GUEST POST: Engaging our Indigenous Students by Priscilla Jackman


There is huge diversity of students in our schools across NSW and some colleagues are fortunate to teach in schools with significant numbers of indigenous students, whereby specific educational strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander(ATSI) students are shared and implemented on a day to day basis. But for those of us who do not have large numbers of indigenous students in our school communities, what specific strategies should we be aware of teaching ATSI students and how do we develop our own cultural competency as educators?

To begin answering these questions for myself, over the last year or so, I have engaged in research regarding best practice in the classroom for ATSI students. This has included conducting several interviews with Aboriginal community representatives here in Sydney, including Belinda Miller, Digital Media Producer and On Air Presenter for NITV and Auntie Sandra from the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG). I also spoke at length with Derren Knucky, who is himself, not Aboriginal, but who has worked with young indigenous people in both Alice Springs and Cairns at since 2004, to get his perspective as an a non-indigenous educator of ATSI young people.

I’d like to share 5 interesting insights that arose from that research as well as some strategies that helped me raise my cultural awareness and may support you in implementing effective strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in your own classrooms:

  1. Awareness of Questioning Style – Interrogative vs Narrative: In our Western culture, asking direct questions is a way for us, as teachers to ascertain understanding and we regularly ascertain student engagement and learning through our perception of student responses to our direct questioning techniques. Derren Knucky pointed out that “verbal questioning techniques are less likely to be diagnostic in terms of students understanding and learning, due to cultural minimising of individual assertiveness’. The cultural way of learning from elder to child traditionally follows the form of “look and listen” rather than learning through direct question and answer (as in our Western culture), which can be seen as interrogative. This is particularly important if you are using traditional questioning methods to ascertain understanding. “Silence does not necessarily equate to understanding or acquiescence as it may not be culturally appropriate for ATSI students to speak out or ask further questions to clarify understanding”, Derren suggests. A more circular, narrative form of questioning is a more effective way to engage, evoke and ascertain understanding.

What might this look like?: Instead of asking “What is seven minus two?” it could be more helpful to frame the question in a narrative form that incorporates real-world relevance “So, if you were at a shop and had $7.00 and wanted to buy some lollies for $2.00, how much would you have left?”

2. Understanding the cultural paradigm which favours ‘Community rather than Individual’: This is particularly important for us as Drama teachers as it can directly contrast many of our teaching approaches that seek to direct focus on individual students as actors or performers. Culturally the Aboriginal paradigm, celebrates community rather than individuality. Belinda Miller talked about the ‘shame culture’ where a student may be reticent to speak up when directly singled out. Derren also suggests that techniques such as competitions between students are less helpful because culturally ‘oneness’ is of primary cultural value. For us as Drama teachers, this point is particularly salient as it may be more effective to evoke engagement and participation in group work strategies and exercises which do not seek to single out individual students for attention and/or focus.

What might this look like?: Practical exercises that focus on chorus, ensemble and group response are likely to be effective in the Drama classroom and will become particularly important in terms of group warm ups and student engagement.

3. Spatial-Visual and Real-World Learners: The understanding that culturally, ATSI students learn through ‘doing’, speaks to the heart of our pedagogy as Drama teachers and practitioners. Belinda Miller and Auntie Sandra spoke at length about ATSI students learning through “physically doing and seeing”.

What might this look like?: As with all good Drama teaching, an emphasis on practical engagement, experiential learning, workshopping, real life scenarios and group devising processes will become paramount in terms of meeting learning outcomes.

4. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity – Literacy and Numeracy: Belinda Miller also spoke at length about levels of disadvantage faced by many ATSI students and the negative implications this has on learning. As teachers it is important to be aware of general limitations in literacy, numeracy and vocabulary as a result of Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CALD). If a student is not learning in first language, then teachers must be aware of the need for processing time for comprehension (as with all EADL students).

What might this look like?: Wait time for responses will become paramount, visual learning cues, and a focus on interactive and practical literacy and numeracy skills through Drama games and exercises will support learning in the classroom.

5. General Cultural Competence: Derren suggests, “teachers must understand specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural protocols, for example attending a funeral is always going to be far more important than a school function or test. Similarly gender protocols are important to understand. It is inappropriate to discuss girls’ sexual health with boys, or for female staff members to counsel male students regarding sexual health/risks. The family unit and power structure is not nuclear as in our Western culture.”

