Object Transformation In Drama

This post focuses on the value of student performers transforming objects in performance, with a couple of references to performers in the recent Top Class Drama concerts. If you didn’t see the Top Class concerts, it won’t matter as this post will still make sense.

Recently I saw two of the three Top Class Drama concerts showcasing some of the best performers from the 2011 VCE Drama solo performance examinations. Of particular relevance is evidence in recent years of the public showcasing of objects being more than props. It is fair to say most drama teachers would define object and prop as one and the same, but in the past few years at Top Class Drama concerts we have seen an increase in items of costume being transformed by student performers, which has made the ground a bit muddy to say the least. With no official definition for “props” or “properties” in VCE Drama course documentation from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, we can now assume costume items such as hats and scarves manipulated by the performer in certain ways will suffice as “object transformation”, along with any regular props one can think of.

Here is a list of some of the various objects used by student performers in the Top class Drama concerts on 10th May:

  • power cord
  • book
  • ukulele
  • suitcase
  • scarf
  • frame
  • cape
  • cloth
  • table
  • washing basket
  • rubber gloves
  • wicker basket
  • parasol
  • straw hat

This list should give teachers and students reading this post a fair idea of the sorts of objects that can be used and manipulated in solo performances. Note that the scarf, cape, rubber gloves and straw hat are traditional costume items, while the parasol is probably a hybrid costume prop and as for the cloth ….. well … its a piece of cloth! The other objects are just regular props.

Student performers have to be careful not to just present a “shopping list” of one object transformed 27 times in their performances, as it is much better to be selective and judicious with your choices in object transformation than to just show you can whip this object into anything you want at any time! Also, be careful not be … for the want of a phrase that has now disappeared from being popular  … a “try hard”, i.e. don’t try too hard to transform that object or you’ll end up looking silly.

Having said this, I was amazed at Top Class Drama at some of the object transformations. A fine exmaple was Alexander Gay from Damascus College. The audience watched with awe as this performer cleverly transformed his little blue ukulele into a frying pan, rifle, telephone, chopping knife, moustache, card table, sword, wooden spoon and a noose in his performance of Baldrick from the television series Black Adder. What was most impressive was not the sheer number of transformations but how and when the object was transformed. In true non-naturalistic (anti-realistic) style, Alexander Gay used the object to manipulate time and place as he seamlessly moved between the different “worlds” of the drama with the aid of object transformation. Less sophisticated conventions may have been use of dialogue, placards, narration, movement or gesture – which are all acceptable devices, but instead the performer communicated a different time and place to the audience through the transformation of the object. One moment he was in battle using the ukulele as a rifle, then within an instant he was Baldrick using the ukulele as a frying pan cooking Rat-o-Van.

Another student performer with impressive use of object transformation was Adam Fitzgerald-Quirk from Scotch College. As The Sheriff of Nottingham he used a simple red cloth that was carefully manipulated to become a person’s head, cape, trumpet, sword, microphone, bag of gold coins and a puppet at various points in the solo performance. The method in which the performer held and twisted the cloth to become other objects was inspiring.

Transforming objects is a key ingredient in non-naturalistic (anti-realistic) performances, whether solo or group. This technique adds a level of sophistication to the drama, as well as working the audience in following the action and plot. Objects, whether literal or transformed, can also be used as symbols in drama, adding yet another level. Simple prop/object transformation exercises and activities in the classroom can get drama students thinking about the possibilities before incorporating them into performance. Object transformation ideas are only limited by the student’s imagination and then it is up to the performer’s skill to use these ideas in performance.

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