Often the discussion of how to play status is reserved for classical acting courses. But a Shakespearean court isn’t the only place status is relevant. Every scene has its own subtle hierarchy of power, and knowing where your character fits is crucial to supporting the story. When portraying your character’s status, here are some factors to consider.
The Court Makes the King.
A large part of telling the story of status must be collaborative. “Court Makes the King,” a game often taught in theatre camps, is the perfect example. If a king enters a room and no one bows, how much power does that king hold? Often, it is the reaction of those surrounding that tells the audience how much status a character holds. With that in mind, you need to be aware not only of your own character’s status but your status in relation to others. Being aware of the power each character in a scene holds will help you be a good scene partner. Throw focus where it is needed. Adjust your attitude and physicality when in the presence of those more powerful than you.
How you carry yourself will say a great deal about your character’s status. Posture is key. Think of power poses. Presenting yourself erect, shoulders back, open body posture may project confidence, whereas slouching or caving in on yourself, avoiding direct eye contact, essentially minimizing potential targets, may tell the story of someone of lower status.
Pace is an easy way to indicate status. Often, very high-status characters move at a more leisurely pace. They don’t have to rush around to fulfill the expectations of others. They don’t have to chase after what they want. It comes to them.
This is a big one for new actors. It’s easy to fall into the trap of a screaming, raging villain. But how much more power is conveyed by someone who doesn’t have to raise their voice to be obeyed, respected or feared?
People naturally give space to high status. You wouldn’t walk right up to Queen Elizabeth and bump fists. Allowing or demanding space is a great physical representation of the power your character holds.
Many of these individual elements can be summarized in your character’s expectations of the world. How do they assume they will be treated? Someone who is used to being fawned over, agreed with and obeyed will have a very different sense of entitlement than someone who is used to having to fight to be heard. Sometimes approaching it from this mindset will help the rest fall into place.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules—any of these elements can be tweaked due to circumstance. What works for one character may not serve another. But being mindful and intentional about portraying your character’s status will not only give your performance specificity and nuance, but will also help build the world of the story.