How to Claim Status in a Scene: Part I

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Whoever has the status in a scene refers to who has the power. You have power over someone when you are, or are perceived as, a threat to their comfort and/or security. I use the word “threat” to refer to the extent that we can impact each other, positively or negatively.

Types of power that relate to comfort include emotional threats, whereas power that relates to security include physical threats to one’s survival. For example, a lover could break your heart, whereas a warrior could break your body, or a rich suitor could provide a higher material quality of life.

Comfort and security fascinatingly mix to constitute the power dynamics in all relationships, whether two people are equal in power status, or one is weaker or stronger. Parents tend to have status over their children, bosses over their employees, teachers over students, and so on, but emotional power in a relationship can differ from who technically holds the power over physical security. A powerful mistress can rule the heart and mind of a weak king even if he superficially and technically “rules” over the security of those in his kingdom.

Oftentimes in real life we fall into a power state unconsciously. In our scenes as actors, we get to create and choose what best serves the story.

There are five simple ways to physically claim status in a scene, as well as in life. They involve withholding or taking something from others that they want, like attention, clarity, respect, but especially comfort and security. All five feed into and support, as well as negate, each other.

It comes down to this: the most comfortable one in the moment wins. If you can make someone uncomfortable, or even just more uncomfortable than you, in a relationship or interaction, you’ve established dominance over them in some way. If you’re both equally comfortable or uncomfortable, you both have the same power status in a scene.

READ: “We’re Not Evolved to Handle Acting Well”

Let’s start with eye contact, one of the most fundamental aspects of human interaction. There are two ways to use eye contact to establish status; with unbreaking, dominant eye contact, or withholding eye contact and attention entirely. The extremes hold the keys to power.

Eye contact is inherently an intimate act. In doing so, you give acknowledgement and attention to the other person. Giving someone your attention is an act of respect, which is why withholding it can be so disrespectful and thus discombobulating to them. If someone wants your acknowledgement, attention, or respect in a scene and you refuse to give it, it weakens them if it makes them uncomfortable or insecure in that moment. It’s not easy to take being ignored.

In the same way, because eye contact is so intimate, too much of it can also be disconcerting. Think of adversaries staring each other down, trying to get the other to blink or back down, getting closer and closer until they’re close enough to kiss. The closer you are to someone, the more intensely the intimacy is felt.

Think of predators stalking their prey in the wild. If anyone, especially someone you don’t know, has their eyes on you, unwavering, it can be felt as a threat. Why are they staring at you? What do they want? Why won’t they stop?

How we arrange our bodies affects both how powerful we feel and how others perceive our power. Lying on the floor in the fetal position makes you vulnerable to attack, unable to defend yourself or see oncoming threats. Standing tall, with your head up, and with your weight evenly balanced allows you to see and prepare for anything.

Whether standing or sitting, get a feel for what postures make you feel submissive or vulnerable, and which ones make you feel comfortable, secure, regal, and ready for anything.

Read the next ways to claim status in a scene in Part II.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Shaan Sharma
Shaan Sharma is a session director, on-camera acting teacher, and author of “A Session Director’s Guide to Commercial Acting in L.A.”
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