On a later schedule compared to previous years, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s 2012 Top Class Drama and Theatre Studies Concerts were held at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 10 and 11 May.
Performers who received very high marks in their 2011 Drama solo performance and Theatre Studies monologue performance examinations last October, auditioned in January of this year for Top Class selection. Students from all school systems were represented in the three Top Class Drama and two Top Class Theatre Studies concerts, with the following breakdown:
Top Class Drama
- Government: 9 (7)
- Independent: 12 (15)
- Catholic: 6 (7)
2012 = 27 performers. 2011 = 29 performers (in brackets).
Top Class Theatre Studies
- Government: 3 (3)
- Independent: 9 (11)
- Catholic: 7 (6)
2012 = 19 performers. 2011 = 20performers.
I attended two of the three Top Class Drama concerts, both on Thursday 10 May.
Highlights in Drama, Concert 1:
- Alexander Gay (Baldrick), Damascus College, Mount Clear
- Chloe Smith (The Diva), The Peninsula School, Mount Eliza
Highlights in Drama, Concert 2:
- Izaac Marrinan (The King of Horror), Ringwood Secondary College, Ringwood
Last year I listed eight performers from the two Top Class Drama concerts I attended as highlights, but this year only three. This is a significant drop in what I believe are performers who stand out from the rest in their respective Top Class Drama concerts. There is no doubt every one of the student performers did a fantastic job last year with their solo performance exams just to get a perfect score, much less beat others at a Top Class audition for a place in these concerts. But there was something lacking this year.
Concert 1 was reasonably strong overall with a few standouts, above. However, Concert 2 was disappointing as a whole; many performers seemed to lack presence and energy on stage. I have taught VCE Drama since its inception 20 years ago and have had eight of my students in Top Class Drama and two in Top Acts in the past six years (with many more invited to audition), so I think I can speak with some authority on this topic just in case I get criticised myself for being critical of the standard in Concert 2 (but you are more than welcome to do this in the comments below, if you wish).
On a positive note, there were numerous examples of outstanding object transformation this year. I’ll blog about how objects were cleverly transformed in a separate post on The Drama Teacher coming up soon, because this deserves a conversation of its own. There were also wonderful examples of regional accents used with good effect to enhance a performer’s stage presence and believability (even a non-naturalistic performance needs character believability to varying degrees or the audience will not accept what is delivered to them). On the flip side, there were perhaps even more examples of objects that were not transformed effectively or barely at all and a few regional accents that unfortunately missed the mark.
There were also a couple of examples of rather large set pieces. I think it is fair to say the audience accepts and appreciates the performers need to use microphones in a Top Class concert, that the performance space is big at the Melbourne Recital Centre and that any pre-recorded audio (soundscapes, sound effects etc) will not be operated by the student at Top Class. However, these should be the only differences between a Top Class performance and the examination performance the previous October. When a Top Class audience sees huge set pieces being brought in by stagehands, we begin to question how the performer brought these items into the examination room without assessor assistance, as per the examination rules? Either this needs to be rectified for future years in order to maintain the integrity of these academic showcases, or the compere (Chief Assessor) should state these items were indeed brought into the exam room by the performer, before or after the Top Class performance. A simple clarification is all that is required
I also noted a few instances of sections of the audience this year applauding before the actual conclusion of a solo performance. This is often indicative of how a solo is constructed by the student. The end should be clear, even to an audience unfamiliar with the content, whether stillness and silence is employed or not. Constructing a high standard solo requires much skill and it was not a good sign on Thursday when some in the audience misread a solo’s ending on several occasions. Having said that, for audiences full of students, it was great to see such respect for the student performers on stage. One could hear a pin drop in the quieter moments and enjoy loud laughter with those around them at moments of hilarity in the more comic performances. Good work by the supervising teachers, too.
I still believe Top Class Drama and Theatre Studies concerts are fantastic professional learning for teachers and one of the best academic experiences for students each year. To see such talent on stage is often awe-inspiring. On that note, the best of the best from all the Top Class performing arts concerts will be chosen to perform at the annual Top Acts concert in two weeks time on Friday 25 May at The Palais Theatre, St Kilda. Get along to the big gig if you can!