If you ask people starting to play improv whether they feel more comfortable in the high or the low status, most of them have a clear preference for one of them. When confronted with this question earlier, I felt a slight tendency towards the low status, and I constantly admonished myself for this, yes sometimes I even hated myself for that! Respectively I declared it my grim goal that the high status eventually had to feel “natural” to me (KINDLY!!). In the meantime though, working as a trainer myself, I see that improvisors who claim to intuitively feel more comfortable in the high status, often have a harder time in playing improv, because they’re not “natives” in drawing their attention to others. For sure, this is no rule of thumb, meaning that you can automatically conclude “Every improvisor who intuitively feels closer to the low status, is the better improvisor” – holy shit, definitely not!
Nevertheless, I think that the “typical low status player” often has a gift which “typical high status players” have to work on even more: The thoughtfulness of others and their sensitivities! Persons who tend to feel themselves a little bit “lower” than others in real life, often observe these others quite carefully to find their way around, and they have a knack for their needs. And in my opinion, exactly that is a core competency of a good improvisor: The attention for the fellow players and what they currently need! Insofar, I don’t necessarily consider it as a deficit any more if you realize “Oh, I actually feel more close to the low status than to the high status.” At least for playing improv, this can be a powerful gift! And the fact itsef does not mean that you shouldn’t be working on yourself, improving yourself. Of course it is – for a good show and also for the personal development – important, not to focus solely on one status in your roles, but also strive to perform the other status in a way that it feels good and natural to you! Therefore, my dear low status players: If you notice this gift in yourself, don’t take a rest on it, but strive for higher! Otherwise, it can happen to you that you become one of the extremes of the “bad improvisor”, whom I described in my first podcast (in German), the hesitant improvisor.
However, enjoy that it might be easier for you in this regard than for your fellow high status colleagues, as they yet have to learn this “pay-atthention-to-the-other-and-respond-to-him” – and I have couple of examples of improvisors in mind, who haven’t figured that out until now, and who are actually more playing their solo thing on stage than creating something together with others. I find it very difficult to play with such guys, and I don’t really enjoy watching them either, as they’re often behaving like Rambo on stage.
During my stay in London for the iO European Summer Intensive this month, I have talked to another participant quite exhaustively about the topic of “status”, and I had a lot of insights from these discussions: It’s not at all about one status being better or worse than the other, or even morally superiour (although I still have the impression that in our current, western society a high status behaviour is – in terms of social recognition – more attractive and appealing, and therefore more desirable for many of us). As a behaviour, both high and low status serve as a tool to manipulate other people. The low status by sending a signal of “Don’t hurt me! I’m not worth getting hurt!” and the high status by showing a dominant behaviour that’s meant to make others do what s/he wants (“demonstrating power”). Both strategies are defensive and serve the purpose of protecting one’s personality, and usually, behind that is fear (e.g. of being hurt, or of not finding the right place in the pecking order). What I was wondering in this regard was: How can you break out of that pattern? And above all: How can you achieve that others don’t show that kind of defenisve behaviour (high or low status) towards you? The answer for me is: being open. Showing empathy. Signalize them, that there’s no reason for being afraid. And, from my point of view, especially improv theater is the attempt to overcome these protective mechanisms, let go of the fear and open yourself up.
Translation by: Claudia Hoppe