Monday, December 14, 2009

Status Games

Following the Keith Johnson ‘Impro’ tradition, I’ve been playing some ‘status’ games recently. I can’t help but inject these little natural techniques into the workplace to gage reactions. Most are pretty normal day to day things that you probably do all the time, but when you’re aware of the way you’re behaving then you realise you can affect it. Like holding your head still when you speak. In certain situations like meetings this seems to make you appear more authoritative, where as jittery head movements come across as ‘the fool.’ Give it a try and see what reaction you get.

For Johnson, status games are a way to make improvisation amongst actors seem more realistic. His methods in ‘Impro’ encourage us to look at the way we react to certain situations and individuals in real life and use this to make acting on stage far more natural. If an actor knows his status in relation to the other characters upon entering a scene, then that scene is easier to improvise.

This makes sense really, using the office example again; we always play the inferior role to bosses, or those with director in their title. Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage’ quote rings a bell here, as I ask, are we naturally prone to status decisions, or are we acting a part based on our title? Try looking at the way shop assistants are treated. Lower status individuals will admire and ask for the assistant’s expertise, where as a higher status player might order them around like a servant. And then there’s the other form of high status where the individual plays low in order to hide their status, and only reveals it if vital to succeed dominance – a sort of flattery of the assistant you know is below you.

Johnson states that when a high status player is wiped out, then everyone experiences as if they are moving up a step. Wiping out could be as simple as talking about a culturally higher film watched than your fellow converser, thus confirming them as a lower status player. In the office space, you might notice a raise in everyone’s status when someone’s idea is shot down in a business meeting. Everyone becomes higher because they weren’t the ones shot down. In theatrical terms, the person who had the drop in status could be used to create sympathy in the audience, or to make them feel higher also.

Another trick in ‘Impro’ is to regularly modify status to keep up audience attention and the pace of a scene. So an example here could be two people having an argument where each character keeps getting one over the other. In office terms perhaps it’s something like:

Person A: Have you had a chance to finish that report yet?
Person B: Not yet, I’ve been too busy. Did you take a look at those costs though?
Person A: I can’t look at the costs until I’ve seen the report.
Person B: But the costs will help inform the report. I need them first.

There’s a wee bit of see-sawing that takes place next, but that can be used to comic effect, a sort of ‘he’s behind you,’ ‘oh no he’s not’ thing.

I’m only scratching the surface here, but if you’re interested in more, Johnson explains this a lot clearer than I.


rashbre said...

"The Human side of Enterprise" deals with similar themes around Parent-Parent/Parent-Child and Theory X/Y behaviours. And Transactional Analysis (TA) covers some of this.

Interesting to see it in an improvisation setting.

Ellie said...

That is really fascinating.

Sometimes (a lot of times really) at work I make it a game. I pretend I'm playing the character who has to go to work and do this and that and go to this meeting etc etc. Now I have a new nuance to think about as I play my role. (and will probably check out Rashbre's recommendation too).

Haughty Biscuit said...

Improv in the office? hmmmm, may give that a go.

Nice observations on the politics and acting behind the curtain of professionalism.

I tended to think similar thoughts about the workplace in terms of seduction techniques (not like that, mostly). How most will use guile and cunning , playing a character to get people to do their bidding so they (the seducer) can get ahead.

oh how cynical.