What might this look like?: Ultimately this comes down to the quality teaching framework of ‘knowing your students’. To teach effectively, we need to understand the cultural context of our kids. To understand behavioural change or students’ needs and aspirations, it may be important to consult parents or invite dialogue with grandmother, uncle etc.

To finish with, I would like to share a story that touched me and helped me clarify many of the points raised in my research and interviews with community representatives I interviewed. Derren Knucky’s partner is a Social Worker for an Aboriginal NGO and this is a story he relayed to me that his partner Anna had shared:

“I was in a Child Protection meeting, Mum (my client) was about to get her child back. To do this she had found housing for all her family that made her own house overcrowded and unsafe for her child as there were too many people sharing each room – so her child could not get sleep (impacting school attendance, concentration, learning styles etc). My client, as the mother CANNOT culturally say NO to the family staying (as there are cultural obligations regarding family – these are a cultural behavioural priority same as attending funerals etc). However there was one overriding issue – the room her brothers stayed in was left in a total pigsty – they just left what they didn’t need, broken bed in there, it was dirty etc.

The Child Protection Officer in the meeting, said clearly, “You didn’t even clean your house and your house is unhygienic for your child. Therefore you don’t want your child back enough to clean up, so we’ll question all your parenting motivations”.

In this meeting my client said nothing, silence.

Afterwards I asked her about it narrative style instead of through this direct interrogatory framing used by the Child Protection Officer. I said, “Why do you reckon you didn’t manage to get that room finished? ”, not “Why didn’t you do it?”

She tells me when I give her time enough to respond, that it is culturally inappropriate/taboo for her to go into her brother’s bedrooms after they are all grown adults (which is an age old cultural way to stop incest). This is 60 000 years of cultural training that is shaping my client’s response to the stressful situation of the untidy room. My client is stuck between a rock and hard place. SO, again instead of just telling her ultimatums – “if you don’t clean up, you won’t get your child back”, I instead go narrative, “I’m wondering who is able to help us do it then?”

And I find out a cousin is able to do it. I call them, get it done and communicate this with the Child Protection Officer. My client gets her child back.”

Anna adds: “What is significant, is that this story illustrates how we must reinterprete someone’s behaviour from a different cultural paradigm. Assuming behavioural motivations are based on a different culture (generally your own), will lead to false interventions and poor communication and nil or negative outcomes.

To sum up, if you are like me, and you have limited exposure to teaching ATSI students in your current school, the best thing we can do is become aware of our own need for cultural competence as teachers. A starting point is to acknowledge the gaps in our own experience – from there, we can begin to learn and arrive at a deeper understanding which will inform our practice.

What my research has taught me, is that we need to be aware of our own cultural bias. We cannot make assumptions about a student’s motivations and behaviour based our Western cultural paradigm, without significant understanding of the cultural context of our kids.



Belinda Miller, Digital Media Producer and On Air Presenter for NITV (July 2014)

Auntie Sandra from the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (September 2014)

Derren Knucky Coordinator of Young People in Space, Youth Empowered Towards Independence (October 2014)

Image Source:

About the Author: Priscilla is a Drama Teacher at a comprehensive girls high school in Western Sydney. She regularly produces Professional Learning opportunities for Drama Teachers on a range of topics, most recently on the new prescriptions for 2015-2017.

Quick Ideas for Physical Theatre, Inspired by Soccer Players!

Hello loyal followers. Long time no write.

I apologise.

It has been one hectic year and I haven’t been able to prioritise the blog as much as I would like. Ah, the joys of starting at a new school.

I have a stack of posts I want to write and hopefully as the year winds down and we head into summer break here in Australia, I can catch up and get some new material out. I have a heap of stuff I would like to share and have been meaning to for some time.

Having said that, I was sitting down watching television the other night after a long day at work and one of the segments was about the creative ways soccer players celebrate after they shoot a goal. I thought to myself, “These clips are brilliant for my Year 9 Drama class.” They really are an excellent way to show how to use the body to tell a story or make an object. They could be a great way to start off a lesson or link in when you are talking about movement and using your bodies to make shapes etc.

Below are a just a few that I thought were pretty good but if you have a bit of a search around YouTube there are plenty more.

1. The Fish Celebration


2. The Rowing Celebration


3.  The Swimming Celebration


4. The Grenade Celebration


Greek Theatre: A Mini Unit of Work


Earlier this year I taught Greek Theatre for the first time in my career.

As part of my transition into my new school, I took to teaching the scope and sequence that I inherited from the previous teachers at the school. Greek Theatre hadn’t suited the students at my previous school so I was quite looking forward to giving this a go.

