We need it at every moment of our artistic life, be it while study ing or perform ing. ‘The imagin a tion takes the initi at ive in the creat ive process, drawing the

actor along behind it.’ The class was inter rup ted by an unex pec ted visit by a well-known

tragedian U . . . who is on tour in Moscow at the moment. The celebrity talked about his successes and Tortsov trans lated his account into Russian. When Tortsov had seen our fascin at ing guest to the door and returned, he

said, laugh ing: ‘Of course, he was exag ger at ing, but, as you can see, he’s a fascin at ing

man who sincerely believes the things he concocts. We actors are so used to embel lish ing facts with details from our own imagin a tion that we carry these habits over from the stage to real life. There, of course, they are superflu ous but in the theatre they are essen tial. ‘Do you think it’s easy to concoct stories in such a way that people will

listen to you with bated breath? That’s creat ive work, too, stem ming from the magic “if”, the Given Circumstances, and a well-developed imagin a tion. ‘When it comes to men of genius one can’t say they are lying. They look

at the real world, not as we do, but with differ ent eyes. They don’t see life as we mortals do. Can you condemn them because imagin a tion gives them some times grey-, some times blue-, some times green-, some times dark-, some times rose-coloured glasses to see through? And would it be of any benefit artist ic ally, if these people were to take off their glasses, and learn to see reality and works of art with nothing to screen their eyes, seeing quite soberly only what the daily round provides? ‘I confess that there are occa sions when I too tell lies, if, as an actor or

director, I have to work on a role or a play which I don’t find partic u larly enga ging. Then, I dry up, my creat ive faculties are para lysed. A prod is needed. So I start assur ing every body that I am keen on the new play, I praise it. To do that, I have to think about what’s missing. And the need to do that spurs the imagin a tion on. I wouldn’t do such a thing in private, but when other people are there you begin to justify your lie, willy-nilly, and get things going. Then, very often, you take the mater ial you have inven ted and intro duce it into the play.’