Stage 6 Drama – Individual Performance – Hunter School of The Performing Arts – Student interview

HAMISH LEWIS: I’m Hamish Lewis, and I did an individual performance for my AP in HSC Drama in 2019.

HAMISH LEWIS (AS KING BERENGER): You know, I’ve been told that I’m going to die. I’m dying? Yes, I’ll die, all right. In 40, in 50, in 300 years, when I want to, when I’ve got big time, when I make up my mind.

HAMISH LEWIS: In year 11, you have a lot of experiences that really act as catalysts for your development as an actor, as a dramaturge, as any of these kind of things. These skills that you need to know for HSC Drama. I think, for me, a lot of that learning happened without me being aware of it. The constant act of workshopping, of rehearsing, of performing, refines and hones your skills to such an extent that you are basically transformed without realizing that you’re being transformed.

But personally, the biggest lessons of year 11 drama were lessons in time management, in effort, and in the dedication needed in order to do well. I’m someone who strives to do things well, and that mindset is something that keeps me pushing. But in year 11, I probably did not put in enough work in order to do as well as I could have done.

And what that meant was, because my year 11 individual project was actually in applied research project, I couldn’t hide behind any sort of natural ability or dramatic flair, or anything like that. And that scrutiny from markers looking at individual words made me realize that in order to do well, you need to start early, work hard, do extensive research, understand yourself as an actor, your body, but also the field that you wish to perform in. The dramatic style, the form, and the playwright who came up with the play you’re deriving your monologue from.

There were kind of two catalytic events that made me realize that I wanted to choose performance as the mode of my IP. The first of which was going to see the previous year’s on-stage performances, which I found incredibly inspirational. And the second is kind of related to that, and that’s getting to see the performances from my school. Getting to sit-in the audience while they did their marked HSC Drama performances.

And as I was sitting there, I remember thinking I enjoy research, I enjoy doing all of these other things that are options, but there’s nothing like that kind of thrill of performing and winning an audience over. So really, for me, you have to think about the skills that you’re equipped with. You have to listen to what your teacher thinks you have the skill set for, as well. But in the end, you have to pick whatever it is that makes you think, I could really do something cool that’s going to make me– in six months, in a year’s time, I’m still going to think back on that and go, wow, I did something really interesting that I wouldn’t have done in any other subject. And that’s kind of the wonderful opportunity of doing HSC Drama.

The dramatic meaning of my work is really all about death. I mean, it is derived from an Ionesco play, an absurdist play. And the absurdist playwrights are very zoned in on existential questions. What is human purpose? What happens to us after we die? All of those kinds of questions.

So for me, I wanted to explore death as the only universal human constant. It’s the only thing that we can be completely sure of. There’s the old saying, we only know that we’ll be subjected to death and taxes. And taxes doesn’t make a great agency drama performance, but death certainly does.

So for me, I wanted to look at kind of extending the limits of the audience’s empathy. There’s a character here, King Berenger, who is almost maniacally evil. Machiavellian, even in his outlook.

And yet, because of this experience of death, because of his failure to find a purpose, because of the fact that he resorts to this childlike state when he dies at the end cowering and asking to see his little ginger cat. We are forced to emotionally invest in this character who otherwise is a terrible, pompous, awful human being. And that, I think, is kind of the beauty of absurdist theater, is that we have these situations where things are incredibly outrageous and unbelievable situations that wouldn’t normally happen. And certainly, an ancient King dying in a bathtub is not something that– it’s not a scene that most people encounter every day. But in spite of how ridiculous it seems, we can have that really deep, empathetic connection with the character, because we relate to them, because this experience of death is so all-consuming and so universal.

HAMISH LEWIS (AS KING BERENGER): Tear down all of the other statues in the public squares and replace them with images of me.

HAMISH LEWIS: So my option choice didn’t really change from the beginning of year 12. I kind of had decided that performance was what I wanted to do. But my text choice took a little bit of time to kind of settle down.

Funnily enough, my teacher had actually given me a stack of plays to look over for inspiration, which included Exit the King. But I have a tendency to be easily distracted, and when I read the first page of that, I was distracted. And I didn’t find myself coming back to this play until quite a while later after exploring a couple of different monologues as other possibilities.

So in that sense, it took a moment to kind of settle on my idea, but after that, it happened. After discussing it with a few different teachers, talking about it with a few different friends, the choice became you know really concrete, and I didn’t find myself flip-flopping around with what to pick. But I do think that if you’re in that position, you shouldn’t consider that as some sort of curse. I know plenty of people who took a very long time to settle on the exact dramatic meaning that they wanted to communicate.

It took a very long time to settle on the style, the form, the exact monologue that they wanted to use. And still did extremely well, and succeeded. But realistically, if you’re going into HSC Drama, you do need to make sure that, once you find that piece that resonates with you and that makes you think, I could really do something with this, stick with it and really go for as long as you can sustain that energy and that interest.

To be completely honest, the log book is one of the harder requirements of HSC Drama. As creative, people we have a tendency to just work on the fly and develop things extremely quickly, in a flurry of creative activity. But the log book is actually, when used properly, a really effective mechanism of documenting that process and making sure that nothing is overlooked.

So I know, in year 11, I did quite badly in the log book, and I needed to take some of those lessons into year 12 and improve in my dedication to that aspect of my learning. But when it’s done right, I think the two most effective ways that the log book can be used in recording research and in recording the opinions of other people who see a monologue. So in regard to research, you really need to understand where the play the character that you are deriving your inspiration from has come from.

