Chemistry in Drama

You may be wondering what does chemistry have to do with drama at school? I’m not referring to chemistry class, but rather the chemistry created as part of the group-working process in drama activities. All of a sudden chemistry now has everything to do with drama.

Teammates with chemistry: OKC players Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Image courtesy Bleacher Report.

My chemistry analogy belongs to the game with the round orange ball. Any NBA fan will be familiar with Kevin Durant, James LeBron, Russell Westbrook and Dwayne Wade. These guys are super-athletic, fine-tuned machines that play basketball at the highest level. But without their teammates they are sometimes reduced to mere mortals.

Take Kevin Durant for starters. The league’s newly crowned MVP, Durant relies heavily on his buddy, point guard Russell Westbrook, to interact with in every game. It is more than just rehearsed drills playing out on the basketball court. Any follower of the Oklahoma City Thunder will tell you Westbrook and Durant on fire is something to behold. Their passing to each other is so slick, it is pure chemistry. I have two older sisters who are identical twins. Watching Westbrook and Durant play basketball is like watching my twin sisters communicate with each other. Their chemistry is deep and mostly unspoken. When they do talk, invariably they finish each other’s sentences. As for Durant and Westbrook, the chemistry between the two takes their game to another level and is undeniably part of their success.

One of basketball’s greatest players, LeBron James, arrived with Chris Bosh in 2010 to join Dwayne Wade at the Miami Heat. Soon after, ‘the big three’ created a chemistry between them that was nothing short of dynamic. The on-court chemistry between James and Wade in particular, is clearly something special. They know each other’s thoughts, anticipate plays, understand each other’s emotions in times of (dis)stress and success. It’s great to watch.

With only five players on a basketball court at a time, chemistry is often a critical factor between all of a team’s players, not just the future Hall of Famers. Coaches constantly make player changes from the bench to not just have the necessary skills on the court, but the right chemistry between the players as well. Often I listen to commentators talk of a special chemistry that exists between certain NBA players and their head coaches, too. Not all NBA players follow the money. Some stay with their team due to the chemistry that exists between themselves and their coach.

As so much of classroom drama involves working in groups, achieving the right chemistry between group members is surely important. My school has an in-house rule that the teachers choose groups in the junior levels to ensure everyone is included and avoid potential bullying. From Year 9 onwards, students in my drama classes choose their own group members. In Year 12 Drama, with everything at stake in their final year of schooling, I observe my students choosing group members very wisely. Sure, every student wishing to excel wants group members who will contribute productively to the performance making process and not let others down. But whether they know it from the beginning or it is simply an organic part of the rehearsal process, sometimes a special chemistry evolves in certain groups in drama class that is no different to the chemistry between Durant and Westbrook or James and Wade. It is inspiring for the teacher to observe in rehearsal and riveting to see in performance. A group that has chemistry in drama rehearsals usually has that special chemistry in performance as well.

Academically, the closest thing to chemistry is an assessment criterion known as ensemble skills. I have had this criterion in many of my student tasks for years now. It is a thrill to see student actors perform as a true ensemble, all the while knowing I will assess them on the same criteria individually. Though, to individually achieve those high marks, they have to work collectively as a tight ensemble. Peripheral vision, listening skills, intense focus, covering mistakes made by others, synchronisation, and group energy are just some of the ensemble skills necessary for a high grade in my drama classes. The most successful groups also possess a certain aura, that special atmosphere or quality that exists at the very fabric of their performance. This type of chemistry in a group performance in drama class is exactly the same as the chemistry between teammates Durant and Westbrook on the basketball court. More often than not, I have seen this chemistry in drama class between students who are friends. On nearly every occasion chemistry has spawned out of a deep respect for one another in the group and an even deeper respect for the art form.

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