Why HSC Drama is so important.
This morning at 830am Year 12 students across the State began sitting the HSC Practical Drama Examination. Except they weren’t sitting. They were on their feet, performing. Live. In front of an audience of fellow students and external examiners who were there to assess their performances in minute detail.
The whole operation requires organisation and co-ordination on a massive scale
Over the next fortnight, from Tenterfield to Temora, from Broken Hill to Batemans Bay, from Bega to Ballina and all over Sydney, four and a half thousand Year 12 students will be presenting their Group and Individual Performances. They have devised them with the unfailing support of drama teachers who have unreservedly gone above and beyond to give their students whatever support they have needed to achieve their goals.
These practical drama examinations will be performed everywhere from maths classrooms (where the desks have been pushed back), to wind swept school halls, to barn like multi purpose centres to state of the art school theatres. Some will have a couple of desk lamps for lighting and others lighting rigs that would have professional theatre companies drooling.
However, the playing field will be levelled by examiners who, by focussing solely on the students skills and ignoring “production values”, ensure every student in the state gets a fair go. They will be assessing the student’s vocal and movement skills, their characterisation, their ability to work collaboratively and ultimately create a coherent piece of work. They won’t be passing judgement on content but, rather, rewarding them for the skills they have acquired in bringing their pieces to life.
The Group Performances will be of 8 to 12 minutes duration and will be wholly student driven. There is a maximum of 6 and minimum of 3 students in each group. Most rehearsals will have taken place outside class time. The students will have been responsible for organising rehearsal spaces in parent’s houses, back yards, parks. Anywhere where they have found space. They will have been responsible for wrangling their collaborators attendance at rehearsals. Rolls won’t have been taken by teachers, attendance will have been a group responsibility. The content of the piece will have been determined by the students. So will the style and form.
HSC Drama is a beacon in a sometimes dark educational landscape. It is the perfect antidote to the narrowing of educational objectives as seen in the never ending analyses of Naplan results and obsession with league tables.
It manages to combine the intellectual rigour of the most demanding of disciplines with creativity, commitment, social awareness and teamwork.
It is, quite simply, education at its best.
After completing their Group Performances the students will be presenting Individual Performances. These can be 6-8 minutes live performances that may be derived from the work of playwrights from Sophocles to Jada Alberts or completely self devised. They might be one of a range of design projects. They might have written short plays or made short films. They might even have written mini theses on a theatrical subject of their choice.
Having worked collaboratively in a Group, the Individual Performance provides students with the opportunity to create work that is an expression of their individuality and creativity.
If this weren’t demanding enough, having completed their performances, Drama students then tackle a written examination where they compare the work of a range of theatre practitioners in two forty- five minute essays.
HSC Drama isn’t a bludge.
It is a subject that stretches the resources of students, teachers and their parents to the limit.
At a time when NESA (once BOSTSES, once the Board of Studies) is examining the future of the Creative Arts syllabus it is worth considering exactly what a subject like HSC Drama offers to students and the society at large.
From its inception more than 20 years ago literally hundreds of thousands of students have completed HSC Drama. Many of them have gone on to contribute significantly to the cultural landscape of this country. But, even more importantly, the vast majority have gained skills that they could never have without completing HSC Drama performances.
They have learnt to stand on their own two feet, to express themselves, to commit to others, to be tolerant and open hearted. And they have had to work bloody hard to do it.
At a time when so much of our world is narrowing HSC Drama encourages students to look outside themselves and see the bigger picture.
What could be more important in these troubled times?