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Status Exercises

We all have a status – our place in the pecking order. Sometimes we are given it and sometimes we claim it. Some of us prefer to play low status, some high. When we have reached our preferred level we feel comfortable. If we are uncomfortable we try to adjust our status with what we say, how we say it and our body language.

We might buy expensive or flashy things to show off how important we are or we might make people feel less good than us by making them look or feel foolish. We can also make people feel better by lowering our status thereby raising theirs or raising ours to make them feel in safe hands.

Our status varies depending on who we are with (bank manager, teacher or friend) and even moment to moment. Think of the ups and downs between parents and children. There are times when status is more equal between them and even reverse when the child has higher status.

Status goes beyond about what job you have. It is more to do with confidence and self esteem. 

Through their play children negotiate their status relationships with their peers and sometimes this can lead to inappropriate behaviours.

The theatre director Keith Johnstone says, “friends are people who agree to play status games with each other” and has written a good practical guide and exercises in his book “Impro” (Methuen 1981) isbn 0-413-46430-X.

Try these exercises to explore the idea of status:
Improvise two people meeting in a doorway. Who gives way? Who has high status and who low? Try it with different characters – Old people, young people, men, women, etc.

What happens when someone who assumes they have high status meets someone who doesn’t acknowledge this?
What if a king meets a tramp?
What if both people claim high status? What if both are low?

Complicated isn’t it?

Here is a scene for two people. The class could work in pairs, simultaneously highlighting interesting exchanges or choose one couple to play out the scene and swap the cast.

A: Hello
B: Hello
A: Have you been waiting long
B: Ages

Try playing A high status and B low then reverse it.

If your pupils have trouble playing different status in these scenes, ask high status people to keep their head still and use steady eye contact and low status people to avert their gaze and make small head movements.

This is a way of faking status and can be useful in life, try it on your bank manager next time you want a loan, or your boss when you want a pay rise! (Remember playing low status can also get you what you want).

It is important to realise that there is nothing bad or wrong about being high or low status, they are just different. It is possible for apparently low status people to get what they want from high status people.

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