I only ended up having about ten lessons with the students before we needed to move on to Medieval Theatre and Melodrama but I felt it was just enough time to give them a sense of what theatre was like in ancient times and how influential it has been on modern theatre.

Here is a very simple teaching and learning sequence that you might like to use if you are teaching the unit for the first time or have limited time in which to complete the unit.

Introduction to Greek Theatre

I structured the lessons in two parts so that we did some theory first, for example reading/writing notes or watching clips before then getting up and having a go of the different aspects of the style experientially.

I put together a handout that had information about the following:

  • Its Origins – i.e.The Festival of Dionysus
  • The Performance Space – i.e. The Amphitheatre
  • Types of Greek Theatre – i.e. Tragedy, Comedy & Satyr
  • The Playwright’s – i.e. Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes

Some of the consolidation activities I did to ensure the students understood what they had learnt included:

  • Labelling a diagram of an amphitheatre
  • Completing a cloze passage with a word bank for support
  • Simple comprehension questions
  • Showing some videos  from the National Theatre Discover’s YouTube channel

Acting and Movement in Greek Theatre

This was the most experientially dense part of our mini unit. Our experiential activities focused on two particular things:

  • The role of the chorus
  • The voice and movement skills needed by the actors when performing outside and with a mask

Again, the visual resources through the National Theatre’s YouTube channel were invaluable. I showed a number of clips so as to give the students an idea of the effect of the chorus and what it looked like in performance.

I then used a selection of chorus verses from Antigone to work on in class.

Before beginning the experiential activities, we looked at The Theban Plays by Sophocles so as to understand the context of where the play Antigone fit into the whole story.

The aim of the experiential activities was to work up to performing the chorus excerpt from the play for an audience. As a class we looked at simple movements that we could make that could look effective when performed in a large amphitheatre.

The students were then broken into small groups and had to put these movements together so that they were being performed in unison and in time. They then added dialogue to their movements. They had to keep in mind that their costumes could impede their movement which traditionally were toga like outfits.

The second exercise we did was to actually go outside onto the oval and perform a scene. At the back of my school oval there is a little bit of a hill which leads up to the farm. This worked perfectly as the “amphitheatre” and the oval itself acted as the stage. The students were able to experience the difficulty in having to project their voices and be expressive through their body movements so as to communicate what was happening in the story.

To prepare the students we did some simple vocal warm-ups so as not to damage their voices and practiced walking and moving around the space in large strides and using their arms and torso to exaggerate simple movements.

I then followed these experiential activities up with reflection activities so that the students could consider what they had learnt.

Costume & Mask in Greek Theatre

To finish the mini-unit, we briefly looked at the mask designs for tragedies and the costumes worn. Students then dressed in the toga like costumes and performed a scene. You may also like to consider having the students perform in masks or make their own masks.

My assessment of this unit was a half-yearly exam. It wasn’t something I particularly liked as a task and would consider changing in future.


In preparing my resources for this mini-unit I found a few resources online that I thought were of a good quality. I would recommend the following:

Have you taught Greek Theatre before? What are some teaching and learning/assessment strategies that you use? Please share your thoughts below.

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What Does Your Dream Professional Development Day Look Like?

I’ve got an idea that I’m ruminating on. First, though, I want to here your thoughts. In the side bar is a new poll:

If you were offered free, online, small group professional development, what would you want it to be on?

I would be interested to know your thoughts so please take a few seconds to vote.

I have offered some suggestions in the poll but if you have anything in particular that you really think should be offered as PD please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Sometimes I find the PD that is offered does not really hit the spot. Plus, it’s expensive and administration won’t always let you go. Oh, and you may even have to give up your weekend to do it.

So many of you are very generous in following this blog so I’d really like to know what you need as a teacher and how I can better provide for those needs.

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Thoughts on the New Contemporary Prescriptions

I apologise for my lengthy absence from posting. Term 2 was frantic and frankly, I was exhausted by the end of it. I have had so many posts that I have been meaning to share I just haven’t been able to prioritise the blog as much as I would have liked to.  I’m feeling somewhat rested now and hope that you have also had a good break. I am gently easing myself back into preparations for Term 3.

With that being said, this term I must make my decision in terms of what text I would like to study with my 2015 HSC class. Over the course of the term I have purchased and read each of the new texts in the Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice section as that is the topic I enjoy teaching. I thought I would share my initial impressions on each of the texts with you. I’m intrigued to know what other people’s first impressions are of the texts and what they are thinking of studying. Perhaps you have had similar thoughts or questions about the texts as I have. This is a very free flowing post of all my thoughts. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts below.

