status moves and social space


over at Wind Farm, i was inspired to think, once again, about the fabulous book Impro, by Keith Johnstone. i keep meaning to write about his conceptualization of school settings as places where creativity is "educated" out of us. i'm especially taken with his awareness of status moves in (all) human interaction; as i read him, all gestures and communicative moments are about status. it's all about status.

since Dave Pollard has done such a nice job of summarizing --my apologies for the scary clown or harlequin -- if that's what it is -- image/nightmare that heads up the post; maybe it's just my coulrophobia, and maybe you'll be fine with it, and if so, go here for more (it's worth it).

here is a brief bit from an Amazon review (by Sami Meittinen):

Keith Johnstone is a visionary in the field of improvisation theatre. His concepts of status hierarchies are ground-breaking. They show that humans, like animals, are at ease with each other when the underlying status hierarchy is understood and undisputed.

However, all kinds of interesting tensions are created when the status hierarchy IS disputed. For actors, this concept from Keith's book is golden:

1) If you want to be seen as a natural performer, you need to know your status in relation to the other humans, and even things around you.

2) If you want to create interesting drama, you and your co-actors need to manipulate your statuses in interesting ways. These dynamic movements and challenges are interesting and funny for the audience.

Comments

chris said…
i read this from Goldin-Meadow about an hour after you posted over at my place:

"For half the conversation, the adult spoke with total freedom of movement; for the other half, the adult's arms, hands, legs, and feet were restrained. The content of each adult's speech was analyzed by a computer program designed to quantify degree of imagery. The interesting result from our point of view was that the adults' speech contained less vivid imagery when their movements were restrained and they couldn't gesture than when their arms were free and they could. (165)

here she is discussing experiments on the role of gesture in expressing/structuring spatial information. when gesture is disallowed effort is strained and descriptions are less vivid or images are described with less clarity. interesting. and it goes along with what you were saying about your article-in-progress ab improv and creativity...
chris said…
crap. forgot to include the close-quote and the "(emphasis mine)"
there's a flip side, in acting. i was in a class once with an older woman who had spent most of her acting career on stage. stage acting is BIG whereas film acting is usually SMALL (when done well). my brilliant teacher, Anne Sward Hansen, did this exercise with/for the actress. she videotaped her doing her monologue as she had rehearsed it (full of gestures and very grandiose and kind of unsettling). then, Anne told the actress that she would tape her performing her monologue again, only this time, the actress was to stand with her spine glued up against the wall, hands at sides, and was not allowed the freedom she had had before w/r/t movement and gesture. Anne taped the whole thing very tightly, a very tight closeup on the actresses face, alone.

it. was. amazing. we all saw it.

but of course, here i am talking about *performance,* acting . . . acting that is rehearsed and intended rather than maybe the kinds of normalized gesturing that many people ordinarily use but are maybe unaware of (?). still, interestingly, your cited study finds "less vivid imagery," when gestures are constrained, and this finding may somehow align or be consistent with the (BIG) idea of stage acting this actress had normalized.

interesting.
chris said…
acting (as well as comedy) seems apropos - very much so, in fact. i'm no actor (or comedian) but a large part of what performers such as Anne Sward Hanson do consists of observing/studying human behavior so as to exaggerate, reenact, parody, etc. such behavior, yes? am i off on this?
no, you're not off on this. Anne *is* very observant of human behavior, and she teaches this. her camera angle, focusing so closely upon the animated face of the still body of the actress . . . she knows where to look (when you aren't gesticulating wildly w/ your body, Anne seems to realize/teach, you have to make your moves w/ your face; BUT, being so bodily-still causes such a series of bizarre emotions that what registers on the face is just subtle and brilliant). maybe it just worked that one time, but it worked.

oh. we're all actors :)
chris said…
and all the world's a stage...

:)