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HSC Drama Performances in the Age of Covid

Beginning this week, thousands of Year 12 Drama students all over NSW will be preparing for their HSC Drama Performances. They will be going over lines, checking costumes, putting the finishing touches to design projects, signing off on scripts, films, research projects and the other non performance Individual Performances. For many of them it is the culmination of six years of studying Drama. Everyone will be nervous Why wouldn’t they be? The stakes couldn’t be higher.

At the same time hundreds of Drama teachers will be teaming up and jumping into cars to travel the length and breadth of the State to mark these performances. They will be travelling to schools in pairs armed with mark sheets and stop watches dressed as formally and officially as their wardrobes allow. These teachers will be nervous too, the fate of all those drama students lies in their hands. It will be their responsibility to ensure that each student receives the score they deserve.

In schools around the State anxious Drama teachers who aren’t marking will be at their schools at the crack of dawn early, checking that is all in readiness for the big day. They will be warming up lights, adjusting sound levels, going over paperwork as they await their students and the markers. These teachers have nursed their charges like mother hens. Advised them on pieces, encouraged them to take risks and be adventurous and, in some cases, dragged them to the finishing line using every bit of wit they can muster. There is something very special about teaching Drama at HSC level. Although these teachers don’t direct their students performances, they have been with them every step of the way and offered support, encouragement and counsel.

But this year is will be different. Very different. Covid has seen to that.

For the first time since Drama was introduced as an HSC subject, the students performing will be doing so in empty performance spaces. There will be no audiences. One of the key criteria they will be marked on is the “actor/audience” relationship. How they have fashioned their performances to include the audience. It’s the bread and butter of live performance. This Covid year HSC Drama students will perform for two markers and their teacher. There was a moment, before the Drama teaching community rebelled, that they would have only been performing for the markers. Fortunately, NESA relented, common sense prevailed and teachers who have shed blood sweat and tears for their students will be there to cheer their charges on.

As everyone knows, Covid has wreaked havoc on this year for Year 12 students around the country. It’s impossible to underestimate just how much they will miss out on in 2020.

For all those Drama students presenting Individual Performances over the next two weeks it has been a wretched year. On top of losing all those rights of passage events that signpost leaving school, they have been denied the jewel in a drama student’s crown. The Group Performance.

The Group Performance is what makes Drama such a memorable subject for so many students. In groups of 3-6 they create a piece of theatre that is 8-12 minutes long. They do this on their own with guidance from their teachers. These pieces reflect the particular combination of the group’s passions and interests. They are performed in a range of styles from physical theatre to realism and everything in between. They draw on, for many, six years of studying theatrical styles ranging from the Ancient Greeks to contemporary Indigenous work.

Losing the Group Performance is a bitter blow for all drama students. Everyone understands why but that doesn’t diminish the pain. The Group Performance is a very peculiar beast. It requires a group of teenagers to put aside their egos and prejudices and work with a group of their peers, some of who they may not get on with. They have to be open to everyone’s ideas, even if they disagree with them. They have to organise their own rehearsal schedules and be able to rehearse, on their own, without anyone telling them what to do or how to do it. They have to find somewhere to rehearse, often in someone’s home.

It is the one thing every Drama student dreams of and one thing they will never forget. This Covid year it has been taken away from them.

This is a tragedy. An understandable one but, nevertheless, a tragedy. The Group Performance might be fraught, might cause lots of angst and pain but it remains the absolute key to HSC Drama. It unites every student throughout the State and gives each and every one of them the chance to perform a piece of theatre that they have devised with their peers for an audience as part of HSC Drama.

It is a testament to the passion and dedication of Drama teachers throughout the State, including the Drama Unit at NESA, that HSC performances will be happening at all.

May Thespis smile on each and every one of them.

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.