How to Claim Status in a Scene: Part II

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In part one of this two-part series, Shaan Sharma discussed two techniques to physically claim status in an acting scene. Here are three more.

Movement and expression telegraph our feelings and intentions. By being still and unexpressive, you can make it impossible for others to read you, which can make people very uncomfortable if they want to know what you’re going to do, how you’re feeling, or what you’re thinking. In gambling, we call this “poker face,” making it impossible for opponents to tell if one is bluffing or not.

Again, many predators in the wild creep up on their prey, and become very still in the moments before they strike, making it impossible for the victim to anticipate the exact moment of the attack. How can you dodge an attack you don’t see coming? Every living animal or person is a potential threat, and when we can’t read their intentions, it can make us uncomfortable… unless we are equally or more of a threat to them.

READ: “How to Handle Unwanted Romantic Advances From Industry Pros”

Your first instinct may be to think that yelling or speaking loudly establishes dominance, and it certainly can, but it all comes back to comfort and discomfort again. Yes, yelling can intimidate people and make them feel threatened, but so can speaking softly in the right circumstances. Loudness is the roar of the lion. Quiet is the deadly silence of the snake or shark.

Speaking clearly, with intention, communicates clarity of purpose, whether that purpose is sweet, aggressive, or defensive. People with purpose tend to get things done. Doing things effects change, and change can be uncomfortable for us, especially when the change may not be good for our own comfort or security.

Few things have the power to make others uncomfortable or insecure than violating the norms, the status quo, the way things are supposed to be, if you can get away with it. Think of how powerful a crying baby is on an airplane, or a billionaire tech CEO who wears a hoodie and jeans instead of a suit in the business world.

Almost all of us are wilder animals than society’s norms allow. If we all let our freak flags fly, the economic and lawful structures would collapse. Any opportunities to indulge in our weirdness or sadness or angst have a certain tempting appeal, even if they are damaging to ourselves or others.

In your scenes, if your character has status or you want to imbue status into them, look to see what rules or norms they can break and get away with. We see so many characters in TV or film who are doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, all with twisted, dark sides that are seemingly incongruous with the stereotypical qualities of their real-world counterparts. We vicariously live out our freakishness through their stories. Why else are we drawn to them? Power is magnetic.

Experiment with these five keys to claiming status in your work, and let me know what you think, or if you have any to add, in the comments below or hit me up on social.

For additional interesting reading on the nature of power, I highly recommend getting Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power.” Here’s a gem of a quote that relates to auditioning and confidence bred from competence:

“If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter withboldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.”

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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