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  • Ned Manning

In praise of drama teacher

Updated: May 26

Drama NSW celebrates 20 years of HSC Drama this year. 20 years of Individual and Group Performances as well as 20 years of rigorous Written Theory. Students who complete the HSC Drama Course in NSW are armed with a knowledge of Australian and World Drama as well as the ability to perform in the most taxing of circumstances.

I was fortunate to be amongst the small band of Markers who filed into Newtown High School of the Performing Arts' Studio Theatre for the first pilot marking session 20 years ago. I was intrigued because, at the time, I wasn't teaching and I wondered how you could possibly assess performance objectively. I vividly remember watching a group perform and ticking off the criteria as they achieved them. The aim was to reward. If a student's delivery was clear you were asked to give them a good mark. If they were unintelligible you gave them a lesser mark. Both IP's and GP's, as they quickly became known, rewarded students for their skills, their characterisation and their theatrical coherence. 

I was amazed at the rigour of this method. Assessing students work had nothing to do with subjective opinion. In fact, I recall a rather heated debate about a group who performed a piece that might fit into the category of "Bimbo Theatre" and finding myself defending their skills whilst wincing at their content. The point is the Head of Marking, Andrea Connell, and her team had cleverly put together a list of criteria that took opinion out of the equation. As odd as this may sound it was close to marking a subject like Maths. The students were either "focussed" or they weren't. They played their characters with conviction or they didn't. The whole performance was coherent and made sense or it didn't.

The subject has grown beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Thousands upon thousands of students have completed HSC Drama and quite a few of them have gone on to contribute to the national theatre scene. 

The one thing that has been universal throughout these 20 years has been the absolute dedication of the thousands of teachers who have shepherded these students through HSC Drama. 

All over the state teachers have given their hearts and souls to help their kids through their IP's and GP's. They have dug into their pockets and called upon favours from near and far. They have badgered principals and borne the slings and arrows of unappreciative colleagues. They have begged students to turn up to rehearsals and to learn lines. They have patiently counselled those devoid of the slightest comic instinct to steer clear of comedy. They have tried to steer front row forwards away from interpretitive dance. They have gently suggested that playing Lear might be a stretch for a 17 year old. The Group Performance requires 3-6 students to devise an 8-12 minute piece of original theatre using a number of topics as springboards. It requires an enormous committment from both students and their teachers. Getting 4 teenagers to agree on anything is challenging. Getting them to agree to the form, style and content of a piece of original theatre raises the bar even further. Let alone ensuring that each performer gets an equal slice of the performance cake and has an equal committment to rehearsal and performance. Anyone who has spent any time in a rehearsal room of any discipline will know how emotionally demanding creating work can be. 

It is the personal nature of the work that separates Drama from any other subject. Students are literally putting themselves on the line and their teachers invest an enormous amount of emotional energy in giving them the one to one support they need to achieve their goals.  They have been supported by the armies of Markers who have travelled the length and breadth of the State ensuring that every student receives the level of professional assessment they deserve. 

The pay off to all this is the combination of pride, joy and even relief that thousands of students have given voice to when the final curtain has fallen on their HSC  performances.   The person they offer their hearfelt thanks to is their Drama teacher and we, as a community, should raise a glass to them as well.

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