Status is key to understanding how characters interact with one another and how they behave on stage. Status indicates the relationship between characters; which character has more authority, who is at the centre of the story at this moment, which part of the story should be highlighted and given priority.
Status is another tool that conveys the narrative to an audience and is something the ensemble must learn to play with.
Status card game
Status is often confused with hierarchy or authority. While they sometimes go hand in hand, status is much more about confidence and presence. This is a simple game to help you explore status:
- Ask the group to walk around the room exploring varying status levels. Go from 1 to 10, where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest. When you are at status level 1 you should be shuffling around the edges of the room, silent, not making eye contact, trying to hide. Status level 10 owns the room and does as he wishes, shoving furniture around and shouting.
- After this initial exercise, take a pack of playing cards. Remove the King, Queen and Jack. The number cards will represent the levels of status 1 – 10 (ace is 1).
- Choose two volunteers, with the rest of your group forming the audience. Give your volunteers a playing card each, making sure that they keep the number secret. Next, ask them to imagine they are in an office. Ask them to walk towards each other along a corridor and greet each other, playing their status.
- The audience must then guess each volunteer’s status. This is helpful for both the audience, who see how status plays out on stage, and for the actors – who might think they’re playing an exaggerated status only to find that they’re not nearly clear enough.
Practical application: devising from The Master and Margarita Chapter 13, Enter the Hero
In this chapter, the Master enters the story and tells Ivan all about his life. The story includes meeting Margarita, writing his novel, and then destroying it.
From our very first readings of the book, we knew this chapter was critical to the play’s narrative structure. We decided early on that we needed the whole ensemble to help tell the Master’s story.
The ensemble create the story as it’s being told by moving furniture, becoming characters in the Master’s life and by illustrating important events. In this way, the Master’s story is supported and lifted by the ensemble; it is given a high status and he becomes the focus on stage at that moment. Try this exercise with your group:
- Choose a section of Enter the Hero. Choose a narrator who will play the Master and will tell the story as it is written in the novel.
- The rest of the group is the ensemble. Find a way to help support the Master through his story, always focusing the attention on him but also keeping the storytelling dynamic and meaningful.
- Once you’ve established a basic pattern of events, try playing with the balance of status on stage. What happens when the Master is at 10 and the ensemble at 6, and then at only 2? And what about if they switch? How does that change affect the audience?
Words: Sasha Milavic Davies/ Image: Sarah Ainslie