Stage 6 Drama – Individual Performance – Hunter School of The Performing Arts – Teacher reflections

JENNIE ROHR: I’m Jennie Rohr. I’m a teacher at a large performing arts high school. And I’m lucky to be here because I’m one of many drama teachers at the school. We’ve got a vibrant performing arts community. And I get the pleasure of working with many drama teachers on a daily basis.

I love our year 11 course here at the school. The syllabus lends itself to being a really great chance for you 11 students to experiment with the elements of production, to look at practitioners in depth, and to really hone in on their performance and production skills.

Here at our school, we like the students to do a mini IP. So they get absolute free choice to choose any of the projects. So they can choose from theater criticism, they might choose to do performance, which a lot of them tend to do, and it could be a video drama, or a director’s follow, whatever we get for the HSC. And this becomes a wonderful opportunity for them to experiment with what it is that they like to do when they’re by themselves in their drama projects.

This is a great project because we focus really a lot on them honing their skills in terms of a directorial intention and making sure that they can find a piece and make it their own. And that’s a really important thing that we like to focus on. It’s about re-imagining a work and giving it their own vision. And this becomes a really specific part of the year 11 program. And we really focus on creating clear intentions.

We introduce the IP at the start of term four, which is the first time of year 12 for the HSC. This is an exciting time for students. They have this real buzz about the HSC because they’ve kind of been leading up to it. You know, they’ve watched their peers perform previously in term three, watching the trial exams, and being an audience for the HSC performances. So a lot of them have this real excitement about what they’re going to choose.

Here at our school, we give them the first two weeks of that term to just really immerse themselves in this process. So we want to make sure that they’re making an informed choice. So we’re consulting with them. We’re taking them to the library where we have contained a really great lot of resources. So we have those library resources there all the time. So they’re always on hand and available for all students.

We really encourage students to think about what it is they want to do, what style of piece. And I guess we draw on our own experiences from knowing the students and having a wealth of other experience of drama teachers. We try to find pieces that are suitable for the students. But it’s up to them really to use this time to firstly make the choice on the project, whether it be performance or another one, and then we get them to sort of select three pieces if it is performance that they’d like to show us by the end of that first term of HSC.

With individual performance for Hamish, I guess we looked at his previous experiences. And he’d had a real, I guess, fascination with absurdism. So his experiences in the year 10 program and then having done a production in year 11. I guess we saw some of his skills and how we could showcase those.

Another way that we showcase the skills is through the choice of doing approaches to acting. And having previously done work with Leacock for the HSC for drama, we knew about the idea of having to play and having a sense of fun and experimenting with the piece. I guess for Hamish, it came down to he was really great at pushing himself in so many ways and very dedicated to this process of appropriating the script, making it his own, edits and edits.

And what it came down to, I guess what we needed from him, was to see a sense of vulnerability. And one of the ways that this came up was about the setting, and where is it that you might see an old person at their most vulnerable. And that’s where this idea of the bathtub came in. So using this object and having Hamish then create his set and the piece, you know, with the king in the bathtub, was a way to showcase this vulnerability and the fragility of this character.

STUDENT ACTOR: Yes, I’ll die all right. In 40, in 50, in 300 years. When I want to. When I’ve got the time. When I make up my mind.

JENNIE ROHR: It’s really important that at the initial start of the HSC, we structure a lot of lesson time for the IP at the beginning so that we could ensure students were making informed choices and decisions. So the time we have at the first two weeks to immerse themselves in their individual project, then we move into one of our topics.

The individual project is a regularly checked by the teachers. So we’re looking at it on a weekly basis and checking in just in conversation. And also with regular checks of the logbook.

Logbooks are one of the hardest things for drama teachers to keep kids motivated in. Some kids love them and some kids just don’t often see the value in them. So it’s really important that we keep exemplars of wonderful logbooks for students to look back on and see the processes that their peers have gone through before them.

It becomes an essential part of the process, that documentation of original ideas and original intents. Because sometimes down the process with the stresses of the HSC and lots of major works coming through, students sometimes lose their clarity and their focus and they forget what that original intention was. So if we cement that early on in the process and we use that logbook as a record of this and their original ideas, it becomes such a valuable tool for all students.

Our school community is a vibrant one for performing arts. And so there’s lots of opportunities for students to perform regularly. Really important that there’s this actor-audience engagement. So we try to give our students many, many opportunities. Obviously, they’re going to be doing it for their peers in class, for their class teacher. But then we move on to them seeing other drama teachers in the school. And then there’s opportunities at year assemblies. I guess also we’re showcasing their skills where they have had previous experience in productions from the junior years and also outside of school influences.

The big thing for us also is making sure that students enjoy what they’re doing. So we encourage them to come into our classes and show the junior students what it is that they’re doing for their individual projects so they can come in and use that as a regular check in just to see where their piece is at and what it’s like with a live audience.

How we dealt with challenges in particular with Hamish. I guess like all HSC students, there’s a rigorous way to balance the timeline. Someone that’s got a highly academic schedule and trying to sort of balance in that timeline can be complex. And you’ve got to negotiate that with them always. So for Hamish, he could go back to his logbook and do things individually in terms of annotating the script and working on his character.

But for him, he played such a central part in the group performance as well. And so sometimes I guess he would see that he had already spent so much time for drama that week, it was about sort of negotiating those timelines and sort of trusting the process for him. And feeling confident that you can trust your students to actually create their own timelines for what works for them really.

We use summative and formative assessment regularly for all of our HSC courses. The formative assessment becomes so crucial. So we do a check in every term. And for the students, it’s such a valuable part of it. Because I guess they get used to receiving the feedback and it becomes a welcome part of the process. It’s not something that they’ve had to experiment with the pace themselves for months and months on end without any feedback. They’re constantly getting feedback from their teacher, another teacher, their peers, audiences.

And we make sure that the formative feedback– they know there’s no waiting with that. And that just takes the pressure off. It’s not another assessment task they need to stress about. They can just have fun and enjoy the process.

So formative feedback becomes such a part of the routine for these students. Even so much so that when it comes to the HSC, I’ve heard the students say, oh, it’s OK. It’s just like another check in. So they get used to performing for an audience. They get used to taking on that explicit feedback. And also sometimes it can be a difficult conversation, you know, how you sandwich that feedback for your students. Because you want them to do well. And you want to facilitate the process. And there’s a fine line between facilitating and directing their work. So we’ve got to be careful on how we give that feedback.

And another really important thing is that we always ensure for our trial exam that we have an external marker come in so there’s always fresh eyes on the piece and someone to give them that final feedback.

STUDENT ACTOR: There will be no one left to remember me by then. They will have forgotten well before that. Selfish, the lot of them. They only care about their own little lives, their own skins they [? mock mine. ?]

JENNIE ROHR: My advice to colleagues about the successful completion of the IP is just to have fun. Trust in the process. Have regular check ins and have those conversations with students just to see how they are managing their time. Go back to original intentions with the students so that you’re both clear on where it is that they want the piece to go.

And don’t be afraid to take creative risks. It’s really important that students are encouraged to take those creative risks. And remind them that it is their, you know, it’s their process. So as much as you’re there to facilitate and guide, let the students enjoy the process as much as possible. And then you’re going to get a great result.

End of transcript

Content updated 22/9/2020

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