Stage 6 Drama – Design – Promotion and Program – Newington College – Teacher reflections

[MUSIC PLAYING] TAMARA SMITH: I’m Tamara Smith, I’m from an all boys school in Sydney’s inner west and I’m the head of drama here at the school. We have an HSE cohort every year that varies in their ability and in their experience. So it’s really important for us to think about what their learning is prior to the HSE so that we best prepare them for their HSE work.

It’s really important for us in year 11 to not only build on the skills that we’ve been teaching in stage five, but to prepare the students with skills that they’re going to need for their HSE IP. And year 11 offers us a really great opportunity to let them try before they buy. So to let them do a mini-individual project, which we do every year, and we let the students have a go at a particular project they might be interested in. That allows them to either confirm the project they’d like to do or to really confirm that it’s not what they should be doing for the HSE.

We go through a number of steps, we spend a lot of time with an analyzing text and analyzing plays and thinking about how they can be interpreted. We also spend a lot of time talking about directorial vision, and how the students might interpret a play and create a vision for that play. Because that knowledge is really important across all of the individual projects, not just design, not just directors folio. But the students for their rationales need to understand and interpret the plays. So it’s a really important skill that we develop for them in year 11.

Because we get our students to look at what sort of individual project options are available by doing a practice run in year 11, we have students who are really confident, when they come in term four, as to which project they would like to do. So what that means is that we can get going straight away. We can let them dive into the text lists, we can let them think about the kind of project they want to be doing, how they want to interpret those texts. And they can really get stuck into their project in term four while things still feel a little bit crazy for them in year 12.

This allows students, particularly those students who are doing projects, to really front load the work and to do a lot of work in term four and term one. Where they can be doing research, drafting their ideas, and looking to develop their project over that extended and full period of time that they have available to them. So we meet with our students one to one once a fortnight, particularly in the early days. Because it’s really important that they understand the parameters of the project, what’s required of them, and the steps involved in the project.

So when teaching poster promotion for example, the thing that students want to get into straight away is the fun stuff, the design stuff. They want to play in Photoshop and they want to do the really fun, practical stuff. But unfortunately, for the work to be sophisticated and for it to have the guts and the quality that you need, they need to start out developing their directorial vision. They need to research. They need to think about how they’re approaching the play as a director. They need to imagine what it’s going to look like on stage, they need to consider how they want the audience to feel. What sort of atmosphere and mood is created in the play.

So before they actually get to do all the fun stuff, they have to have a really clear idea of what their vision for the play is. So we start with one on one meetings and we throw around ideas and the students do research so that when they do get to the fun stuff, and when they do get to design the work, they have a lot of really in-depth understanding of what the play’s about and what their interpretation of the play is.

So in addition to meeting what we would call the IP mentor outside of class, we also have lesson time that we allocate to the IP. And that can be quite hard to find. And so when we do find it, it’s really important that it’s really well-structured and that the instructions for the kids are really clear. So we might do things where we pair up our project boys together and, particularly if they’re studying the same plays, we might get them to compare notes to think about their own interpretations of the work. And to give peer feedback and to talk to each other about perhaps where the clarity is lacking in the project.

We do that peer feedback a lot and we often get the boys also to present to the class. A bit of a check in where they’re at. And that allows us to really follow up on those boys who perhaps are not meeting the steps that we require. And it also holds them accountable, it also– they’re working with each other, seeing where each other is at, and there’s a nice little bit of friendly competition to keep on par with each other.

The logbook is such a vital tool in managing the individual project. And it’s a great way of holding students accountable, it’s a great way of documenting their journey. It’s also really wonderful for them to have a visual aid and to look at where they’ve come from. They might actually go back to ideas and use them throughout their work.

It’s also a really important document for them to put together not only their ideas, but their research in a design project. It’s really important for them to perhaps look at images or look at things that are going to influence the style, the elements of design that are in their work. It’s important for them in their logbook to do research not just into the play itself and to come up with their own interpretation, but also to look at the theater companies that they have the options to choose. And to think about how they can match the design vision for those companies.

How do they blend the vision of the company and their vision for the play together. So all of that research, all of that planning, all of the trial and error goes into the logbook to show that journey. And I think it’s a really great way of, again, seeing their process and holding them accountable for the work that they’re doing along the way.

