As you may have seen on a recent post, my Year 12 Drama students recently undertook a new task in their course for their final year of secondary/high school, the short solo performance (affectionately known as the ‘mini solo’).
Many of you reading this blog probably know all too well what I am referring to as you may have just completed the task with your own students. But for those of you reading from interstate or overseas, this performance task is universal, so it should make sense to everyone. The prescribed task requirement was a 1 to 2 minute solo performance based on stimulus set by the teacher. The student’s task was to research, script and develop the performance themself.
Having performed 7 minute solo performances since Year 10, I was a bit worried a quick 1 to 2 minute solo may seem on the surface a backward step for my students, so at the start of this two week task I worked quickly to instil artistic discipline in my students and a culture of taking this performance very seriously. I have a small, but wondferful group of students this year who were still pumped from success in their ensemble performance only a few weeks prior, so I was really encouraging an atmosphere in the classroom that was going to enventuate regardless. Nevertheless, oh was I blown away by what I saw!
For starters, I couldn’t believe how much my students got into this task. They were treating it exactly as I had hoped (and as our course writers no doubt intended), as a mini version of and a practice/dry run for their big solo performance examination in October. They were researching their characters like crazy because it wasn’t a burden for them. Their research was an enjoyable part of the task; an exploration, a discovery of the behaviour and lifestyle of their intended character.
The end result was really something special. If you click the link at the top of this post, you’ll see the task given was to choose and research a subculture character of their choice. Cliched as it is, I was expecting three Emo’s in my small class of five, but to my surprise I got the following:
- a promiscuous bonehead of a Valley Girl who barfed us all out (inspired by Clueless)
- a tough-as-nails Mafia underboss (inspired byCasino)
- an over-enthusiastic, socially-inept geek (inspired by 80s teen movies)
- a bohemian, artistic beatnik (inspired by the literary art world)
- a Japanese teenage girl representing the kawaii (cuteness) culture (think Hello Kitty, Pikachu etc.)
An interesting list, hey? I don’t even recall recommending one of them. The students found these characters all of their own accord. The Mafia underboss was part authentic, part parody and very believable with a thick New York accent. The Valley Girl was an absolute crack-up getting the gestures, the blonde (wig) ditsy head swings and the special lingo (‘totally’, ‘tubular’, ‘whatever’!) just right. The geek was so out of place in a party setting trying to pick up chicks, impressing them(?) with his knowledge of calculus and wondering why it was all going wrong? The literary hipster of a beatnik oozed style and intelligence, with a performance setting in a cafe, then bookstore (and a little poetry thrown in for good measure). While the kawaii girl reminded me exactly of my two brief visits to Tokyo, seeing schoolgirls on the train in Japan obsessed with images of cuteness everywhere.
Keep in mind, all of these characters, including two males, were portrayed by female students in my class. Each girl was asked to transform briefly into a secondary, more minor character also. Not such an easy thing to do in a performance lasting just 120 seconds! The Mafia underboss played two more subordinates in the clan. The geek portrayed one of the cool girls he was trying desperately to pick up at the party. The kawaii girl performed her teenage boyfriend. The Valley Girl played one of her ringleader friends. While finally, the beatnik portrayed an old lady behind the counter in the bookstore.
All up I’d say this was a successful first attempt at a new task in our Year 12 Drama course. It served as excellent preparation for the major solo performance exam coming up soon. Lots was learnt by both the students and teacher (me). But most importantly, a hell of a lot of fun found its way into this task as well!