HSC Drama: Writing a Workshop Reflection

I mentioned yesterday that I would post the scaffold I use to get students writing after an experiential workshop.

I learnt this structure from @loucopoulos at his professional learning day on writing the essay for the HSC Drama exam so I take absolutely no credit for this. I’ve been trying it out this year with my seniors and it seems to be working. It’s a simple enough structure that is getting the kids writing about what they have done experientially in class and is connecting it with the themes and issues in a much more effective way.

Start by giving your students a question to respond to. For example, I mentioned in my post yesterday about activities you could use to introduce Ruby Moon. These are specifically getting the students to look at the themes and issues in the play of Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. Your question could be something like:

What are your initial impressions of Ruby Moon and how do these contribute to your understanding of the issues and concerns in the play?

1. Answer the question in a sentence or two.

2. Elaborate on that answer by explaining it.

3. Use a workshop example in a quick recount.

4. What insights does that example provide?

To reiterate, the idea behind the structure is to help students better incorporate their experiential learning and make better connections to the issues and themes as well as the elements of drama.

This is how I would respond to the question using the scaffold, indicating in brackets at the end of the sentence when I have addressed each part of the scaffold (remembering also that you can say “I”):

The initial impression I get of Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron is one of darkness and mystery (1).

This is because the plot mirrors the familiar fairytale/fable of Little Red Riding Hood and looks at the consequences of a missing child on a couple as well as their neighbourhood. This fairytale, both traditionally and over time has been manipulated and at the core contains a dark, moral message. The idea of a missing child creates a feeling of unease and when delving further into the make-up of a neighbourhood it becomes clear that many people do not really know their neighbours (2).

In a series of activities as part of a class workshop, my class looked at two different versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the aspects that had been “fractured” or manipulated in each version and what impression was left for the audience of the characters, story and moral message. We discussed how this links in to the themes and issues in the play that we had read about: Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. We researched a number of different missing Australian children and discussed the circumstances behind their disappearance focusing in particular on the parent’s role and who the abductors usually were. Finally, this lead to a discussion about our own neighbourhoods, what they look like, sound like and feel like (3).

Through these exercises I was able to get a better sense of the issues and concerns that we had read about in preparation for reading the play Ruby Moon. That there is more to Australia than simply white, sandy beaches and at the core of many Australian neighbourhoods and families there is a sense of unease and mystery about our neighbours because of incidences like missing children. That families become “fractured” because of it. That we cannot fully trust people because we don’t really know who they are or what they are thinking and this is a common feeling amongst much of Australian society (4).

I hope my paragraph above makes sense. It’s hard to critique your own writing because I mainly find my faults rather than looking for what I’ve done right. As many of our students do also I’m sure. Feedback is always welcome so please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you get an opportunity, I would highly recommend attending Costa’s course. I found it really helpful. You can find more information about the HSC Essays and Dramatic Practice course here.

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HSC Drama Prescriptions 2015-2017

Keep Calm and Get Excited

Get excited people! The new prescriptions are here! At first glance there has been a fair amount of reshuffle. New stimulus words for the Group Performance and Ruby Moon is gone from Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice (although I will still post my lesson ideas because we could use them in Year 11!). Still Angela and A Beautiful Life  have also gone (only Stolen remains). Irish and American Drama, Brecht, Site Specific and Event Theatre are gone, replaced by Multi-Discipline Theatre, Japanese Traditional and Contemporary Theatre, Verbatim Theatre in Australia (not just Verbatim Theatre) and Significant Plays of the 20th Century.

So, what do you think? I am sure everyone is going to have lots of fun planning great new units and purchasing resources with our budgets.

These changes are effective for Year 12 students beginning the HSC at the end of 2014 and finishing it in 2015. These texts can all change or in part every three years.

You can find the PDF document from the NSW Board of Studies here. Happy reading!

Image Credit: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-get-excited-52/

52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 15

All Stops Out by Michael Gow

So I’m a bit on again, off again with my challenge I know. Recently though, I managed to sneak in some time to read a play. It was rather relevant considering many of the students at our school were preparing for their Trial HSC and now my darling Year 11’s are about to embark on their Yearly Exams before hitting the big Year 12 next term.

All Stop’s Out is a play that explores the differing attitudes to study, the consequences of our actions and the possibilities for our future. Sam is a natural at study, an absolute nerd. He hits the books hard. Danny finds it a little more difficult. Linda thinks Jenny is wasting her time whilst Cathy regrets not working harder whilst the parents…Well, the parents are always anxious. It’s their child’s future after all.

I’ve always liked Michael Gow because the way he writes appears very simple but it isn’t. It is multi-layered. The dialogue suggests action and setting and you can understand the character’s subtext easily from this. His plays could work in any space and with very little in the way of set and costume. It leaves a lot open to interpretation for a director. Often there is always a bit of a twist at the end too. It’s a little dated but nothing that a bit of tweaking of cultural references couldn’t change.

I used a scene from this play to explore motivation and subtext and found it to be quite successful with the students. Well worth the read.

Photo Credit: wwiwsky via Compfight cc

52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 7

Holy Day by Andrew Bovell

Recommended by Angela M

OK, so wow. Holy Day is heavy. Set in the outback of Australia in the late 19th Century at a Traveller’s Rest run by Nora and her Aboriginal daughter Obedience, three traveller’s arrive: Goundry, Epstein and Cornelius. At the same time a missionary’s wife, Elizabeth arrives out of the bush after the mission has been burned and her baby has gone missing. They call upon Wakefield, a local property owner to help them search for Elizabeth’s baby and husband. Obedience finds an Aboriginal woman Linda by the waterhole who she believes took the baby. So ensues a story of trust and truth. Who did take the baby and why?

