Status Games

Another exercise in which the body provides critical information is based on Keith Johnstone's (1981, 1999) status games, which occasionally find their way into my classrooms. I share the ideas behind the concept of relational status and ask three students to play a simple improvised scene, such as a job interview or a family waiting for a teenager to return home late. Unknown to the audience, each person is assigned a number between 1 and 3. Whoever has been assigned the number 1 is trying to be dominant or high status, the person assigned the number 3 holds the lowest relational status, and the person assigned number 2 is somewhere in between. After a brief scene, I ask the audience to judge, based on what they observed, who is “on top,” “in the middle,” or “on the bottom” of the relational hierarchy. I often repeat the same scene with the same players, this time having them choose a number themselves and not sharing it with each other. The ensuing scene frequently looks quite different from the first, especially if two persons happen to be fighting for the same position. Aside from the amusement in the room, students quickly begin to realize that relational status is always in flux and not independent of the observer. Minor adjustments in reaction to one another can alter the impression of status in an instance. In addition, students enacting the roles often begin to reflect how they may prefer playing a particular status. Not unlike Virginia Satir's (1972) idea that people have preferred ways of dealing with threats to self-worth by acting as a “computer,” “distractor,” “blamer,” or “accommodator,” students recognize that some bodily postures, voice, or speech habits are more familiar than others, and they discover that playing and observing “status” are gendered activities.

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