Stolen by Jane Harrison

This text remains on the list. Due to my only teaching Yr 12 every second year it doesn’t seem as though it has been on the list all that long but, from memory, I do think it has been there since 2010. It is an indigenous text exploring the issue of the stolen generation in Australia and their forced removal from families during the early part of the 20th Century. There are a lot of themes to explore and the dramatic techniques and conventions used by Harrison make it an interesting play to explore experientially.

There have been rumours that Stolen may be replaced in future with The Secret River adaptation by Andrew Bovell whilst some other teachers would really like to see Brother’s Wreck by Jada Alberts which recently played at Belvoir St, to be the new indigenous text.

This then gets me thinking, do I pick two brand new texts or just the one?

I enjoy teaching Stolen and don’t feel like I’ve quite got the hang of it yet. In saying that, just like I did with Ruby Moon it could be moved into an Indigenous unit in Stage 5 or used as an Elements of Production text in Year 11.

What to do, what to do?

Life Without Me by Daniel Keene

I wrote some notes as I was reading this one…

“Absurdist. Set in a hotel. Suggestion of purgatory, perhaps they’re all dead? They don’t know who they are. They want to go “home.” Motif of suitcases, home, lift going to nowhere. Disjointed communication, cyclical conversations, lots of rhetorical questions. Existentialist. Frustrating in parts. Hotel metaphor for life. Run down etc.”

I love Absurdism so there is something about this play that entices me. That being said, I study Absurdism with Year 11 as part of my Theatrical Traditions unit. Am I still able to do that I wonder? I also wonder, do I really want to study Absurdism twice? As much as I do love it. The advantage would be that the students would have some contextual understanding of Absurdism before leaping into the text which would leave more time to focus on the themes, characters and experiential activities.

The motif of the suitcase and idea of home recurs a lot in this play. As well as the lack of identity. This, to me, draws strong parallels with Stolen which also has a suitcase motif and explores the issues of home and identity (or lack thereof). Thus these two texts could compliment each other nicely…

Teacher’s Notes are available for this play by contacting Melbourne Theatre Company.

Fearless by Mirra Todd

When reading the introduction to Milk Crate Theatre and the process the company used to produce Fearless I was drawn in immediately. I loved that it was exploring homelessness through the stories of real homeless people. Note, the theme of homelessness once again. Both Stolen and Life Without Me explore these ideas also. So this play could compliment either of them in terms of themes. Ah, decisions, decisions…

Stylistically however, this is a play you really need to see to grasp the full effect. It frustrated me to read it and I stopped about three quarters of the way through. That being said, there is so much to play with experientially with this text that if you felt confident enough with it, it could produce some really interesting workshop results.

I noticed that Milk Crate is offering workshops for schools next year to help schools better understand the play. There are very few resources on the Internet that I could find to help with the teaching of this so if you choose to study this play I think this workshop would be a necessary part of any experiential learning.

Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz

This play is from the outside most like Ruby Moon. It is set on a typical suburban street, there is that sense of the neighbours not wanting to have much to do with each other yet on the other hand being quite voyeuristic. At the heart though, I think it is about loneliness, connection and this underlying resilience we all have as human beings. It has a rather beautiful, hopeful ending. Perhaps it is because of my connection and love of Ruby Moon, I enjoyed this play the most.

Teacher’s Notes for the Melbourne Theatre Company production are available here.

So, where to from here?

I think all of these plays look at the idea of home in some way but at the heart I think all of them explore loneliness and the many forms it takes. I think throughout the whole process of reading these texts I have come from a place where I want the text I choose to compliment Stolen despite the fact that it may be off the list in a few years time. Really any combination will work because I don’t think they need to thematically link but it is nice to  be able to make those connections when you are studying two texts side by side.


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HSC Drama – Introducing Verbatim Theatre

This is my second series of posts on HSC Drama. This is the second Studies in Drama and Theatre topic I have taught my students. I have also taught Approaches to Acting. You can find some of the things I’ve written about that unit here and here.

Now, as we are all aware the Course Prescriptions have changed for 2015-2017 and Verbatim Theatre is now Verbatim Theatre in Australia. This means that the text choices are slightly different.

When teaching Verbatim Theatre initially, we all had to look at The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theatre Project. Now this text has been moved into the new topic of Significant Plays of the 20th Century.

