Tip # 6: Risk Taking
Just how important is it to take risks in the development of a solo performance exam?
There are so many things for us to remember in the middle of each member of our senior Drama class producing a 7 minute solo performance exam. From costumes to symbols, from props to performance styles, it is easy to just focus on producing the quantity of work required.
But what about the quality of work being produced in our classrooms? By its very nature, the term ‘risk taking’ implies danger and caution. At face value, risk taking seems to be something our students should avoid, surely? Wrong!
Risk taking is an essential part of all performance-making and the Year 12 Drama solo performance exam is no different. I always say to my students, if you are not prepared to take risks in the development of your performance, then I can write you you’re C+ grade the examiners will award you, right here and now in class. They soon get the picture.
Even the most confident of our students must be outside their comfort zone many times during the development of the solo performance task. Just like an actor should never feel 100% comfortable going out on stage before an audience, the high school Drama student also needs to feel that nervous energy of discomfort, only on this occasion I am specifically referring to rehearsals, not performance.
I do not mean a student who is outside their comfort zone because the task is daunting or too challenging for them. Nor do I mean taking silly risks like ignoring a section of the prescribed exam structure. I mean risk taking that pushes them beyond their normal limits and into new territory. This may be acting in a way they have never explored before, using a prop or gesture in a symbolic manner for the first time, discovering something for their plot that may place them ahead of their competition (other students doing the same exam character), exploring accent or structuring their blocking in the space in a new way.
One of the beauties of Drama teaching lies in the fact that the subject of enquiry is a human being, not a number. When each of our students at any given time is at a different place with their skill levels, taking risks becomes a highly individualised process. A particular risk for one student, may be inappropriate for another. So, as teachers, we cannot always expect one example of risk taking to work for everyone.
To offer a personal example, several members of my current Year 12 Drama class have sky rocketed from receiving C’s in Year 11 Drama exactly 12 months ago, to now receiving the equivalent of A’s and A+’s today in Year 12 Drama. There are a number of factors why this is occurring, ranging from sheer hard work to discipline and maturity. But without a doubt, risk taking is a major ingredient. These students are prepared to take risks in the development of their performance making and as a result, reap the rewards.
It is crucial that as teachers we both encourage and monitor risk taking in our Drama classroom. There needs to be a boundary line in which risk taking is agreed to be acceptable. A confident student may find it easy to take risks that are simply too dangerous. An example may be the fine line between spoon feeding the examiners your symbol in a performance (making it so clear to them it is too obvious and loses its value) and wishing to take risks by making this symbol sophisticated and possibly complex (so much so the examiners have difficulty detecting and/or understanding it).
The bottom line is that good judgement by the Drama teacher needs to determine whether a particular risk in a solo performance is worthwhile and acceptable? Why? Because its little bit like going to the local casino with this week’s pay cheque. You want your risks to pay dividends, so you may have a strategic plan in advance, or simply play the game with the greatest odds of winning. While it may prove better for your wallet to go straight to the blackjack table than the slot machines, similarly, a bit of experience will come into play when advising your Drama students on what is an acceptable risk to include in their performance when developing it, and what is not.
Also, one thing that has become very clear to me is that no matter how many years you’ve been teaching, you never stop learning. Each year when student exam grades are released, I sit down and analyse where I believe my students succeeded, or otherwise, in their solo performance exam. Sometimes I have to make educated guesses, but the end result is that my notion of an ‘acceptable risk’ in a solo performance exam is constantly being refined and perfected, so that each new year, I have a slightly different perspective on risk taking for my new group of senior students.
Pushing our Drama students to take risks in the development of the Year 12 solo performance exam, or any other performance task for that matter, nearly always pays off in favour of the student. When we no longer accept mediocrity in our Drama classrooms, risk taking will become a natural part of our everyday play-making processes.
Tip #7: Goal Setting