Each year I publish the current topic I give to my Year 12 Drama class to devise as their ensemble performance. In small groups, the students create all aspects of the task, from research and brainstorming to scripting, directing and rehearsing. Their performance is individually graded as 20% of their overall marks in their final year of high school drama. The task begins with a stimulus offered by the teacher. Ultimately, each student must demonstrate in the actual performance their understanding of non-naturalistic (non-realistic) theatre via acting, conventions and the use of simple stagecraft.
Over the past decade, I have usually written ensemble stimulus structures for my students that are connected to a world event, some created by humans, others by nature. I love giving my students topics with a certain degree of weight. I am a big believer in the through-line between effective research and a solid script, resulting in a sophisticated performance. So, lightweight ensemble topics do not get a look-in.
I nearly always prescribe a topic where a sense of mystery is present, where an injustice has occurred, where failings by elected governments have resulted in disaster, where there are often more questions than answers, or cover-ups have been made by people in authority. These situations create conflict that drive the students’ dramatic performances. Sometimes, the student work becomes an awareness piece for their audience, at other times a dramatic investigation into an event of significance.
Last year I changed the nature of my ensemble task. Instead of asking all student groups in my class to perform their piece in the same non-naturalistic style (the way this task is traditionally delivered by teachers in various schools), I got my students to choose one of three styles, resulting in three pieces on the same topic performed very differently. I have continued with this concept this year. I get all my students to keep a record of their performance-making process during the play-making phase via group blogging online.
Previous topics I have given to my Year 12 Drama students are all available for viewing on The Drama Teacher, and include:
- Hurricane Katrina
- The Black Death
- Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
- Black Saturday Bushfires
- Modern-Day Witch-Hunts
- Terror in Mumbai
- Challenger & Columbia Space Shuttle Disasters
- Jack The Ripper
This year, my Year 12 Drama ensemble topic is Hart Island. I wonder whether you have ever heard of this small island in New York City where nearly a million souls are buried? Read on. It’s a fascinating tale.
Year 12 Drama – Ensemble Performance
New York City, 1860s – present day.
Non-naturalism: each group is to choose one dominant style for their performance. Aspects of other performance styles can be included.
|Performance Style||Theatre Practitioner||Dramatic Elements||Stagecraft|
|Poor Theatre||Jerzy Grotowski||Rhythm / Space / Symbol||Props*|
|Theatre of Cruelty||Antonin Artaud||Sound** / Space / Mood||Sound***|
|Epic Theatre||Bertolt Brecht||Contrast / Space / Tension||Multimedia****|
*use of props with a strong focus on transformation of objects
**sound using the actors’ voice, body, interaction with objects
***sound using technology
**** multimedia with a focus on projection
Prescribed Non-Naturalistic Conventions (all groups)
Transformation of character, time, place and object.
Hart Island, located in The Bronx, New York City, is the biggest publicly funded cemetery in the world, yet its existence remains largely unknown to most Americans. Only a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide, Hart Island is home to an estimated one million people, buried in mass graves of 150 adults and 1,000 infants. For over a century, the City of New York has sent deceased paupers, stillborn babies, the homeless, the unidentified and unnamed to Hart Island. Today run by the Department of Correction, graves are dug by inmates of Rikers Island prison. Access to Hart Island is tightly controlled, even to those whose relatives are buried there. But in recent years, changes have taken place to right the wrongs of Hart Island’s past, leaving hope for the future.
Your performance must include scenes documenting the following:
- Hart Island as a Prisoner of War camp
- Hart Island as a sanatorium
- Hart Island as a lunatic asylum
- Hart Island as a reformatory
- Hart Island as a Potter’s Field
- Access to Hart Island by members of the public
- Personal stories about relatives of those buried at Hart Island
- The work of Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project and current reforms