I feel like I haven’t quite got the hang of teaching this text yet so I am going to choose this topic for 2015. Which other text I will do I don’t know yet.

Whether you choose to teach The Laramie Project from Significant Plays of the 20th Century or you decide to go with Verbatim Theatre in Australia, this post should be helpful in getting you to introduce this topic to your students.

I start with two simple introductory experiential activities to get students thinking about the following focus areas that are necessary when creating Verbatim Theatre:

  • The Observation of People
  • Storytelling of Events/Authenticity vs Authority.

Activity 1 – Observing Others

Guide your students through the following:

1. Begin by walking around in the performance space.

2. As you walk, observe your fellow classmates. Focus on their physical appearance, movement and use of voice.

3. Write down your observations in your logbook. What physical and vocal qualities did you observe?

4. Discuss the following question as a class: What are the most difficult human behaviours to recreate as a performer do you think? Why?

Activity 2 – Storytelling of Events/Authenticity vs Authority

Guide your students through the following:

1. In your logbook, draw an image that represents your childhood. Lay these out around the classroom for others to see.

2. Ask the students to look at the other images drawn by their classmates and stand behind the one they most connect with.

3. Pair up with the person whose image you are standing behind. If there are several people try to match up several pairs or form a group of three. Person A tells a story about a moment in their childhood. It could be the one from the image or something different. Person B listens observing what is being said, how it is being conveyed and what the essence or emotion of the piece is.

4. Person B performs the story to the class.The focus is on trying to make the performance as similar to that of the initial storytelling.

5. In their logbook, ask students to reflect on observations made as to the accuracy of the retelling by answering the following questions:

1. How did it feel to watch your story being told by your partner? Did it feel respectful? Why/why not?
2. Did you recognize any of your classmates in the stories that were told?
3. Did it feel like the story “belonged” to the teller even though they were imitating another person?
4. What changed about the story in the re-telling? What is lost and what is gained in the actor’s interpretation?
5. What new understanding do you have about people in the class?
6. What makes it feel safe to do this activity? What makes it feel unsafe?
7. Whose stories get told? Whose stories are hidden?
8. What are the implications in telling someone else’s story when they are a different gender, race or ethnicity from you, the performer?
9. What is your responsibility when telling someone else’s story?
10. How can truths be manipulated to create theatricality?
11. What events are suitable topics?

Activity 3 – Bringing It Together

Now I would provide the students with some factual information about what Verbatim Theatre is. There is also this great little clip by The National Theatre that introduces Verbatim Theatre in a succinct way. Have the students answer some simple comprehension questions about what they’ve read or seen.


Finally, to prepare students to write their essay I get them to write a short paragraph as a workshop reflection in their logbook in response to the following question:

From its origins and development, what is the purpose or intention of Verbatim Theatre in the 21st Century?

What introductory activities do you do when introducing Verbatim Theatre? I love trying new ideas. Share your thoughts below.

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HSC Group Performance: The Process

I know for many of you, you are well under way facilitating the creation of your student’s HSC Group Performance projects.

I have come to enjoy this part of the course with its unexpected twists, turns and issues.

I always have found devising exciting because you just don’t know where the piece is going to go.

When you find that idea that clicks within the group and the improvisation happens it is an exciting moment.

Also, I always tell my students to embrace the fact that sometimes, the piece may be going nowhere and that you are indeed stuck. I enjoy trying to help the students find solutions to their problems.

Of course, it is a time pressured scenario with the Individual Projects being in their final stages and revision and practice of theory and essay writing an essential skill to keep the students practicing. Not to mention Term 2 always seems to be far too short.

I think it’s also important to remember that the process for each group will be different. They will all be at different points at different times so it is important to be flexible and have plenty of strategies up your sleeve to help with this when the time comes.

So I thought as a way of helping you through this process, over the next couple of weeks I would just provide some checklists that you yourself can use or you could give to your students to help ensure that everyone is on the right track and hopefully there is very little to no, unnecessary (note the word “unnecessary”) stress.

The Playbuilding Process

I break the process up into seven stages:

1. Research and Investigation

2. Finding the Spine

3. Working on Scenes

4. Putting It Together

5. Rehearsing

6. Performance

7. Evaluation

I will base my checklist on each one of these headings.

Today’s post will begin with Research and Investigation and Finding the Spine.

