Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 297: Status transactions

When I teach improvisation the most interesting class revolves around the notion of status transactions.  The authority on this is Keith Johnstone who wrote about his discovery of status in the classic work: IMPRO: Improvisation and the Theater
He theorizes that humans are going up and down continually in a kinetic dance of raising and lowering each others status.  Usually this is all working at the unconscious level, but it affects how we relate to each  other. Much of it can be subtle, almost imperceptible.   Here is an example of an innocuous exchange of comments just moments ago.  My husband and I were sitting on the porch and a neighbor cat was meowing on the balcony next door.  Ron remarked:  "Look at that cat.  He's just sitting there."  and I corrected:  "No, he isn't just sitting there, he is meowing continually."    From the vantage point of a status transaction my comment had the clear effect of lowering Ron's status, pointing out that he was inaccurate in his comment.  If, instead of phrasing what I said as I did I would have remarked:  "Yes, he is, and he is meowing a lot, too."    This last phrasing has the advantage of accepting his offer and building upon it.  This is good, collaborative improv.  My first way of making the observation ended up being a put down instead of an addition.  You might wonder what does this matter?  I think the world can turn on such interactions.  There was simply no need to correct my husband, no need to be "right."  And, yet I see couples doing this all the time.  It is unnecessary fencing.  One-upsmanship is at work.  We feel a tiny drop in status when we are corrected.  Improv training helps you to acknowledge this and change this habit.  Of course there are occasions when the point is to make a correction.  But even then there is a loss of status.  I highly recommend reading Mr. Johnstone's work on status.  You will never be the same after learning about this.

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