Today’s 2016 VCE Drama Written Examination (Victoria, Australia) was a fairly straightforward paper that shouldn’t have surprised too many students if they had properly prepared for the exam. As usual, the Drama examination was divided into two sections / three parts.
Section A Question 1
Question 1 in Section A consisted of a five-part response about the development and presentation of a non-naturalistic solo performance. The stimulus involved text and illustrations to four traditional nursery rhymes: The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, and Little Miss Muffet. While this stimuli does not require any prior knowledge by the student, it is fair to say most students would at some stage in their childhood have been familiar with one or more of these nursery rhymes. Besides, many drama teachers use nursery rhymes in class as stimulus for their own activities at different year levels.
I was pleased to see the phrase ‘dramatic moments’ defined in a footnote this year. This phrase has been used a number of times in recent Drama written examination papers. When it first appeared about five years ago, it startled many students who thought it must have been drama terminology their teacher had not taught them, as opposed to an everyday phrase that means exactly what it states – a moment/s that is dramatic. The footnote on today’s paper enhanced that everyday phrase to make it more academic, stating dramatic moment’s could include scenes, dramatic images, vignettes and montages.
All parts to Question 1 in Section A were clear. Stimulus material was well explained, with examples given in some circumstances, eliminating the possibility of confusion.
Section A Question 2
Question 2 in Section A consisted of a five-part response about the development and presentation of a devised non-naturalistic ensemble performance called ‘Catastrophe’. Stimulus for this question included a variety of catastrophic-type images ranging from natural disasters to spilt milk, plus a cartoon, and a line drawing of a performance space.
The scenario, characters, setting, theme and performance style were outlined, offering students a number of choices for their ensemble performance in some of these categories. Three theatre practitioners were listed with their relevant styles: Brecht and Epic Theatre, Grotowski and Poor Theatre, plus Artaud and Theatre of Cruelty, as these are listed in the teachers Study Design document for Units 3 and 4 Drama. Students needed to choose one of these performance styles, ensuring their responses adhered to various aspects of the chosen style, including conventions. This represented a return to pre-2015 Drama exams where students may choose the non-naturalistic performance style, but this year the three styles to choose from were clearly outlined in the question.
All parts of Question 2 were straightforward and, as with Question 1, examined how students would implement various dramatic elements, expressive skills, performance skills, and play-making techniques. This question had the added aspect of performance styles and conventions. While the word “convention/s” was never used, conventions of the chosen performance style should have been carefully considered and weaved in to student responses, as parts a – e needed to be consistent with this chosen style.
As usual, Section B involved a number of part questions on the prescribed plays teachers and students were given a choice to see at the theatre in Unit 3. These were all pre-approved plays in the style of non-naturalism in order to meet the requirements of the Drama course. This year there were three questions offered for each of the six plays. Questions a. and b. were identical for all plays, while c. was unique to each play with a larger mark allocation.
I have to be honest, I dislike generic questions for all plays in this section of the exam for the simple reason that I am yet to be convinced some of these questions are suitable for all plays on the playlist. Last year I mentioned on The Drama Teacher how my students had great difficulty discussing an actor’s facial expressions for Beautiful One Day, a play performed at multiple venues with different capacities and seating arrangements. I argued it was not a level playing field for all, particularly when my students were seated at the rear of the 400-seat Whitehorse Centre theatre and then needed to respond to an actor’s facial expressions!
This year my students saw Peddling and Picnic at Hanging Rock, but all decided in advance they would be responding to the Picnic at Hanging Rock questions. While the generic question regarding the use of stagecraft by one actor in non-naturalistic ways to enhance a dramatic moment in the performance was able to be discussed, it was not a feature of this particular show. The best questions in this section are when all of them are uniquely tailored to each performance. Different questions for different performances does not make them any easier to respond to, but it does ensure they are all relevant for each of the performances on the playlist.
What do other people think of this year’s VCE Drama written examination?