VCE Drama Ensemble Performance Video: The Black Death

Recently, I showed an example of a VCE Drama Unit 3 ensemble performance to a group of teachers at Jumpstart, Drama Victoria’s annual mini-conference for drama educators on the first weekend of March. The aim was to deconstruct the piece and through analysis, discuss the number of non-naturalistic (anti-realistic) techniques used by the students and to what effect? Unfortunately, on the day we ran out of time to do everything and due to popular demand, my three former students involved have granted permission for me to place the video here on The Drama Teacher for other drama teachers and their students to download and watch.

The task given was to research, script and dramatise aspects of The Black Death in England, 1348-50. The nature of this task means that the topic given by the teacher merely serves as a vehicle for the students to show evidence as young theatre-makers that they understand how to put non-naturalistic theatre into practice. The finished piece serves as 20% of the students’ overall grade in Year 12 Drama.

There are many different theatrical conventions used by this ensemble in order to make their piece in the style of Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre. Mandated conventions included transformation of object, place and time, as well as disjointed time sequences (at least one example of scenes presented out of chronological order). The prescribed task is below. Teachers and students should read the task carefully before watching the video. Note this ensemble liberally employed subject matter in contemporary society relating to issues at the time of The Black Death (final plot point in structure below), skilfully drawing parallels between the past and the present. They also demonstrated some scenes in a comic fashion, without losing the serious undertones of the subject matter.

I believe this ensemble is a faithful example of one of my mantras in the classroom:

Detailed research equals a good script  … and a good script is half way to a fine performance.

You don’t need a million dollar theatre to perform quality drama at high school. This show was performed in a lecture theatre with a small stage. The students employed minimum but effective use of costume and props; the actor was paramount.

Let me know what you think about the video in the comments section below. Did you show it to your students in class and how was it received? It would be great to have a discussion here about aspects of this ensemble example video. I could always post other ensemble videos in the future if the demand is out there.

The Black Death


England, 1348-50.

Performance Style

Non-naturalism, with aspects of epic theatre.

Prescribed Theatrical Conventions (VCAA)

  • transformation of character
  • transformation of place
  • transformation of object
  • disjointed time sequences

Additional Prescribed Theatrical Conventions

  • fragmentary costume/s
  • direct audience address
  • use of placard/s
  • fragmentary scenery
  • use of song/s
  • character/s reflecting social roles
  • message/s for the audience

Prescribed Dramatic Elements

  • language
  • contrast
  • symbol
  • sound


In the summer of 1348, The Black Death made its way into southern England without notice. A form of the bubonic plague spread by small rodents and their fleas, it spread like wildfire, killing those infected within a week.

One of the most devastating pandemics in history, The Black Death caused loss of life on a massive scale, culling an estimated one-half of England’s population in just over two years. It tore at the very fabric of English society, devastating large cities and obliterating almost the entire population of regional towns and smaller communities.

While those living in Medieval England quickly became familiar with The Black Death’s symptoms, few knew its causes. Christians died without burial rites, large areas of overcrowded cities were wiped out and the nation’s economy suffered due to labour shortages. Such was The Black Death’s impact; it would be hundreds of years before England would return to her former self.


Your performance must focus on The Black Death in England, 1348-50 and include scenes documenting the following.

  • life in Medieval England
  • causes of the disease
  • symptoms of the disease
  • The Black Death’s effect on society
  • economic impact of The Black Death
  • diseases affecting the modern world and lessons for the future

The Black Death Ensemble Structure (PDF download for teachers and students)

RIGHT CLICK VIDEO LINK BELOW AND SAVE TO DESKTOP – otherwise your browser may try to play the video and the file is too large so it will just hang/stall.

RIGHT CLICK AND SAVE > The Black Death Ensemble Video < (download for teachers and students, file type: mp4, file size: 240mb, video length: 22 mins)

3 Responses

  1. frank pronesti says:

    Justin i am a former drama teacher living overseas, i’d be interested in viewing the video of ‘the black death’ as a matter of personal interest. i loved teaching drama, drama not only great for students, it taught teachers to be even more creative and to inculcate important live skills and experiences into helping us become even better people. are you with drama victoria? i had many friends in this field. thanks for sharing your passion, i’m connected too. Frank pronesti

    • Thanks for your comments Frank. Yes, I am with Drama Victoria – currently in my 14th year on the Drama Victoria Committee of Management. I agree with you, drama teaching does enable teachers to be even more creative with their craft, no matter what the discipline. The link to the ensemble video is in the post, above, if you wish to view it.


  2. Mark Brady says:

    Many thanks Justin. You’re a legend! And also, a big thank you to the girls who gave you permission. Cheers.


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