Bovell is such a well respected playwright and I can see why. He conjures absolutely gorgeous imagery (if dark and moody) of the Australian landscape and juxtaposes that with the horrible behaviour of his characters. The opening image of Elizabeth on stage with the lightning flashing and the thunder rumbling around her is eery, distrubing and really sets the tone for the whole play. It is dark, sinister and the characters are really messed up, if I’m putting it nicely.

Bovell really captures the early attitudes white men and women had towards the Aboriginal people as well as the first experiences of the Stolen Generation. He captures that harshness and isolation of the Australian outback and how difficult it was for the English to adjust. I like also, that he includes convicts as a focal point also.

In terms of applying this play to class, there aren’t any particularly lengthy sections of dialogue although you may be able to piece certain parts of Elizabeth’s dialogue together into a monolgue performance. You could really use this play as a way of exploring the elements of mood and atmosphere and most definitely tension (between characters). I would be interested to see some directorial concepts for set and poster design because the technical requirements seem complicated and it would be interesting to see how they could be interpreted for a particular space. This would also be an excellent play to use in tandem with a study of Australian Drama and Theatre in the HSC.

Some links of interest:

What I Wrote by Snodger Media

Using Pinterest as an Inspiration Board for Holy Day (great idea for teaching costume!)

Mapping Australian Space in Theatre

BlakStage: An Australian Plays.org Showcase (An interesting selection of articles).

Image Credit: Approaching Minatbie / Georgie Sharp / CC BY-NC 2.0

10 Textbooks No Drama Teacher Should Be Without

I was having a moment the other day. One of those out of body experiences where you watch the chaos around you in the classroom and think to yourself, “How crazy is this?”, “Is this for real?” and “What the hell is little Johnny doing?”, “What the hell am I doing?” I have them occasionally and it just reminds me how incredible teachers are. We seem to battle on through amidst the seeming chaos.

I guess those experiences also remind me how far I’ve come in my five years of teaching. That ability to watch what is happening in front of me and laugh and know that it’s not the end of the world and if I had to tell new, beginning teacher’s what to expect and how to react, reacting the way I did the other day (watching everything happen in slow motion and as though it’s something out of a B Grade movie), is perfectly healthy and necessary at times.

I would also tell my beginning Drama teacher’s: don’t ever be stuck for resources. Utilise your school library and make sure it stocks not only the best plays and resource material for student’s but also resource material for yourself. Make friends with your librarian 🙂

Utilise every possible Professional Development day you can. Work towards some goals. Be realistic about those goals and know that it’s not possible to achieve everything you want to in your first year and that in every school you work at for your entire career the goals and expectations you have will be different because every school is different. Perhaps in your first year your goal will be about managing behaviour. The following year it might be how you teach a particular theatrical style or play. By having a goal to work towards it will make it easier to choose a course to take for Professional Development.

Over the years I have made sure my library is up to date with all the play scripts that are on the prescribed text list and added a few extra text books just for extra reference for myself and the student’s. I like walking into the library and going over to the theatre section a lot. It inspires me. I don’t even have to open any of the books. It just telepathically fills me with ideas. It’s funny like that.

Here are my ten text books that I cannot live without:

1. Acting in Person and In Style Australia by Carol Wimmer – I use this book a lot when I am teaching monologues, duologues, acting skills (voice workshops). It is also brilliant for teaching a range of performance styles.

2. Dramawise by Brad Haseman – The bible full of exercises for explicitly teaching the elements of drama. I highly recommend this book as a starting point for beginning teachers.

3. You’re On by Rob Galbraith – Another fantastic text with exercises to teach students about performance elements as well as the roles of people behind the scenes. 

4. Living Drama by Bruce Burton – This is actually part of a three part series (Making Drama and Creating Drama are his titles for lower secondary drama students) and is best used with senior students. It looks at aspects of drama in a slightly more sophisticated way which is applicable to senior students and their essays.

5. Navigating Drama by Richard Baines and Mike O’Brien – A great text for students in Year 9-10 Drama. Some of the particularly helpful sections include the playbuiding chapter and the commedia dell arte chapter.

6. Navigating Senior Drama by Richard Baines and Mike O’Brien – I like this senior text because of its focus on the NSW Drama Syllabus. It has focus chapters on Australian Drama and Theatre which forms part of the theory component of the course as well as a section specifically devoted to some of the Studies in Drama and Theatre topics (Brecht, Greek Theatre and American Drama). It also has good chapters on the Group and Individual Performance units.

7. Centre Stage by Matthew Clausen –  Great teaching suggestions plus some really great templates for teaching the elements of production including costume design and lighting and sound plotting.

8. Lighting and Sound by Neil Fraser – everything you need to know about lighting and sound in a simple easy to understand way. Absolute gold.

9. Stage Design and Props by Michael Holt – As above. An absolute gem of a book if you want to learn about set design and making.

10. Costume and Make-Up by Michael Holt Ditto as above.

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it before Improvisation: A Guide by Lyn Pierse. Absolutely excellent for anything Theatre Sports or improvisation related. Oh, oh, oh and if you’re teaching Publicity and Program Design try Stage Management and Theatre Administration by Pauline Menear and Terry Hawkins.

Have you got a text book that you swear by? Share it with us in the comments.

Image Credits: T’aiuto io, tassomanAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)