Small Lil’ Exercise on Playing Status

The awesome Anna Renz taught this one to me. It might have been from Keith Johnstone’s Impro? I can’t remember. It also has the great benefit of being fun as hell to watch.

  1. Four people up.
  2. Number four slips of paper from one to four.
  3. Hand out the slips to each person. Ask them to look at the slip but not show the other performers.
  4. Ask the four to play out a scene.  If it helps, give them a scenario such as a family sitting in a car or employees having post-work drinks.

Why This Is Awesome: Status Dynamics! Each performer knows their own status and can communicate it. A player with a status of 2 might show unwavering support to 1, while putting down 3 and 4. When that is combined with character (such as a family where the kids have higher status than the parents) or point-of-view (3 might mirror the POV of 2), the scenes come to life and are both realistic yet funny. Then add status stifts, where a player might try and raise or lower their status depending on what has previously happened in the scene and you have something that is vibrant to watch.

How To Use This Outside of the Exercise:  When we are aware of status, we can respond appropriately, either by adjusting our status or adjusting how we respond to that status (be it through dialogue, movement, body shape, etc). We can mirror that status too, although you want to be careful playing even higher status, as that may just start argumentative scenes (boring). If we’re on the backline, we can add side-support by complementing the status that already exists in the scene, as opposed to adding something new too. Lots of fun to be had!

Picture This: Shaping Your Scenes→

Stage picture is something that’s often ignored in improv, especially after the opening (if there was one). We’re usually too busy talking to think about what the audience is seeing, and what they’re seeing is probably two people standing around yakking.

The next time you find yourself rooted to the floor, change your physicality and see how it changes the scene. Not only will you feel different, but it will immediately look different than 99% of improv scenes.