Tip #2: Research! Research! Research!
Hopefully, your students will have already done a certain degree of research in order to have chosen their character for the solo performance examination in Drama. But it is once the character choice is settled, that the real research begins!
Unfortunately, some students always think research is the boring part of the process and if they quickly skip over this stage or do the bare minimum (that was me at high school!), they’ll be right. Surely the practical rehearsals developing character/s and plot are the fun bits, yeah?
As teacher, try to find a way to genuinely convince the less motivated researchers in your classroom that this, too, can be enjoyable. I’m the first to admit I have never been a natural reader. Even as an adult, I struggle to read novels with interest. I don’t have the patience. But, give me a book on the theatre, and I’ll read it cover to cover in record time. Why? Because a book on my favourite subject area interests me intensely.
And so it’s all about ownership. If your students have chosen the character they wanted, not the one you wanted them to perform, then even the strugglers in the room should find the necessary passion to do some serious research on their character. They need to sink their teeth into it and be naturally motivated to discover all about their character possible, via careful research.
Last year a senior member of administration at my school just happened to also be the English teacher of one of my Year 12 Drama girls. Three times throughout the year her English teacher told me of the same conversation she had with this student, over and over again, about if she would just put as much time into her English work outside of class as she does for her Drama…. (you get the picture). The solo performance task involves lots of research, not just at the start, but along the way, too. It’s not a labour or a burden …. its a lot of fun!
There are a couple of instant research resources available to teachers each year. Drama Victoria publishes an annual Solo Performance Resource Kit; a folder of photocopied resources from the web and printed books on each of the prescribed character structures. I also create a solo performance resource page each year on my sister site Justin’s Theatre Links with dozens of web links on aspects of all the exam characters. But, be aware, if students are serious, they should treat both these resources as a good start, only. It’s like using Wikipedia for your research essay. It’s a good beginning, but by no means should it be the only resource used in developing the task.
Sometimes students are ‘put off’ aspects of the solo performance exam because parts of the prescribed structure are open to interpretation, perhaps at first glance slightly amiguous or not black and white enough. This has to be turned into a positive, because, really, it is! This is the very aspect of the solo task that, while at times frustrating, makes it such a challenge for students and teachers, alike. If the task weren’t challenging, I’d be falling asleep in Drama class right now and so would my students.
But one thing remains true with this task. I’m going to prove maths has a place in the world of Drama:
A poorly researched solo = a shallow solo = an average grade
There is a direct through line between research and the plot and script of the solo performance. I always say to my students that Nicole Kidman was never going to win an Academy Award for acting in the film Bewitched a couple of years ago, simply by nature of the plot and script she had to work with. The same goes for the solo. If a student doesn’t research it thoroughly, then the plot and script will be mediocre, indeed.
Tip #3: The Script