The Buddy System

I’m sure most Drama teachers reading this blog have encountered the student in their class who loves Drama, but is scared of presenting work in front of their classmates. Sometimes the reason is peer pressure, sometimes a lack of confidence or even the exposure of being the only person on stage (even when there is no “stage”).

My senior Drama students at the moment are more scared of showing the rest of the class work in progress, than they are of polished material. Why? Because it”s not perfect yet. Because it’s not their best work. Because many of them are perfectionists.

Earlier in the year we watched the DVD Theatre of War, starring Merryl Streep in an open air production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children in New York’s Central Park. Our purpose at the time was to study Brecht and his work, but its relevance to my students today is that Streep openly said this was the first piece of footage where she allowed cameras to film her in rehearsal for a play. She freely admitted watching her work in progress was like looking at someone’s water pipes under their floorboards, instead of their house above; in other words, the messy stuff.

This is where the buddy system comes into play in the drama classroom. Particularly when doing solo work (monologues, self-devised solo pieces) with seniors, pair each student up with another who is a) not his/her best friend and b) not performing the same character. Each person becomes the other’s critical friend throughout the entire rehearsal process. During class rehearsals, a student should show developing material to his/her buddy for feedback. While the buddy may not be an expert, he/she should nevertheless feed back to the partner what that student needs to hear, as opposed to what they want to hear.

Buddies serve as that vital bridge between a drama student rehearsing an individual character performance alone in the corner of the classroom or at home, and a presentation of work in progress before the rest of the class and teacher. If work in progress is never formally shown to the class during rehearsals, the buddy still proves very effective, anyway. Students normally have more confidence in their finished material if they were able to show it in progress to a critical friend along the way.

Pairing critical friends can be either random or strategic. I prefer strategic. I have one example where I have paired a wonderful improviser who can sometimes be disorganised, with a highly analytical, organised student who lacks confidence in her ability. They know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and have a pact between them to help each other. One is showing the other the benefit of writing lists and adhering to schedules in order to get organised, while the other student is helping her partner with letting loose with your expressive skills and relaxing more in performance.

Ever since another drama teacher showed me how it works for her over a decade ago, the buddy system has never let myself or my students down. It works like a charm. Give it a go one day for yourself.

1 Response

  1. Catherine says:

    What a great idea – so simple and embarrassingly, so obvious when someone tells you about it! Another drama gem for the day – Thanks Justin.

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