A wonderful Applied Improvisation workshop last week took us playfully through status. Status is a big part of improv, and it’s a big part of life… Who better to be our play leader but the superb Lee Simpson of the Comedy Store Players?
Every time we come across groups of people we subconsciously analyse who’s who, making also a swift analysis of where we fit into the pecking order. In some cases uniforms and other stuff we wear communicates status, but often it is conveyed powerfully by how someone behaves and interacts with others.
Each interaction involves a subtle negotiation about status. We come with our default status, but we adapt it, raise it or lower it sub-consciously to fit better with the other person or to challenge their idea of the status relationship. Improv can help us change how we see ourselves (our own status) and transform how we behave towards others. This directly affects how other people perceive us, and consequently behave towards us.
And so on, the virtuous status circle goes round again.
We all have our way of “being”. For some of us the way we present ourselves – how we project status – may have been very effective. Others might have done themselves a disservice by down-playing their status (over-humble) – or over-playing it (arrogant).
Maybe it’s worth playing with status a little – to enhance our status, or even to downplay it (if humility is useful).
To change our status we can change change our clothes, or we can change how we behave with others. Working out how a higher status feels, and seeing the impact it has on others, is part of the fun of improv. It might be holding up your chin, smiling more (or less), standing up straight, widening your stance (or narrowing it), and – almost certainly – expanding your personal space.
So that’s good news! We can all become more confident by learning how to do this – right?
Hmmm… not so quick… Lee argued that some things we want to change (e.g. feeling more confident) aren’t skills that we can just learn. In most cases we can already do them when we think about them, or when we are on “home territory”. Rather, these are behaviours that we need to constantly practise. The tricky thing might be remembering. Stick up reminders – fridge magnets, post-it notes, posters in your bathroom, notes in your shoes, graffiti on the kettle?
Being mindful is part of it. Lee explained how really great actors are able to observe themselves so closely that they are aware of absolutely everything that’s going on inside them. And really great actors (like really confident people in the real world) don’t judge themselves. They notice, acknowledge, accept and use the information in their performance.
As the other great theatre man himself said: “All the world’s a stage”… So, let’s start expanding our space on it. And when we’re practising, remember his man Hamlet’s advice: “the play‘s the thing.” Enjoy!