Every year, some teachers and students of the VCE Drama Solo Performance Exam wonder what their choices are for this task regarding costume. It is pretty easy to decipher what is needed for a Monologue Performance Exam in Theatre Studies, but in Drama, we are left with at least a couple of viable options. So, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice regarding costume in this task.
There are basically three choices:
1. Wear an historical costume
2. Wear ‘theatre blacks’ (t-shirt, pants etc)
3. Wear street clothes
And they really go in this order from best choice to worst.
Never wear street clothes.
While theatre blacks offer the actor neutrality when changing characters (and also the opportunity to add fragmentary costume to portray different roles), I would strongly advise against wearing them. You only have to glance at Top Class and Top Acts performances from recent years and you will find theatre blacks were rarely seen. This is no accident. Blacks do not allow the actor the opportunity to ‘feel’ their primary character and really hinder the assessors from getting additional visual elements essential to creating a convincing character portrayal. It is easy to think theatre blacks partly because we have all recently come from our ensemble performances last term, where blacks are the norm.
It is far better for a student to have an historically accurate costume for their primary character and not be concerned with needing to change any costume elements for the secondary character/s throughout the performance. The assessors don’t expect students to make a costume change during the performance if a candidate begins in their primary character’s outfit. I have girls in this year’s class who will be wearing their primary character’s dress, but may change briefly into up to six other secondary characters during their performance, several of them male, but all performed in the primary character’s dress! This is all part of the non-naturalism and will further assist students in better realising their primary character.
Here is a quote from the 2004 VCAA Assessor’s Report for the Solo Performance Examination, which although saying blacks is acceptable, advises against it:
As in past years, some students presented their performance in ‘street clothes’ (often with unnecessarily exposed flesh), not realising that this choice automatically gave their work a contemporary look and feel and that this choice may not have been appropriate for their character. This can also be applied to the choice of ‘theatre blacks’ as a costume. Neither of these approaches is helpful in trying to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the non-naturalistic performance style. Although theatre blacks provide a neutral ‘canvas’ for the actor, many students who chose this option could have significantly enhanced their performance with judicious choices in symbolic additions to this base costume.
BTW The Top Acts DVD from May is now on sale from the VCAA as well as a new concept this year, where they have selected 11 solo performances on DVD from the 33 performed as part of Top Class in March and April. Each DVD is $33 or $60 for both. They are definitely worth viewing (even if already seen at the theatre) because students and teachers can have last year’s exam paper in their hands while viewing the performances and analyse exactly how or where the actors included various dramatic elements and theatrical conventions, helping with an understanding of these elements within this year’s prescribed structures.