Before Starting Research

To me, these first two stages, Research and Investigation and Finding the Spine are the two most important aspects of the devising process. Time should be taken here to allow the students to settle into their groups, adequately complete research and use that research to come up with a vision for their piece. Being able to articulate their dramatic line, intention or spine in a succinct, clear manner will help them further on down the track if they get stuck.

At this stage groups should be formed. How you choose to do that is up to you and your students. I have always let my students work it out for themselves. From my experience I have always had small cohorts and they naturally have gravitated and worked out who would be a best fit for them. This, of course, does not work well for every school and every teacher.

Despite my choice to have students form groups this way, it is still an awkward conversation for them to have (and you as the teacher to witness and provide damage control if necessary) but one that is needed so as to avoid any problems further down the track. I feel it demonstrates from the outset that they have control and responsibility for their project. Saying this to the students helps make the decision making process a little easier for them. Honesty and openness in communication from everyone from the outset is key. I do give my preferred suggestions, at least for group size and I may speak to students individually in the lead up to the big day to “plant seeds” as to who it may be advantageous for them to work with but in the end it becomes the students decision. After all, it is their project as much as it feels like yours.

To solidify the commitment of the group I always get them to write and sign their own group contract and stick it in the front of their logbook. This is a great tool with which to help you as the teacher make communication with home when any student in the group is not pulling their weight. This can be used before any N-Award warnings go home.

Ensure the students write a logbook entry about the group formation process.

The Brainstorming Process

I get each group to brainstorm all of the words that are provided in the HSC Drama Prescriptions document.

From there I get them to focus on the two or three words that they were able to get the most ideas from.

I then start to direct group discussion around what theme or idea is coming through most strongly, any particular settings or perspectives that this theme or idea could be set in, storyline/plot ideas or any type of roles/characters that may be able to be adopted.

By the end of the lesson students should have 1-3 themes/ideas that they want to explore further.

I make sure that they write a logbook entry in response to the following: ” In your own words, explain the process you used to decide what key word/s you will be researching and investigating in the next step of the process. Why did your group decide on that word/s?”

Research and Investigation

The amount and type of research done depends on the story itself and the knowledge and experience of the group. Research needs to be done early in the process so that it can be included in the group’s playbuilding. It helps create scene ideas.

I book the library for a couple of lessons and use the discussion and feedback from the initial brainstorming sessions to help inform the librarian as to what books the groups might need to help them easily get more information about their ideas.

A range of research material is a good idea. So I tell each group to allocate each group member to look for information on their idea/s from one of the following mediums:

  • Internet
  • Books (Fiction & Non-Fiction)
  • Newspapers
  • Images (Artworks, Photographs)
  • Poems/Songs/Music
  • Jokes, Inspirational Sayings, Conversations, Interviews, Phonecalls

Encourage them to look for things at home in their own collections and from relatives and friends.

Everything they collect I tell them to stick into their logbook and annotate. Annotate, meaning, write a comment on the document telling me why this could be useful for the group performance or why it may not be useful for the group performance. Remember, the stuff that doesn’t work or isn’t right should also be included in the logbook. It is your document of process so those kind of detours or wrong turns need to be documented.

Finally, at the end of the research lessons I get the students to write another logbook entry in response to the following: “In your own words, what information did you find and how do you think it could be included in your performance? Visually, how could it be presented on stage?”

This logbook entry in particular gets them to start focusing on applying their research to a theatrical vision.

Finding the Spine

The spine (throughline or focus) refers to the “dramatic meaning” or message from which everything else in the performance radiates. All of the dramatic elements that the group choose to use: scenes, dialogue, staging, costuming, sound, lighting, characters and roles must help in communicating the spine to the audience.

Once we are back in the classroom and their research is compiled, the groups have some more discussion. This time focusing on putting their research into a theatrical journey with characters, perspectives and setting. They may even begin to think about performance style.

In helping them to solidify their spine and to help prepare them to articulate it clearly and concisely I ask them:

“What do you want your audience to think, feel, do before, during and after your piece?”

I think it’s important to note here, that this spine is by no means set in stone and that it is important to regularly check back to see whether or not the performance is answering the dramatic intention or if perhaps it needs to be thought through again. I think it’s also important to assure the students that it is OK to have to rethink their dramatic question. In saying that, if they spend time during this phase of the process making it really concrete it will help them further down the track when it is time to knuckle down with improvising and rehearsing.

To conclude this phase of the process I get the students to write their first draft of their 300 word rationale explaining their intention for their performance and which ideas they are going to explore in improvisation first off.

What strategies do you use when playbuilding with Year 12? I love to hear new ideas. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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