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
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:
- Books (Fiction & Non-Fiction)
- Images (Artworks, Photographs)
- 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.
Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc