Those of us who teach Drama all know confidence is one of the main by-products of students’ undertaking this subject. There are few things more satisfying in class than the teacher witnessing a student’s confidence in drama develop over the course of a term, semester, or year.
But while a student can gain increased confidence by participating in Drama, the fact is it is needed in order to be successful in this discipline in the first place.
If one accepts the argument that confidence is a necessary requirement for success in Drama, then why isn’t it a staple component of our assessment?
For more than three decades as a secondary school Drama teacher, I have failed to understand why confidence is not a standard assessment component in our Drama syllabi.
Not a Subject-Specific Term
I don’t think there would be much argument that the word confidence is not a theatre-specific term. As a result, it is not a term specific to acting, either. Therefore, confidence is not a term unique to drama or theatre education at the school level.
The worlds of acting and drama education definitely have a range of terminology relevant to their discipline. Students learn and understand terms such as projection, gait, pitch, posture, tone, characterisation, gesture, movement, body language, focus, and facial expression, to name just a few.
Actors and Drama students marry these skills with additional elements that may be present in the monologue or play such as performance style, mood, directorial vision, conflict, symbol, contrast, and more.
Specific acting techniques and style conventions are then employed in rehearsals, leading to a performance where the actor may consider additional concepts such as the actor-audience relationship.
Is it because confidence is not an acting/theatre or drama/theatre education-specific term, that we are not assessing it?
Has Confidence Been Overlooked?
I am sure there are some drama and theatre educators out there who already assess confidence. But, I’m going to bet they are in the minority. Whether it be Grade 3 in primary school or Year 11 in secondary school, how can we possibly ignore or diminish its importance in Drama class?
This skill does not simply exist on the fringe of our activity. Rather, it lives at the epicentre of nearly all student work in Drama class. It lies at the core of both the play-making process and performances. So why then is a student’s confidence rarely assessed in Drama?
Confidence is Needed In the Play-Making Process
The play-making process can be loosely defined as everything leading up to, but not including, the final performance. Here in Melbourne, Australia, the home of The Drama Teacher, our senior Drama curriculum formally outlines seven areas that belong to the play-making process. These are:
Whether the task is discussing artistic decisions with classmates, rehearsing a monologue from a Broadway show, developing a two-handed scene, rehearsing a full-scale dramatic play with others, or creating an improvised ensemble performance for class, many of these play-making techniques will require a degree of self-confidence from the Drama student.
We have all witnessed students in our Drama classes who cannot successfully contribute to the brainstorming process in group performance tasks. Especially with self-devised, improvised ensemble tasks, all students must first possess a healthy degree of confidence in order to offer a valuable contribution to discussion and ideas being generated by the group. Some students really struggle with this phase, while others are sometimes over-confident, which can be equally detrimental to the group’s progress in developing the task.
“Are we coming at the importance of confidence in drama education from the wrong end? Are we focusing too much on students developing confidence from undertaking drama – a skill they walk away with at the end of the program? In the process, are we ignoring the fact that student confidence is a necessary skill required at the outset in drama education – at the very beginning of the drama course? And then, if this is the case, we simply don’t assess it”.Justin Cash
Self-confidence is also an essential component of the rehearsing, editing, and refining phases in Drama. As students develop their pieces, whether scripted or improvised, they must be confident in trialling and experimenting with new and different ways of approaching the text or creating a scene from their original concepts. Shy students often wait for others to make suggestions, are happy to follow the leader, rarely move outside their comfort zone, and almost never take risks in drama rehearsals.
Of the seven areas of the play-making process listed above, I would argue only two of these do not require confidence from the student: researching and scripting. If, like myself, you prefer to make part of the assessment relate to the development of the task over many lessons and not just the final product, then why aren’t we assessing student confidence when it is such an integral component of the development of the piece?
Confidence is Essential to Every Performance
The area of performance is where student confidence appears a more logical skill requirement in Drama class, and yet it still seems to be rarely assessed on any formal level, if at all. Without confidence, a student will likely:
- not project their voice adequately in performance
- demonstrate little character movement
- lack the necessary facial expressions that help define a character
- demonstrate limited hand gestures that add that extra touch
- often struggle with focusing in a performance
- have difficulty recalling some of the memorised lines and moves during a performance
- lack the vocal variety needed for effective characterisation
- possibly blend into the scene with a pedestrian and uninspiring performance
Confidence Applies to All Ages and Year Levels
In reporting and assessing students over more than 30 years of secondary school Drama, “confidence” is easily my most-used word, which is not a recognised drama term, in feedback to students and parents. The year level is irrelevant. The theory that Year 12 Drama students are naturally more confident than Drama students in Year 7 or Year 8, is simply a myth. Some of the least confident students I have ever taught have been sitting right in front of me in a senior Drama class. It doesn’t matter what age the student is, or what year level they are in, confidence still remains an essential skill in Drama class.
Formally Assessing Confidence Will Reap Rewards
Surely, if enough teachers begin to formally assess the level or degree of confidence being displayed by students in our Drama classes, we will all reap the rewards of this change. If my students suddenly realise that confidence is part of their formal assessment in Drama, they will being to question more deeply what confidence in play development activities or performances actually entails. In the process, they will better understand the importance of confidence in drama, and how it is an integral factor in most of our activities in class. More confident students, more of the time, is a happy Drama class, indeed.
Yes, Confidence is a Skill!
By now, I am hoping you are not thinking confidence is some random concept or occurrence in Drama class that appears at a whim. Confidence is indeed a skill, and yes it can be taught, learned, and gained both on its own and in combination with other drama skills via repetition, and positive teacher feedback. Student confidence is a required skill from the outset and should get the recognition it deserves by being formally assessed in drama education.