What’s the context? What was the author concerned with? How is this play constructed? What are the relationships like with other characters within the work, and how can I reinterpret those relationships in the context of a monologue by say, reframing them to the audience? You need to write down all of these fundamental questions, but also, you need to record all of the research that you’ve done. And that can be a really helpful reference point for when you’re a little bit confused as to how to make a creative choice.

And another part of that research is that you also need to do well up a statement of dramatic meaning. If you can express what exactly it is that you want to communicate in kind of 150 to 250 words, and type it out into a paragraph, then you know exactly what your kind of super objective is in performing this scene. So in that sense, research is also going to really inform your dramatic meaning, and the way to do that is through recording it in the log book.

The other way to look at it is, in order to do an effective IP, you will have to perform it about a million times to friends, family, teachers, all of these other people who are going to give you feedback on the work. And where they give you feedback, and sometimes you’ll get quite a lot, it’s really important to record that feedback so that you don’t forget any of it in the heat of the moment. So recording exactly what notes they gave you right down to those very nit-picky, specific things that you’ll get towards the end of the process, is really going to help you refine your piece and avoid making the same mistakes each time you perform it.

In a funny way, I think the challenges that I faced were also some of the things that made my piece stronger in the end. And the principal challenge that I had was really dealing with this kind of mindset of seeking perfection. Which is, you know, an incredibly powerful force in terms of getting you up and doing things, but it also can mean that you are attuned to be hypercritical of your own work and your own development.

So for me, letting go of this idea that the work had to be kind of word-perfect, the exact same every time I performed it was quite liberating. And there’s this idea that a work of art is not finished, it’s abandoned. I think the same principle applies really to individual performances. There’ll never be a point in which you feel, I’ve completely gotten this absolutely perfect in line with my exact vision, in line with what the playwright would have wanted. It’s not really possible to achieve in the context that you’re doing it.

But you have to remember that what you are doing is enough. That you’ve worked hard, that you deserve to do as well as you can considering the amount of effort that you’ve put in and how bold your vision was. So it’s about trusting in this process of integrity and of creative courage, really, and knowing that– having faith that that will be reward enough in the end, in spite of the fact that you may not feel completely that it is perfect.

And in a way, similar to how the logbook impacted me, just in general realizing that the expectation of workload in this subject is quite high. It has a very deceiving reputation, drama, for being an easy subject, but what you’ll find when you actually do it is that it is both the most challenging and rewarding of all of the kind of opportunities that the HSC can offer you. So don’t go into it feeling as though it’s going to be easy, because it probably will not be. But it equally will also be some of the most interesting work that you will produce in your time in high school.

HAMISH LEWIS (AS KING BERENGER): Selfish, the lot of them. They only care about their own little lives, their own skins. Never mine.

HAMISH LEWIS: I owe a lot of credit to my teachers for kind of developing a lot of structures that I found really helpful throughout the formation of my IP. Being able to fairly constantly check in with them in lunchtimes and recesses almost once a week, and being able to perform for them, I owe great credit to the feedback that they gave me during that time and for providing me with so many opportunities in order to showcase my work and receive feedback on it. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to my peers and my friends whose performance as I watched a million times, to the point where I remembered half of their lines, and they watched my million times to the point where they remembered half of mine.

But having basically a weekly interval where you perform your work for someone new and seek feedback on it is something that I think is basically essential. And absolutely, there will be days where you don’t particularly feel like doing your monologue again, but you should, because it will be hugely instrumental in the formation of that piece, and will really help you in the long run. So thinking about it as an objective for your week is to have your monologue, at least in part, performed for someone and seek feedback on the direction. And don’t be afraid, during that time, to really switch it up and take risks and present it very differently, or at least sections very differently, in order to see what works for you and what works for the audience. So I think, really, that’s the most essential thing, is to document this on a week-by-week basis, and then record that documentation in your logbook through research and through feedback in order to provide this really concrete structure. This is something that I will embed in my weekly routine that’s going to really serve you and your interests in HSC Drama.

I think what you learn the most profoundly in HSC Drama is just how far you can really go in terms of your creativity, in terms of your will, as an individual and as part of a group unit in the other aspects of the syllabus. So really, you learn an incredible amount about yourself and about the kinds of things that you can achieve when you just put your mind to it. And I think, realistically, all the advice that your peers give you that people have done this before and give you, and your teachers give you is true. You need to start thinking about it early, you need to work at it regularly, you need to record it in your log book. That’s all true.

But the best advice that I can really give people doing it is to stick with it. Because there were times where I found it intensely difficult and intensely challenging and didn’t want to do it at all, but the fact that I stuck with it proved to be so incredibly enriching in the end. There’s this horrible myth about creative people and about creativity, that they have nothing to contribute to society and that it’s not a useful profession or vocation, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.

People who think creatively, to do things differently and approach issues from an individual perspective, have the capacity, realistically, to change people’s minds through their art. To explore what it means to be a human being for their art. So don’t feel discouraged by how difficult this can be at times. Have faith in the fact that you’re going to be OK, and you are going to achieve something which you will look back on fondly and say, wow, maybe it was cool that I did a good essay in English or that I learnt a million formulas for maths, but it’s way cooler that I was able to achieve this in HSC Drama.

End of transcript

Content updated 22/9/2020

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