We’re really fortunate to have a wonderful school community and particularly for year 12 boys when they’re working on their major works, everyone helps out where they can. It’s great for us to be able to draw upon past projects for the boys to look at and even tee up conversations for boys with those students who have done the project before. To ask them questions to see where they could lift their game.

We also use things like our visual arts staff, who have great equipment. So in poster promotion to be able to get a really clear crisp shot for your visual elements is really important. So utilizing and making friends with staff in other departments where they can support your students is also really important. Using that the cross-curricular elements that you have available at your school. Sometimes using different locations, sometimes using equipment. So it’s really important to make use of the wider school community.

Involving parents is also really important I think in their IP journey. Making sure the parent knows early on the project that the student has chosen, and then keeping the parent informed on that journey. Quite often it’s important for the parents to give the kids a little bit of a nudge perhaps. Or to contribute, or to drive them to a location. So it’s really important that the parents are involved. And again that helps hold the kids accountable for the work that they’re creating.

I think one of the biggest challenges is getting the students to understand the key points of the project. Really understand what it is they have to do, and setting goals in order to achieve those things. Again, it’s really difficult with promo or any design project to get the students to sometimes do the depth of research and the depth of planning that’s required.

So it’s really important that you find the fun in that, that they actually can engage in that stuff which feels like the hard work. And to really take ownership of their vision for their project, to really take ownership for the theater company they’re going to choose, to really take ownership of how they want their production to look and feel. And how they want their audience to respond. So one of the challenges can be to get them to do that. And it’s a lot of work.

This project, particularly poster promotion, is a lot of work. It requires the students to create a whole lot of elements. So it’s really important to get them to engage in the work and to invest in the work. And to pick a text that they really enjoy so that they don’t get sick of doing it, so that they feel that they are enjoying the process along the way.

One of the things that we get our students to do in terms of assessing them across the project, not just at the end point at the crunch time, is making sure that at each check in that they have, or each meeting they have with their mentor. We get them to take notes. And rather than us writing the feedback for them, we get them to have conversations and we get them to write that stuff in their logbook. It’s a great way of making sure that they understand what the feedback is and that they’re being held accountable for the goals and the next steps in the project.

Where to from here is in their hands. And it’s really important that they drive the bus and that they are in control of the project. So that’s a really great way of keeping them on track and keeping them accountable. We also run a check in assessment and then a trial assessment. So it’s really great for them to have assessment that is formal, not just those informal conversations along the way.

Poster promotion is quite a complex project. I think sometimes students and teachers can underestimate what is required in this project. And the million different pieces that come together to form the project. So with the coming together of all these components, it’s really important that the students have a really clear vision, that they know the play inside out. But not only that they know it, that they actually know what it looks like on stage. They know what their version of this play is going to look and feel like on stage. How it’s going to affect the audience. Because all of those things are going to help them and influence their design element.

It’s also really important that students understand how their vision works across all of the components of the project. So the image in the poster doesn’t have to be the image in the flyer and on the front of the program. Students can show different elements of the vision across those visual elements.

It’s also really important that the visual elements speak to the textural elements. So the vision that’s being communicated is in the images and in the words of the project. And sometimes students can take their pictures and those pictures don’t necessarily mimic what is in the words. So it’s really important that as the two parts of the project are completed, the images and the text match up to communicate their final vision.

Another piece of advice is that students should not only know the play really well, but they should make a really sensible choice about the theater company and the director that they choose to emulate in terms of the voice. The project should reflect the design choices of the theater company. It can be tweaked slightly for the purposes of the project, but it’s really important that the students understand and make appropriate choices for the director, for the cast, for even the show. So thinking about the kind of production Sydney Theater Company would put on versus Griffin Theater Company versus the Hayes Theater. So it’s really important that the students are thinking broadly, but also quite specifically.

Completing an individual project is a really exciting opportunity for students, and sometimes we get caught up in performance being the thing that drama students do. But doing a project can be really rewarding and can take all of those skills that students have developed all the way through their drama careers. And really refine them and present them in a different way. And I’d encourage you to think about the sorts of students that would work really well doing an individual project. And seek support because they’re a really fun opportunity, not just for the students, but for you as teachers as well.


End of transcript

Content updated 22/9/2020

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