Year 12 Solo Performance: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Local teachers in Victoria who teach drama in the senior years (VCE Drama) will be familiar with a major performance task known as the solo performance examination, prescribed each year by the curriculum authority (VCAA) for Year 12 Drama students.

Worth 35% of a student’s grade in their final year of Drama at high school, the externally assessed solo performance exam is a 7-minute self-written character performance adhering to a prescribed structure. Normally, there are 10 structures (characters) forming the exam document, from which students perform one of these. Character on the exam change each year and can be drawn from history, novels, films, graphic novels etc and the task involves a mixture of factual and imaginative content.

Over the past decade, the solo performance has caused much angst with teachers and students of VCE Drama. I have no intention of being merely negative here, as I intend to provide a balanced viewpoint. The task can also be a wonderfully positive experience for both teacher and student.

In my 23 years of teaching Drama I have never come across a mandated task that has created so much conversation on both sides of the fence. So, here’s a summary:

The Good

  • academic
  • rigourous
  • stimulating
  • forces students to adhere to strict time lines
  • exam paper published six months in advance
  • fosters artistic discipline
  • glossary of terms offered in exam document
  • forces students to appreciate the value of editing and refining
  • non-naturalistic performance style allows for creativity

The Bad

  • minimum difficulty level set too high
  • very demanding task
  • too much research involved
  • does not adequately cater for academically challenged students
  • non-naturalistic performance style and conventions are often very complex
  • glossary of some key terms is confusing
  • too much content to include in a 7-minute performance
  • 3rd “external” content dot point is too challenging for some students

The Ugly

  • 11 assessment criteria
  • inexperienced teachers struggle to assist their students
  • awarded grades often do not match teacher expectations
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7 Responses

  1. Thanks for the feedback Ash. Looks like you’ve got a great Year 12 class!

    – Justin

  2. Ash says:

    Hi Justin,

    These articles are amazingly helpful, as I’m a first year out teacher with a small class of Year 12’s. They’re super keen and I just want to help them produce the best work possible. Thank you so much for all your detailed explanations, handy links & great ideas!

    Ash 🙂

  3. Veera says:

    Hello ! I just have to say how amazingly helpful this site has been to me!! But now it’s time for me to do my Solo and I have decided to do Mr Moon. Only problem is that I’m having hard time creating exaggerated movement (which is required) Can you help me, do you have any links that might provide some information 🙂
    Thank you and keep up the good work!!

  4. Justine says:

    Hi Justin,

    Just reading through some of the old posts about the Solo Exam as I am preparing my twelves at the moment. Wanting to start a discussion about how strictly to follow the ‘recreates’ (the terminology also says ‘reenacts’) a scene… if the stimulus is a film text. Specifically looking at Fawlty Towers and The Sapphires here. What creative license do they have here or are they looking for a very strict reenactment?

    • Hi Justine,

      In terms of “recreates” in DP1, I’d say the assessors are fairly strict in terms of content – “situations and conversations that are informed by the stimulus”. So, the content has to be a recreation of events that actually occurred in Season 2 of Fawlty Towers for The Hired Help character and in The Sapphires film for The Wartime Entertainer character.

      I was discussing this very point with one of my Year 12 Drama students only a few moments ago. In Fawlty Towers, does the conversation have to be the exact words spoken by Polly in one of the episodes? How strict do we have to be? I’d say, you could blend in a bit of actual scripted dialogue from the TV show with your own student-written dialogue, but what actually happens has to be from the show. For example, if it is Manuel setting the kitchen on fire (just as an example), then it is a student re-creation of Manuel setting the kitchen on fire as it happened in the episode. I’d be leaving creative license for DP2 and DP3, not DP1.

      But, this is just my opinion. Others are welcome to disagree!

  5. Hi Tom,

    Great to hear your perspective on drama/theatre in the US schooling system. I had a look at the Common Core State Standards you referred to and it seems all but a handful of states have formally adopted them, but as you say, they are only in English and Maths.

    In the new Australian Curriculum, to be significantly implemented in 2013 in years Foundation (Kindergarten) to Year 10, the first phase of subjects are English, Mathematics, Science and Australian History. As I am sure you are aware, a lot of what ends up where has to do with political lobbying. Arts education groups in Australia lobbied very hard to get the Arts included in the second phase of subjects (due for implementation in 2014) and eventually succeeded (much to our surprise perhaps, that the federal government took us seriously). The Arts subjects to be studied are Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and Visual Arts. To have every Australian school student up to Year 10 studying all art forms in a compulsory national curriculum mandated to Year 10 is a step in the right direction. While Australia is a little behind other first world countries (particularly Europe) in instituting a national curriculum, we are doing well to have the Arts included. Interestingly, in the Australian model the assessment of the national curriculum in schools is left up to the individual states.

    Tom, do you use the National Standards for Arts Education as a guide in your teaching?

    As for the VCE Drama solo performance mentioned in the post above, yes this can be adapted for classroom use (as opposed to an exam). The actual task is devised in class by the students over about 10 school weeks and then performed at an assessment centre before three external examiners for the examination grade (35%, max 7 mins). Many Drama teachers here in Melbourne/Victoria use previous Year 12 Drama solo performance exams for their Year 11 Drama students, which is all internal school-based assessment. Below is a few links for you:

    2012 Solo Performance Examination
    2011 Solo Performance Examination
    2010 Solo Performance Examination
    2009 Solo Performance Examination
    Current Assessment Criteria for the Solo Performance Examination

    Because the characters for these solo performances are drawn from fiction, film, real historical figures, invented persons and sometimes objects, you could even create your own character structures and pitch the level of difficulty at the year level you are teaching the task to.

    PS. When you read the exam characters and see “non-naturalistic” as the performance style, it just means non-realism. We decided to be different and call it non-naturalism. This style is largely characrterised in the solo performances by the mandated transformation of character into one or more secondary characters, transformation of place, transformation of object (small prop, costume item etc) and the use of disjointed time sequences (flashbacks etc). Also note, as there is no national curriculum in senior Drama as yet, this task is set for Victorian school students (state-based curriculum) and different tasks exist for Drama students in Sydney, New South Wales etc.

    Hope this helps Tom.

  6. Tom says:

    As I teach in the US the only contact I’ve had with the VCE Drama is through this site. I found the concept intriguing as there is no comparison to this type of drama assessment in the US. One thing I like about this assessment is that it give a sense of importance to Drama that the US seems to ignore. The new Common Core standards and assessment only includes English and Math, with other subjects and organizations left to adapt a and create standards from these mandated ones. Do you think a task like this would work well adapted to just the classroom?

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