Quality Not Quantity in Drama

It is easy for teachers to slip into the zone of focusing on quantity in drama education, while losing focus of a more important factor – quality. Whether it be the length of a play rehearsal or a student-devised drama piece, quality should always take precedence over quantity. Who cares if a student-written drama performance is twenty minutes long instead of the desired thirty minutes duration? If the quality of the work being produced is as good or better in the shorter performance, then surely this is the preferred result.

In the above example, a shorter work can sometimes be a performance that lacks some of the necessary elements, usually the result of an individual or group of students who struggle to meet all the required aspects of a task. But more often than not, a slightly shorter performance can be the product of an effective development and rehearsal period, where during the latter stages students edit and refine the work focusing purely on quality outcomes.

If we look at our assessment criteria for performance tasks we set in drama (no matter what year level), these should always relate to output in terms of quality i.e. how good? Sometimes, students need more time to successfully meet the preferred level of quality and the beauty of theatre suggests grey areas are more common than black and white ones. This is where an educator’s judgement is needed. As an example, in the curriculum I teach, students in their final year of high school write their own seven-minute solo performance based on set information and requirements from the curriculum authority. Seven minutes is the maximum time allowed because the task is an externally assessed examination. So what is the minimum time accepted for this performance? Officially, there isn’t one. Unofficially, in my class it is about five and a half minutes. Because the requirements of this task are many, students often interpret this as a need to develop a solo that will last as close to the seven-minute mark as possible. They are forgetting about how they present their content in the solo. I have taught many students over the years who were awarded A+ at just on six-minutes duration. A whole minute in a short, seven-minute exam task was not needed because these students focused on ‘how’ in terms of quality, not ‘how’ in terms of quantity (how much … content).

There are many different ways of presenting the same pieces of information that are more efficient in terms of time and often more creative, artistically:

  • an entire scene can be reduced to a simple speech by a single narrator
  • sentences of dialogue can be minimised to three words on a placard
  • spoken dialogue can be replaced with movement
  • a series of movements can be replaced with a single gesture
  • everyday vernacular can be economised into: blank verse, rhyming couplets, clipped or telegraphic speech
  • information can be presented visually instead of verbally e.g. projection

Editing is a skill students at all year levels of drama need to master, and the earlier in their education they acquire this skill, the better. The nature of drama often means our students are hurrying to complete performance tasks and end up rushing themselves all the way to performance day. What’s missing here of course is the editing and refining period that is crucial to a successful performance. Teachers should always build in the editing and polishing phase of practical work for their students at the start of every task and emphasise its importance for quality outcomes. Crucially, don’t get trapped into believing a long(er) performance is a better one; it is most likely poorly edited, instead.

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