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.


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 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

30 Australian Plays for School Use

In my previous post about The Elements of Drama I mentioned that a good strategy for looking at character/role and/or time/place/situation is to do some script extract work.

With so many plays available sometimes it is difficult to choose which ones would be best for school use. Here I’ve compiled a short list of plays that would work well for either Years 7-10 (Stage 4-5) and Years 9-12 (Stage 5-6). The main differences being that in the plays in each list deal with different themes and require a certain maturity level.

They are all Australian plays which works well for teacher’s in Australia who have to teach an Australian text at some point in their programming. However, international teachers may like to use these as a way of gaining perspectives on other countries.

When preparing to use a play in a class it is important that you:

  • Read the entire play before you start working on selected scenes.
  • Have a discussion or do some activites that provide a context for the play as well as discussing the themes and issues in the play.

Year 7-10 (Stage 4-5)

  • Fossils by Manuel Aston
  • Spitting Chips by Peta Murray
  • Two Weeks with the Queen¬† by Mary Morris
  • Blabbermouth by Mary Morris
  • No Worries by David Holman
  • Beauty and the Beast by David Holman
  • The Small Poppies by David Holman
  • What’s the Matter with Mary Jane? by Wendy Harmer

Year 9-12 (Stage 5-6)

  • A Property of the Clan by Nick Enright
  • Cloudstreet by Nick Enright
  • The Venetian Twins by Nick Enright (also great for Commedia dell’ Arte)
  • Gary’s House by Debra Oswald
  • The Club by David Williamson
  • Don’s Party by David Williamson
  • Stolen by Jane Harrison
  • Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron
  • 7 Stage of Grieving by Wesley Enoch
  • Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler
  • Norm and Ahmed by Alex Buzo

The following plays may not be suitable for all school’s but short extracts could definitely be used:

  • Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thompson
  • Navigating by Katherine Thompson
  • Wonderland by Katherine Thompson
  • Wolf Lullaby by Hilary Bell
  • Running Up a Dress by Suzanne Spunner
  • The Black Sequin Dress by Beatrix Christian
  • Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell
  • Summer of the Aliens by Louis Nowra
  • Cosi by Louis Nowra
  • Away by Michael Gow
  • Secret Bridesmaid’s Business by Elizabeth Coleman

Can you recommend any other good Australian plays or play book series that would be great for the classroom? Share them with us in the comments.

Image Credit:Sydney Harbour Bridge / Christopher Chan / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jack Charles vs The Crown – A Review

Are you one of those people that never wins anything? You know, you enter a competition to win a holiday to Fiji and 10,000 other people enter, you’ve referred five friends, clogging their inboxes with spam when the probability of you actually winning anything is probably…oh, almost a slim to none chance? Or you run a small raffle amongst the staff at your school for a bottle of wine and still nothing?

I hear ya. That is me all over. Ms, I-Never-Have-Any-Luck.


I am a firm believer in, “you’ve got to be in it to win it” so I enter everything regardless and drag everyone’s e-mail accounts through the ringer.

Lucky for me, it finally paid off with me scoring two complimentary tickets to Belvoir St Theatre’s new play Jack Charles vs The Crown!

Not knowing anything about the play, I had no expectations heading into it. The play opened with a long video sequence, projected onto a set resembling a potter’s workshop. On stage was Jack Charles, turning a wheel and making a small clay pot. The images in the footage were shocking. A slightly younger Jack Charles, injecting himself with drugs. Calm and collected his expression never changes. Not before, not during, not after.

From here the story progresses into a one man monologue, told by Jack about his life. From his time at the mission home, his becoming acquainted with his Aboriginal heritage and his spiral into drugs and addiction which led to a life of crime and a cycle of gaol time.

Jack Charles is likeable as he tells us of his life. At times it is difficult to understand him whether muffled by his beard or his speech just naturally slurred . His musical interludes where he sings, accompanied by a three piece band on stage, breaks and links his story into its various chronological parts.His skills as a potter manifest very well on stage. Much of his storytelling seemed repetitive. I’m not sure whether that was intended by both Charles and John Romeril, the writer’s of the play. It gave me the impression that they were wanting to impress this idea of reptition and the cyclical nature of the indigenous people’s lives during the 70’s, making the final scene, where Jack is speaking to the parole board, even more poignant.

Jack Charles vs The Crown is, on one level, a reminder of the effects of the Stolen Generation but even more universally the ability of the human spirit to be resilient and overcome hardship. Jack’s ability to finally convince the parole board and make a life for himself that is uniquely his, independent and drug free, is uplifting.

This play is an excellent example of Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice and combines some of that with Verbatim Theatre. The use of technologies such as video and musicians on stage adds a new dimension to the modern theatre landscape. The fact that Charles talks directly to us, the audience for the entire piece is something unique about the way theatre is changing and progressing. It’s direct and in your face without being pushy or preachy. At no more than 90 minutes in length, these new types of plays are engaging with our shorter attention spans and getting straight to the point without missing out on capturing themes and issues relevant to Australians and the wider theatre going audience.

Image Credits:

Crown Jewels II, Stephen B Whatley, Licensed under Creative Commons