Instant Status

Note: This is a reprint of a previous Improv Illusionist newsletter. If you’re not receiving my email newsletter, you can subscribe here and get my “Learning the Improv Illusion” series as a bonus.

Welcome to another issue of the Improv Illusionist Newsletter, a monthly update from me, David Raitt, with a focus on the improv skills of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance. I’m honoured by your interest.

Hello out there!

It’s sweltering in my office. This time of year always seems to bring out the extremes – of temperature, storms, etc. Wherever you are, I hope the weather is nice! But extreme weather is always a great topic for an improv scene!

Now, on a completely unrelated note, I recently read something interesting about the concept of Status, and it reminded me of some tips you can use…

How to easily play High/Low Status

One great thing about performing for an audience is that they do a lot of the work. As long as you’re engaged with your performance, their own minds fill in a lot of the picture.

Even better, if you know how to maintain your outward physicality, people will often ascribe interior depth to your character, even if you don’t “feel” it.

A great example of this is Status, the amount of confidence, power, and control a character might have relative to others in the scene. When we observe status behaviours, we almost always ascribe some emotion or inner feeling, whether it’s “anxious”, “intimidating”, or something else.

In The Improv Handbook, Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White give an excellent list of physical behaviours that create more high or low status. Some examples:

  • High Status: economy of movement and speech, hold eye contact, less reaction to others, be comfortable with silence.
  • Low Status: fidgety movement, fragmented and long-winded speech, uncomfortable with eye contact.

One very effective high-status move is keeping your head still while speaking. It’s difficult to avoid subconscious movement, but if you can do it, it’s powerful.

This knowledge is fantastic, especially for improv beginners, because it means you don’t need deep acting training to create interesting dynamics between characters. It also means you can more easily play with status dynamics that contrast with “typical” roles, like a low-status monarch and high-status servant. Remember that status is established through your physicality and presence, not necessarily the character’s station or occupation.

Things to Try

Ideas for exercises or scenes to work out your physical improv skills.

  • In workshop or rehearsal, try the physicality steps described above for playing status. See if they work for you by keeping some observers out of the loop of what you’re doing. Ask them what they observed and whether they believed your status. Can you find any other physical actions that portray high/low status?
  • Another way to change status and dynamic in a relationship is by misaligning your behaviour with other characters. For example, depending on the context, a messy person may be seen as higher status than a tidy person (remember Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple?). Change up your actions so you do them differently from others in the scene.
  • Explore the scale of status too. With a partner, play Status Battles. Which of you can get higher or lower?

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

“P” is for “Postmortem”
Thoughts on giving and receiving notes after your improv show, courtesy of David Charles (@ImprovDr).

Viewpoints for Improv
An excellent summary of the Viewpoints technique from Stephen Davidson (@Impromiscuous), and how you can use it to create more awareness and freedom in your improvisation.

Question(s) of the Month

Have you learned any other physical techniques for portraying the inner life of characters?

Hit Reply and share. I love to chat with readers, and it gives me ideas for future content to help the whole community.

Do you have any feedback about Improv Illusionist, either these newsletters or the website? Send me a message or just reply to this email. Seriously, I read and respond to everything.

That’s it for me this month! I’m moving houses over the next few weeks, but will try to be back on September 1st.

Ex nihilo!

David Raitt - Headshot

Hi, I'm David Raitt. I've been performing and teaching improv and sketch comedy for over 25 years.
MY MISSION: To help improvisers everywhere (re-)learn the power of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance.

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