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Why study drama? There is the excitement of watching and performing live theatre and film. Plays are about people – all of us – what drives us forward, defeats us or makes us laugh. Theatre, film, television, radio, advertising and publicity are big employers in the 21st century. The themes we study in drama influence all performance art, as well as the science of commercial manipulation. But drama is not just for aspiring advertisers, directors, writers and actors. Doctors present work in public; teachers perform before an audience; managers persuade groups of corporate colleagues; lawyers sway judges and juries. The confidence to stand and deliver in public comes with practice. Drama is an excellent place to start.
The students take drama for half of the academic year, rotating their study with other subjects to broaden their experience to middle school. They undertake Drama is Serious Fun, an introductory scheme of work to establish the expectations in drama lessons and explore various techniques for beginners. The emphasis is largely on improvisation and ensemble building exercises, during which essential foundations are laid for further work. The work at this level encourages the development of trust and cooperation, clarity and control in vocal and physical expression and a basic understanding for shared stage space and performance disciplines. The pupils progress to devise their own work based on different stimuli, shaping and developing characters using naturalistic and non-naturalistic practices. Their work concludes with the study of texts to enhance their interpretation of plot, role and context.
In Year 8 all students have two periods of drama a week throughout the academic year. They are introduced to the genres of physical theatre, verbatim theatre and melodrama and theatre practitioners Bertolt Brecht and Constantine Stanislavski. A focus throughout is on vocal delivery to develop vocal variance, clarity of speech, diction and projection. One scheme of work involves the creation of a short radio play. Learning is through practical exploration individually, in small groups and as a whole class. Improvisation and skill acquisition is combined with text study. Feedback and critical analysis is encouraged at all times.
Students elect to study drama at this level and it is a popular choice. The year reinforces drama in theory and practice – a fun but serious discipline. Learning is practically based and this is supported by one hour of written homework each week. The course begins with public speaking where the students research and prepare a two-minute speech of their own choosing for performance. Their study of practitioners deepens and is reinforced through the exploration of a wide range of texts. These include Steven Berkoff’s The Trial and Metamorphosis, Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht, Blue Remembered Hills by Dennis Potter, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and a range of verbatim theatre including Hard to Swallow by Mark Wheeler, The Colour of Justice based on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, and Talking to Terrorists by Robert Soames. The year concludes with the sharing of monologues, duologues and mini GCSE scripts.
The students start their GCSE course and follow the WJEC exam curriculum. Full details of the syllabus can be found on the board’s website www.wjec.co.uk. One of their first tasks is to undertake individual research on one period within the origins of drama from Greek to contemporary theatre. This involves individual presentations, leading up to which the girls mentor each other and share their knowledge. Study of theatre practitioners now falls into units where techniques and skills are acquired and put into practice through mini performance projects shared within the group. They work to develop their devising skills, shaping and structuring pieces from a wide range of stimuli for a specific audience in a range of performance spaces. A variety of texts are used and in the Lent term the pupils embark on a detailed study of their WJEC set text Macbeth. The summer term involves a full class PSHE performance project on Citizenship, which is teacher-directed and performed to Year 7 pupils. Students are taken on organized theatre trips and learn the skill of reviewing live performance. The department encourages pupils to extend their learning outside of the classroom by viewing work independently, taking part in productions at HMSG, Monmouth School or in their local communities and studying LAMDA. This participation can be as an actor, director, writer, stage manager, technician or producer.
This year is a chance for the students to assume greater responsibility and demonstrate their accumulated skills and knowledge of the theatre. Two units involve public performances: one a group-devised work created solely by the students and the other a performance from a range of selected play scripts. The girls’ ability to analyze and evaluate their rehearsal process and performances takes the form of a written assessment. Their honest reflections must include the use of appropriate theatrical vocabulary and are drawn from carefully recorded notes on their practical explorations in and out of class. The students can opt to act or undertake a technical option. Eighty per cent of the exam work is completed by Easter, with the final 20 per cent involving a written exam on the set text. Study of Macbeth remains an ongoing focus throughout the year. Students are again taken on theatre visits and encouraged to view work independently, read reviews and develop an active interest in current arts practice locally, nationally and internationally.
AS and A Level
Edexcel GCE Drama and Theatre Studies has four units, two at AS and two at A2. This specification integrates theory and practice, develops students’ knowledge and understanding of major influences in the theatre and offers a wide range of opportunities to develop their theatre skills creatively and imaginatively.
Unit 1: Exploration of Drama and Theatre
Students explore two contrasting texts practically and record their findings in a set of exploration notes. The selected texts at HMSG this year are The Crucible (Arthur Miller) and Trojan Women (Euripides).
Students also experience live theatre and write a critical review. Present trips are planned to see Bleak House at The Blake Theatre and Swallows and Amazons at Bristol Old Vic. Further theatre visits will be scheduled to extend experience and diversity of theatre practice.
Unit 2: Theatre Text in Performance
Students perform a monologue or duologue and a teacher-directed piece of theatre. In previous years these have included: Woman in Mind (Alan Ayckbourne), Hard to Swallow (Mark Wheeler) and My Mother Said I Never Should (Charlotte Keatley). Students have an option to act or use their design skills.
Unit 3: Exploration of Dramatic performance
Students create an original piece of drama as performer, designer and/or director. They document, reflect and evaluate the rehearsal process and final performance in their supporting written evidence.
Unit 4: Theatre Text in Context
In sections A and B students study one play, Woyzeck (Georg Buchner), and develop ideas for a proposed production from the perspective of a director. In Section C students study the original performance of a play written and performed in one of three specified time periods. Students see and respond to a live performance of the chosen play.