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Most animal societies are structured in pecking orders and we are no exception. Pecking orders define access to resources and privileges and help keeping open conflicts to a minimum until a social or environmental change upsets the status quo.
The place occupied by individuals in a pecking order, their status, can shift according to circumstances, but the same person can also occupy different places in different settings. For example a powerful CEO commanding over legions of employees can find herself overruled at home by her teenage kids. Keith Johnstone dedicated a chapter of his book "Impro" to status and pecking orders. The notion is relevant to improvisers on many levels:

As a person. We are all status experts without realising it. What is your favourite place in the pecking order? Would you rather be leading or following? Are you letting other people save the day for you or forever competing for attention? Status games allow us to explore the relationship we have with ourselves and others in both a concrete and light-hearted manner.

As a player. Improvisation is a team game and players' status will constantly change within the team. According to circumstances, they will have to stay in the back-ground or take the initiative, hence the need for everyone to constantly re-adjust their status.

As a character. Status don't exist in a vacuum. To play status we have to observe others very carefully because it is a silent, time dependant transaction constantly taking place in relation to others. So playing status is teaching us to pay close attention. A character's status can be high or low compared to other characters, but status games can also be played with places, objects, ideas and feelings. Playing status allows us to build instant characters in relation to other rather than as in an isolated and intellectual way.

As a storyteller. Status swings offers an endless reservoir of scenes that will "invent themselves". In long form, most stories will establish a pecking order among characters and proceed to upset it. Resolutions generally feature the restoration of the original order or the foundation of a new one, along with the triumph or demise of the main protagonist.

© Remy Bertrand - Imprology 2005/2014
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