Tuesday, May 13, 2008

8 Weeks on Status

So we've started an 8-week series of classes on status, which I have never really focused exclusively on before in a training sense. Of course, I've done the odd status game on stage, but it's usually ended up becoming a verbal 'one-upping' competition.

I remember my good friend and former improv coach Anne telling me ages ago that "Keith Johnstone's chapter on status changed my life" and having just read it myself a month or so ago, I can see why! It's so thick, in fact, that it really demands multiple readings just to take it all in. What I love about the work we've been doing so far is that it really applies so much to life - in that we're always engaged in status transactions, even when we're not aware of it. I've even been paying attention to which types of cars are more likely to let you merge in front of them without putting up a fight!

Anyway, this weekend just gone we did a series of exercises (mostly in pairs, when we introduced threes it was still doable, but a lot trickier in terms of paying full attention to every single person in the group and your relationship to them) which involved:

- choosing to play JUST above or JUST below the status of the other player. Note that this is not only a great exercise in status, but a terrific way to make sure that you're putting all of your attention on your fellow player and then adjusting yourself accordingly, trying to get into their head. (I remember one of my Second City teachers saying something to the effect of "If you're not in your team-mate's head, then you're in your own, which is NOT where you wanna be!"

- mirroring the exact status of the other player.

- playing out a status transaction, whereby one player plays extremely high and the other extremely low, then throughout the course of the scene you trade status. The idea here is to get it as smooth and as gradual as possible, i.e. just adjusting your body language, speech, eye contact, etc. by tiny increments, matching the pace at which your fellow player is doing the same, until you've completely swapped status (and if you can physically swap positions too, all the better). We did it in a 'Head of the Company is interviewing a potential employee' setting, but then afterwards tried doing it from scratch.

The other trick here, I've found, is to still stay positive! It's tempting to come on as high status and act aloof, indifferent or superior to the other person, and conversely, to enter as a low status person who is so self-loathing that they blame themselves for everything bad. But that really doesn't need to be the case, it's just remembering to consciously choose the positive way!

Staying positive was basically my number one focus on Friday night's Micetro show, and it helped so much, even just in terms of having an angle from which to approach every offer. For instance, in a scene where we were told 'you're stuck in an elevator', my first thought was 'okay, I'd be terrified!' then 'maybe I could be pregnant and go into labour' but then I thought, 'no, let's just go with a happy choice' and started with "Yes! I've always wanted to be stuck in an elevator!" I'm not saying the scene was outstanding, but it was certainly more fun to play having thrown myself into that unlikely non-knee-jerking and happy start.

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