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2016 VCE Drama Written Examination Analysis

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, chacatastropheracters, 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.

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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.

Section B
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?

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6 Responses

  1. Holly says:

    Hi Justin,

    Do you recommend taking the unit 3,4 students to see TWO plays from the playlist?

    Cheers!

    • Holly, try this neat little trick I have borrowed from another Drama teacher who has had her students receive 50s in VCE Drama before. Don’t go to one play on the list, once. Don’t go to two plays on the list, once each. Instead, go to ONE play on the list, TWICE! What your students missed the first time, they will surely pick up the second time around. It does make the task quite academic, but hey, this is the purpose of it in the first place. I’ll be going to ONE play TWICE with my students this year and I am confident it will produce better results from my students. As a side note, last year I went to two plays on the list (once each) and every student in my class wanted to write on only one of the plays we saw. Granted, it was a great production (Picnic at Hanging Rock – Malthouse Theatre), and while every theatre visit is valuable for students, essentially the other theatre experience was somewhat a waste of time and money. Hope this helps! – Justin

      • Holly says:

        Hi Justin,

        Yes it does help! Thank you so much. I hadn’t thought of taking the students to see the play twice. I certainly will be now. Thank you again!

  2. Tim says:

    My students saw Tales of a City by the Sea and thought the exact same thing about the stagecraft question. I had a bit of trouble answering it with any great level of sophistication myself!

  3. David Ellis says:

    Overall, I was pleased with the paper. The mind-map in the brainstorming section was a bit different to other exams but nothing that the students hadn’t already done in class. As long as the students were focussed and read the questions carefully there shouldn’t have been any confusion. My students saw ‘Blind’ and ‘Peddling’. The breakdown of responses by my students was about half and half between the plays. I thought the questions for ‘Blind’ seemed straight-forward and appropriate. However, the third question for “Peddling” (and also “Tales of a City by the Sea”) did not specify all the conventions to be discussed as was the case with the other plays, but rather asked to identify conventions from the performance style(s). Whilst the question was appropriate for each play, it did seem to add a level of complexity to the responses to these two plays that was greater than the other plays. This may be a positive or a negative for any individual student, but one would hope that all questions would be commensurate so that no student would potentially be disadvantaged or advantaged based upon which play(s) their class was able to attend and then analyse.

  4. Trina says:

    I thought it was a sound paper with great stimulus for solo and ensemble sections. My class also saw Hanging Rock and I thought it was limiting to address only one actor using stagecraft- as you said , there was a lot of wonderful stagecraft elements they could have analysed but limiting it to one actor wasn’t the strongest angle for this play. Well done to everyone- Teachers and students!

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