Non Naturalistic Performance Styles VCE Drama Unit 3

This post is relevant for local readers of The Drama Teacher, only.

As the 2017 academic year is about to begin, the big question is:

Which performance style(s) should be I be teaching or studying in VCE Drama Unit 3?

VCE Drama Unit 3 is of course all about non-naturalism (otherwise known as non-realism or anti-realism in other parts of the world). The choices for studying performance styles therefore cover pretty much everything OTHER than realism and naturalism.

While it may not be entirely clear in the Drama Study Design, there are a few prescriptions with performance styles in this unit. Students must study these three performance styles in VCE Drama Unit 3:

The VCAA make reference to this prescription in the study design using this descriptor to define non-naturalistic theatre that names these three performance styles and their primary practitioners:

Non-naturalism is a broad term for all performance styles that are not dependent on the life-like representation of everyday life and is based on the work of Antonin Artaud (Theatre of Cruelty), Bertolt Brecht (Epic Theatre) and Jerzy Grotowski (Poor Theatre). It can allow an actor to explore and present ideas or stories conceptually. Non-naturalism does not seek to re-create life as it is lived, but is focused more on passing comment on, or responding to, aspects of the real world. Non-naturalistic performance can occur in any space and is not dependent on specific resources. Non-naturalistic performance work might include the manipulation of both naturalistic and non-naturalistic conventions.

In the Summary of Changes document published to introduce the 2014-2018 Drama study design the VCAA state:

Non-naturalism is defined as a broad performance style based on the work of Artaud, Brecht and Grotowski and defined by the non-naturalist (sic) use of stagecraft, acting style of the performers, use of dramatic elements and use of conventions including transformation of character and/or time and/or place and/or object. Across the study it is expected that learning activities will introduce students to the characteristics of the work of Artaud, Brecht and Grotowski and, as appropriate, to other practitioners whose work features non-naturalistic performance styles.

Furthermore, in the Assessment Handbook for teachers the VCAA publish:

… ensure the student … has knowledge and understanding of non-naturalistic styles of performance including the work of Artaud, Brecht, Grotowski and other practitioners as appropriate to the stimulus material

As these three performance styles had never actually been stated on the VCE Drama written examination paper until 2015 (see pages 8 and 9), up until this time some teachers may have taught them with unequal emphasis or even omitting one of these styles altogether from their course. Previously, students discussed a non-naturalistic performance style of their choice in relation to some responses on the exam paper. I imagine the majority of students discussed epic theatre (well most of my students over the years did, anyway).

It is now clear, all three of these performance styles – epic theatre, poor theatre, and theatre of cruelty, need to be taught/studied in VCE Drama Unit 3 – and with equal emphasis.

It is also clear that if time permits in the course, you are more than welcome to introduce other non-naturalistic performance styles to deepen students’ understanding. While it is highly unlikely anything other than epic theatre, poor theatre, and theatre of cruelty may appear on the written examination, students can gleam much from studying additional non-naturalistic performance styles and conventions. In practice, this can benefit students in the development and presentation of their non-naturalistic ensemble performance in Drama Unit 3 and their non-naturalistic solo performance in Drama Unit 4.

Additional non-naturalistic performance styles may include (but are not limited to):

It is the teacher’s choice which non-naturalistic performance styles are to be taught in VCE Drama Unit 3 and which non-naturalistic performance style(s) will be prescribed in the Unit 3 ensemble performance. The VCAA choose which performance style(s) are to be specified in the Unit 4 solo performance examination, beyond all choices being generally non-naturalistic in style.

If you are new to teaching or studying VCE Drama Unit 3, hopefully this post has answered a few questions you may have had and offered some clarity.


14 Responses

  1. Britt Crellin says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks so much for this site, it is the best!

    I’m just trying to find clarification on what transformation of character, object, time and place actually needs to look like. I can’t find in any of the supporting doc’s whether these transformations need to be seen by the audience to be counted, and have only found one resources that states time should create a non-linear timeline. My students are completing there Unit 3 ensembles and I want to clarify this for them.

    Your help is greatly appreciated.

  2. Stephanie White says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you for this website, it is very helpful. I am just wondering what themes Grotowski explored in his works? I am thinking of doing a solo performance (for my Year 12 IB assessment) based on Grotowski’s work, in relation to the idea of ‘children being underestimated’ or bad parental-child relationships which lead to a cycle of life that never breaks. It is generational – do you think I could convey these themes through the work of Grotowski?

    • For sure, Stephanie! It is important to note productions Grotowski directed were few in number and mostly reimagined interpretations of other works (Dr Faustus, Akropolis etc.). Themes explored included:
      – resurrection
      – Christian iconography
      – imprisonment
      – freedom
      – life
      – sacrificial death
      – confession
      – good vs. evil
      – nightmares
      – memories
      – fantasies

      The themes you suggested here could definitely be conveyed through Grotowski / Poor Theatre style.

  3. Holly says:

    Hi Justin,

    I was wondering if you have any resources or ideas on teaching ‘task words’ in preparation of the external examination. Eg; Identify, explain, describe, analyse and evaluate. Or, any tips on how to explicitly teach these task words.

    Thank you!

    • Holly, to the best of my knowledge, nowhere in the VCE Drama Study Design, Advice for Teachers document, Assessment Handbook or past assessors’ reports do the VCAA provide official descriptors for these terms. You can search through past assessors’ reports to find references to a few of them explained (such as ‘evaluate’), but they are sparse. The best examples I have found were provided by Drama Victoria in the marking guide to their trial examinations. I cannot publish their descriptions here, as they are not in the public domain, suffice to say they provide useful descriptors for:

      – select
      – outline
      – identify
      – discuss
      – describe
      – explain
      – analyse
      – evaluate
      – annotate

      …in a VCE Drama written examination context. Well worth purchasing Drama Vic’s trial exam for this alone, in my opinion. Hope this helps with your query. – Justin

  4. Dani-Ela Kayler says:

    First year teaching VCE Drama! This site is so very clear, concise and helpful. Your comments and resources are geatly appreciated.

  5. sally Phoenix says:

    Thanks Justin. Do you know any good, practical exercises to introduce Brecht/ or any clips?..
    Many thanks

    • Sally, if you search YouTube you will find some clips on Brecht and Epic Theatre, but you may be left dissatisfied with what you find. There is really only a handful of still pictures in archives around the world of his work on stage, mostly of his actress-wife Helene Weigel in Mother Courage and her Children. Regarding introductory exercises, try getting students to create basic scenes (give them topic) and making them introduce one by one some epic theatre conventions. For example, a narrator, use of signs, projection with message, fragmentary costume, character names such as The Father / The Old Woman / The Carpenter, fragmentary scenery etc. The level of sophistication depends on the students/year level. The subject matter for the scene could be as simple as a newspaper article. Also, make sure you have read these articles on Epic Theatre Conventions on The Drama Teacher: 1, 2, 3. Hope this helps! Justin

      • sally Phoenix says:

        Thanks so much Justin, that is really helpful!

        • Sarah says:

          Look up National Theatre’s clip “5 truths”-Brecht. It is one of five clips showing the same scene but using different styles of theatre. Great way to explain how it differs from Realism.

  6. Megan Davies says:

    Thanks so much for this user friendly!!!

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