Archive for April, 2010

Status Transactions and the Actor

April 26, 2010 4 comments

When I first read Keith Johnstone’s notion of the “status transaction,” I knew I had stumbled on the fundamental hidden truth of all real-life relationships: that every real-life interaction between people is loaded with subtle attempts to position oneself above or below the other. I also believe that this subtle, unobserved chemistry between people is a large part of what separates mundane, mediocre acting from excellent acting. So, now that we have become conscious of a fundamental and interesting truth about human interaction, how does that figure into our acting or storytelling technique? How can we make this useful to us?

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The Status Transaction

April 22, 2010 27 comments

Out of everything I’ve encountered on the topic of human motivation and influence, the most life-changing material came not from a sociologist or an advertising copywriter, but from an improv teacher.

IMPRO: Improvisation and the Theatre

IMPRO: Improvisation and the Theatre

Keith Johnstone is one of the originators of modern improvisational performance.  The principles that he invented through his teaching at the Royal Court Theatre became the improv performance rules now taught at comedy schools like Second City and Improv Olympic.  Lyndi Smith gives a good background on Johnstone in her eponymous blog.

One of Johnstone’s most insightful observations about human interaction forms the first section of his book IMPRO, Improvisation and the Theatre. I have read this first section over and over, and as a result I now look at the world much differently than I did before.  His insights form the basis of everything I’ve learned about motivation and influence.

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The Nature and Purpose of People-triggers

While in the midst of tutoring/toying with Clarice, Hannibal Lecter references the writings of Marcus Aurelius, saying, “Of each thing ask, what is it in itself?  What is it’s nature?”

When Marcus Aurelius wrote The Meditations, his original mission was only to organize his thoughts on Stoicism and proper action.  He was only trying to advise himself, and there is little evidence to suggest that he meant for those thoughts to be published.

A couple years ago, I had an interesting “A-ha” moment.  I read Keith Johnstone’s Impro for the first time.  It’s a book on improv performance, written by the man who’s Theatresports troupe was the forerunner of the famous TV show Who’s Line Is It Anyway? The first section of that book deals with a concept called the “status transaction,” which I’ll go into in depth in a later post.  I re-read this section many, many times trying to get my brain fully around his concepts.  To me, it was a brand new way of looking at performance that existed in a separate universe from Stanislavski and super-objectives.

But that wasn’t the “A-ha” I was referring to.  I gravitated to this concepts of status, and the “weak, everyday motivations” that Johnstone explored because it seemed to fall right in line with other books I had read – not about performance, but about marketing and advertising.  I realized that Johnstone’s work had much broader implications than stage performance.  It was the first step towards lifting the veil on the latent, subtle, everyday motivations of people in the real world.

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