Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Establishing your unique status in a scene

It's amazing how communication theory and improv comedy intersect. The concept of status is very important, but a difficult concept for a lot of people to grasp.

Anyone who's ever had a boss or been a boss knows all about status. Better yet, anybody who's ever been in a pack of wolves really gets it.

Quick wolf summary: The highest status wolf is the alpha male. He acts like the king. His wish is the other wolves' command. He establishes his high status through body language, and aggression if needed. The next in line is the beta wolf. He is the next in command, a high status wolf, but still takes orders from the big guy. At the bottom of the ladder is the omega wolf. He is basically the one who gets picked on, gets the last scraps of food, and if he wants may leave the pack to go elsewhere.

The basic idea of status is pretty basic--some people are high, some are low, and some are in-between. High status characters in improv tend to have lots of self confidence, speak with authority, and make lots of offers. Low status characters are viewed as weaker, do high status characters' bidding, and in comedy--are waiting for an opportunity to take those high status bastards down.

Typical high status characters you'd think of might be:
  • policemen
  • doctors
  • lawyers
  • professors
  • parents
  • bosses
  • the lover that loves the least (think about that a little bit)
  • bullies
  • tough guys
  • business people
Some people are naturally attracted to high status characters; characters that are very directive and maybe even bossy. Others tend to choose characters that are lower in status, that are more submissive. Which do you tend to play the most?

Experimenting with status, and seeing what it takes to play both high and low status characters can be really fun, and also challenging (especially if you're only used to one type of status in real life).

And, of course, nothing is better than seeing status change as a scene continues--people love seeing the haughty stumble and fall, and the little guy win.

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