Status – so where do you stan
We’re all very aware of who is above us, who is below and who is more or less on the same career level as we are. Bosses, employees, students, directors, the doctor, the judge, the intern and our parents – all of us seem to have a place in society and we behave accordingly; well, most of the time.
What makes a piece of drama interesting is exactly that tension which can be experienced between two people on a different level of status. Playwrights and scriptwriters use these differences cleverly, as it creates conflict and can be used to great effect; just think of the ‘Pretty Woman’ scenario of the lowly girl ending up as the girl at the top, or if we stay with lovely Julia Roberts, the ‘Notting Hill’ scenario, where a lowly bookshop keeper ends up being the husband of a Hollywood film star. What kept us interested during the story was the fact that the difference in status of the main characters usually makes it impossible for them to end up together.
Your students can work with the concept of status on many levels, but a very important one here is improvised dialogue. There is ample opportunity for discussion, reflection and research, if you want to take this activity further and make it into a unit of inquiry.
In this activity, I will include some games and other exercises to deepen the understanding of status, and to create fun with trying out jumping from one status to the other!
TOPIC – Status: so where do you stand?
You can choose whether this is a topic for one lesson, or for a series of lessons, or a unit.
The aim is to use inquiry, which lends itself well to this activity but also for an extension of activities.
- First, discuss the word STATUS with your students; even younger ones will be able to have an opinion on this concept.
(Status derives from the Latin verb to stand, which is ‘stare’. Status means ‘a relative social or professional position, or standing’.)
Discuss what ‘status’ or ‘standing’ means to the students. You can give examples of pairs and ask who is higher in status: a King or a butcher, a director or an employee, Laurel and Hardy, etc. Ask the students to think where they stand in their personal status compared to younger siblings, their parents, their teachers, etc., and how that shows.
Maybe someone will come up with an example where someone of a lower status can gain a higher status for a moment or for a longer period of his/her life. Older students can discuss blackmailing situations, or when the young employee happens to know a famous football star, ranking him higher at that point in the group than his boss.
- What are the physical traits of people who are higher in status?
Ask the students to sit, walk, enter the room, and talk to a partner who is lower in status – what changes are made in their physical behaviour?
You can try out the following exercises: ask the whole group to come in as the most important person in the universe, followed by entering the room as a lowly placed person in a tiny village. You can decide to have half of the group be of high status and the other half low, and let them experience what they do when they walk around without talking; for example, where they look, how they stand or walk, and if they talk, how much is said by the lower ranked person, etc.
- For the next exercise, you need post-it notes, or something that sticks on a person’s back. This exercise also requires improvised dialogue, so a good way to try out your English conversation!
Give students randomly a number one, two or three, by way of sticking a post-it on their backs. Students are not allowed to know what number they have. Other people can see it, but are not allowed to tell the person what number he/she is; Numbers one are the highest in status, numbers three are the lowest.
Next: without knowing what number status he or she is, the student has to mingle in the group and see how others treat him or her. At first, all numbers can react only to the numbers they can see on other people’s backs, and they have to guess what they are themselves; however, soon people will treat them in a certain way, making it possible to guess what number and status, they are.
After a few minutes, ask the numbers 1 to stand with other numbers 1, 2’s with the 2’s and 3’s with the 3’s. Students can check whether their guess was right. Obviously, it will be most difficult for the numbers 2 to find out what number they are!
Ask students whether they can talk about the exact point when they realised they were a number 1, or 2, or 3, and how they felt about the number they were given.
You can extend this game by giving people numbers from 1 to 5 or even 1 to 10, or give them a setting for their conversation: the annual Royal Ball, or the company Christmas party, etc.
- Divide the students up in partner A and partner B. Let them write down a list of 6 or 8 ‘High Status’ people and the same amount of ‘Lower’ or ‘Low Status’ people.
They then have to take turns in choosing one character from each list and improvise a meeting between these two.
If you have time, use this exercise to show what happens when two ‘High’ status people have an improvised dialogue; either one will gradually become lower, or the meeting is quite boring as they’re both on the same level. This is why drama uses differences in status to make scenes exciting.
- Ask a couple to present one of their dialogues. You can also give them a task, for example, the Head of school calls in a student for breaking a window while playing a game. Tell them to overdo it at first with a very bossy Head and a very apologetic student. Then it should be played more realistically; the Head is disappointed in the student rather than cross with him/her, etc. Next, ask students how this situation can be turned around: what needs to happen for the student to be in the more powerful position? Examples here are: the student knows that the Head broke a window too when he was still in school, or the student starts crying and uses this emotion to get higher up in status…
- After trying out some improvised scenes, you could ask students to write dialogue for their characters, memorise the lines and present it at some given time.
- To extend the discussion, ask the students what they know about how different cultures express difference in status. Think of bowing deeper in Japan if you’re lower in status, or languages that use different forms of ‘You’ according to status (tu and vous in French, for example). Ask how their own culture expresses difference in status. Discuss how it has changed from, let’s say, two centuries ago. You can also ask whether status is important, how difference in status can be a dangerous thing, and when it is necessary.
Depending on your time and the age of your students, this can lead to great discussions, research pieces and expressive dialogues!